Supportive Phone Calls: The Inherent Problem of MCN’s

It’s beginning to feel like Pewdiepie’s the only person we talk about over here. I’d love to to write about something else, every now and then, but, wouldn’t you know it, the guy just keeps making news. This past week was no exception, as comments he made during an interview with the Wall Street Journal raised more than a few eyebrows.

“The fact that Disney bought Maker Studios doesn’t really change anything for me,” he said. Maker Studios is the multichannel network with which Pewdiepie is currently contracted. “If I ask for help, they reply, but that’s all the contact we have. We’ll see what happens.” The internet superstar went on to say, in a separate segment of the interview, that he and several associates have been discussing the possibility of starting their own network. Pewdiepie’s contract with Maker runs out this December.

The internet responded by getting itself into a bit of a tizzy, as it is wont to do. Pewdiepie is the biggest star on YouTube, and Maker the biggest collector of stars in the space. The idea of the former leaving the latter, not just as a matter of consequence but due to what appeared to be a certain level of dissatisfaction, got a lot of people’s attention, from gamers to big-money financiers keeping an eye on one of Disney’s newest, shiniest toys.

And other big names soon joined the conversation.

“Odd that YouTubers don’t want to give away 30% of their money in exchange for periodic supportive phone calls,” tweetedJohn Green, author of numerous successful young-adult novels, including The Fault in Our Stars, in addition to being one half of “The Vlog Brothers,” arguably his real claim to fame. His sentiments were shared by other YouTubers, like KSIOlajideBT, who expressed frustration regarding his own relationship with Maker in a tweet that has since been deleted.

For what it’s worth, Pewdiepie has since stated that he felt his interview was somewhat mischaracterized, and that he’s “really happy with the work that Maker has been doing,” but there’s a reason the original story was so controversial, and resonated so well within the YouTube space. There’s a great deal of discomfort with MCN’s, the services they provide, and their apparent necessity.

Maker Studios, Fullscreen, Machinima, these are businesses with books to balance, motivated, ultimately, by profits. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But, what that means is that, to them, the megastars like Pewdiepie, the YouTubers with subscriber counts in the millions and videos viewed by similar stratosperic numbers, they’re the ones that pay the bills. They need those kinds of earners, because that’s where all the real money is, the money that keeps the doors open, the business running. And yet, when you really think about it, those content producers are the ones that need an MCN the least.

An MCN is a platform. They’re a one-stop shop for everything you need to grow and develop your channel. But you don’t get to a million subscribers without knowing a little something about promotion. Once you’ve got a real following like that, you’ve already got a platform. Sure, a quality business like Maker is going to make certain things simpler. Touring, for example, is something that any star can put together, but is made a lot easier when it’s the responsibility of your MCN to organize. But, you don’t need them at that point. They’re a luxury.

Meanwhile, everyone else? The channels with half a million subscribers? One hundred thousand? Ten thousand? Five? They are the ones that can use some help. Promotion. Branding. All manner of event circuits and tours. For those creators, services like that could be invaluable. But think about it from the MCN’s perspective; how much money are they going to make from a channel that small? What’s all the effort really going to get them, in the end, if they grow a client from 12,000 followers to 20,000? The answer is practically nothing… but that doesn’t stop them from signing those smaller channels to contracts.

Machinima partners with over 10,000 channels. Maker boasts a number over 55,000. Fullscreen once bragged about relationships with over 80,000 creators. These are companies with staff-rosters in the hundreds, not the thousands. Which channels do you think those overworked offices are going to focus on with their very limited time? The answer is obvious: the ones making them money.

This is a broken system, one where the needs of the parties involved are rarely, if ever, aligned. For the top tier of YouTube, the ones who don’t even need it, there’s plenty of help available in exchange for a sizable chunk of the cash you’re already making without them, and if you’re not? If you’re just having fun, struggling to get to that next hurdle you’ve set for yourself? One thousand views? Five thousand?

Well, I hope you get a lot out of that monthly phone call.

Originally published at Oct 8, 2014.

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