Earlier this summer, within 24 hours of Instagram’s IGTV reveal, YouTube announced new features reserved for a small group of established channel owners. The notable product updates—Premieres, Merch, and Channel Memberships—cherry-picked aspects of livestreams, film premieres, subscription models and online shopping to help creators diversify revenue and grow audiences.
As the content bubble expands, social networks have invested in the creators that help make them must-visit destinations. In this instance, YouTube is establishing an economy that exists within itself. If effective, high profile accounts will continue to devote themselves to the world’s second-largest search engine, confirming simple, smart logic: Creator retention begets user retention.
YouTube’s announcement follows a turbulent stretch of controversies surrounding video takedowns, premium brand ads played against unethical clips, and the heightened exclusivity of the YouTube Partner Program. It once took just 10,000 lifetime views for creators to earn money from ads; now, the prerequisites include 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours of watch time. Youtube has also made headlines in recent months with the launch of both YouTube Music and Official Artist Channels, which absorbed formerly standalone Vevo channels as the latter company began its product phase-out.
The company’s product team has hit the ground running this year, shipping new tools left and right. For now, these tiered tools have only been unlocked for a hand-picked group of channel owners and are not available to the public; however, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki suggests broader access on the horizon. With that said, familiarity benefits all artists and teams. Get ahead of the curve and dive in.
Build Hype With Your Own Premiere
Premiere couples the fanfare of live events and the comfort of on-demand viewing—a streamlined version of 10,000 Game of Thrones fans chatting on Reddit the night of a new episode. It turns a basic function—the ability to schedule uploads for public release—into a hype machine currently in the hands of select influencers, many of which boast one-million-plus subscribers. Indeed, Premiere favors the established, and even ostracizes traditional promo release tactics (e.g. a press premiere) on the surface.
Strategy should vary from creator to creator. Some teams might allocate ad spend to spread word about an event, encouraging people to opt-in for reminder. The next step: Coordinate a ‘first look’ with a specific outlet, rather than a traditional premiere that’s more restrictive. It can be a different story for rising artists, who might benefit from the credibility of support from a Nylon or a Refinery29. Usually, though, if there isn’t baked-in socials support, it won’t move the needle.
While some members of the video community have not embraced the announcement of Premiere with open arms, it should be a boon for high-profile accounts.
- Now or Later: Premieres can launch immediately or at a specific date and time. The latter option is the real value add, generating a searchable landing page on your channel that features a thumbnail, title, air date, and countdown. Think of it like scheduling on steroids. Videos appear on your channel, per usual and sans countdown, after the premiere comes to an end.
- Systematic Exposure: YouTube messages two groups of people—subscribers with channel notifications, plus any user who clicked ‘Remind Me’ on the Premiere landing page—both 30 minutes before your video starts and the moment it goes live.
- Easy Upload: Users don’t need to learn a distinct workflow for Premiere. You can easily toggle to activate this new option in the regular upload process.
- Chat Room: One hour before your showing begins, a chat room opens for you and your fans to turn isolated viewing into a shared experience. Premiere also integrates with YouTube’s Super Chat feature to let viewers pay a set fee—usually within a range of $10 through $50—to highlight their comments for a window of time. Users can replay the chat after the premiere concludes.
- Ads on Auto: Artists (and YouTube) don’t just make money from SuperChat. What would a video be without ads? Prerolls work with Premiere, but the platform suspends midrolls until the ‘live’ viewing wraps up (Content owners retain a share of ad revenues.)
Integrate Merch Revenue
YouTube’s partnership with Teespring stems from its potential to become a bonafide marketplace that extends beyond ad buys. The collaboration between companies should facilitate the design and distribution of apparel and accessories for creators, and an early use case points to fruitful results. YouTube has understandably trumpeted the story of Disney-Pixar animator Joshua Slice. The man behind Lucas the Spider, a channel featuring charming, short-form videos of an adventurous arachnid, utilized Merch to sell 60,000 plush dolls in two weeks, grossing a cool $1.2 million.
For artists, it’s a potentially lucrative opportunity to make products on the fly through Teespring. The logic behind merch traditionally used to commemorate tour dates—high-margin, high-value—applies to digital events, too. Likewise, products solely sold within the finite window of a YouTube Premiere reflects the exclusivity of 24-hour merch capsules and pop-up shops.
- Greater Visibility: Traditionally, users would obtain sales through a third-party link in video descriptions. Channels with Merch access instead enjoy a sub-video carousel, aka the “shelf,” that flaunts items available for purchase, up to 12 at a time. This integration has reportedly increased views-to-sales conversions by 250 percent.
- Native Promo: Some accounts can utilize their Merch shelf for product placement with a little help from FameBit. The YouTube-owned company connects YouTube channels with brands.
- Tiers Within Tiers: Your channel needs at least 10,000 subscribers to leverage Merch as a direct-to-fan storefront. Accounts with 100,000 subs or more receive a consultation from Teespring. Those with 500,000 or more receive a custom design, art files included.
- Incentives for All: Once you’re in, YouTube covers $1 of the wholesale price for every item sold, paid at the end of each month. Teespring also offers bulk pricing discounts: The cost of one shirt drops from $10.22 to $9.82 if a channel sells 200 to 499 units.
- Stateside Scope: Merch is temporarily limited to YouTube in the United States.
Create A Valuable Community
What started on YouTube Gaming has made its way to the platform’s mainstream. Membership is a direct response to comparable service offerings across the internet. Facebook, for instance, has a $4.99/month model that complements its Brand Collabs Managers and a fresh-off-the-press arsenal of polls, quizzes and game shows that creators can deploy. Patreon, a leader in the many-to-one space since 2013, will resultantly face more pressure in the coming years.
- A-List Only: 100,000-plus subscribers marks the barrier to entry for Membership.
- Nonstop Content: While YouTube reps have insisted “lightweight content” is enough to sustain a private Membership community, artists and teams must carefully probe the opportunity costs that arise. Failure to supply paying fans with valuable material can compromise the sanctity of those relationships. Even more pressing is the need to produce extra, extra material for other channels. Membership content should be exclusive to YouTube or for-profit access loses meaning, so the time and resources spent won’t have a chance to generate value on Instagram, Twitter, etc. The hope for YouTube then, is that these other platforms become funnels to convert fans to members, consequently spending more time there and less elsewhere
- Digital Clout: Membership subscriptions provide fans with exclusive stickers, emojis and badges that turn relatively low upfront costs (e.g. design) to an annuity of sorts, similar to a song that carries upfront costs but limitless profit potential upon release
- Accelerated Adoption: According to Bloomberg, YouTube has shelled out big bucks to top-level accounts in hopes of rapidly fostering support for the Membership model. YouTube will take 30 percent of revenues generated from Membership.
YouTube has unprecedented access to generations new and old, and it’s not slowing. Creators have long distributed, analyzed and monetized their content in Google’s video hub, minting global stars. Recent feature additions point to a much larger goal: unfractured, frictionless integrations that enable an artist to build a career without moving off-platform. The first company to perfect that mix will have their flag firmly planted in this new economy, and YouTube has as good a chance as any to lead the way.
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