Anyone in the audio space – radio stations, podcasts, playlists, audiobooks – are in the content business, creating material that hopefully excites and delights, or even just keeps people listening.
The competition is no longer a battle between stations, it’s a fight for consumer’s time. Staying front of mind means the core product needs to be good, but then there also has to be noise on the right mix of other platforms too.
In 2017, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings declared the streamer’s biggest competitor was, in fact, sleep.
For all content creators, the need to innovate has never been so important. Just because something was successful in the past, doesn’t mean it will be successful today. The problem isn’t that that thing isn’t good any more, it’s that the world can change around it, leaving those good ideas behind.
Younger audiences, in particular, have a huge amount of content created for them on platforms like TikTok and YouTube and more importantly, or worryingly, the content and style evolves at a breakneck speed. It iterates. Fast.
Someone that’s pushed on the kind of videos that are working well on YouTube is MrBeast. Around a year ago I talked about his push into fast-food, utilising dark kitchens, but today it’s about his bread and butter – producing new content for YouTube.
Notionally he’s a vlogger, but most of his videos are challenges with real people, usually with cash prizes. It’s worked out pretty well, delivering him over 80m subscribers. It’s an engaged audience too, with his videos averaging 40m views soon after release.
For his latest video he decided to recreate the Netflix smash Squid Game (but without the killing). In the TV show 456 people compete, to the death, across a number of child-like games, with the last person standing getting 45.6bn South Korean Won (about £28m).
MrBeast decided to recruit 456 fans to recreate the game. One of which would end up with $456,000 (and all participants would get at least $2k for taking part).
The video is a mammoth production, which he spent around $2m on, along with around $1.5m in prizes for the contestants.
His uniqueness in the YouTube market is about spending huge amounts of cash (and effort) on his videos. The result is that in the past 30 days (across all of his channels he’s generated around 930million views).
The Squid Game videos alone has generated 114m (at the time of writing) – that’s around the same number of views that the original Squid Game TV series got on Netflix.
Overall his videos have generated nearly 20bn views. Radio 1 is Britain’s most successful radio station YouTube channel. It’s done (a still impressive) 4.5bn over 15 years across its two channels. Capital’s managed 2.8bn over the last 11 years. MrBeast will hit that number in around three months.
His Youtube journey is quite an interesting one (from 13!). He did a few years of Minecraft videos, evolving into Call of Duty. He then found a little bit of success doing videos about other YouTubers (How much does Pewdiepie make?!). Then about five years ago he started getting 1m view videos orbiting around tricks, challenges and money. Around three years ago he found his formula of high concept stunts and cash prizes and hasn’t looked back.
The Squid Game video is an amazing production, both in ambition and in delivery. However, for me, it’s the decisions they made around length and distribution that’s the most fascinating. It’s one, 25minute-long video.
If I’d been making it, I would have focused on maximising views. There would have been a trailer and I would have split the games up into five videos. We would have found out more about the contestants and why they wanted the money etc. And all of that would have probably been wrong.
Watching MrBeast’s effort, it cracks along at a YouTube-like pace, with speedy explanations and jump cuts that hop straight into the action. Even with all the work and effort – including the $2m-set he built, one video’s enough. He captures the zeitgeist and moves on. There’s no need to drag out. There will be another hit along shortly.
There are some people who say he’s just doing what a TV show would do, but for an audience that doesn’t watch TV. I think that’s a very simplistic view. The grammar of what he’s creating is very different to television. The claim that “kids don’t have long attention spans” is rubbish. They have differing attention spans based on the material. They are more than happy to binge-watch a show for hours on Netflix, or spend three hours on a video-game. They are just not willing to spend an hour on something where the core entertainment can be delivered in a few minutes.
Part of the success of TikTok is the distillation of a short-entertaining ‘bit’, algorithmically scored, fired at users one after an other. You can see why a teenager would, rightly, think a lot of entertainment television is long and drawn out.
The challenge for all traditional media, is content like this raises the bar – both in style and substance. Radio has always done what many of MrBeast’s videos has done – jumping on a popular idea and embracing it with a fun build. To keep the cut-through necessary to compete, particularly at the younger end, will be more of a challenge.
Building brands around content – whatever the primary platform – is a focus for many media operations. Historically podcasts have been a bit late to this game, especially with their video output.
I think this is especially crazy as so much ‘podcast’ content, particularly for younger audiences, is consumed on YouTube. Most of Joe Rogan’s audience initially came from people watching his podcast on the YouTube channel. YouTube, as a platform, remains ridiculously high when consumers are asked which way they listen to podcasts. Even if it doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of content Spotify has.
YouTube themselves have noticed this, and expect them to make a big push into the podcast space proper, next year.
I’ve always been a fan of the efforts James Barr and Dan Hudson have made around their podcast A Gay and a NonGay. The genesis of the show is that the two became acquaintances though Dan’s girlfriend Talia, who had James as one of her best friends. When Talia took a job in America, they started doing a podcast together exploring gay, and non-gay life from their Gay and a NonGay perspectives.
The two of them have worked in radio for a long time. Dan as a producer at the BBC, James as a presenter on a number of stations and now Hits Radio breakfast. So they know what they’re doing, and there’s been some production-infused story-lining behind their development.
It’s impressive though that they’ve created a mini media brand in the LGBTQ+ space, and as well as the podcast there’s been touring too. They have, however, just released a 40min documentary on Radio 1’s iPlayer channel – Sashay to Hell – where James is dropped into Dan’s world of heavy metal at a weekend festival.
As well as a great doc, it does a really good job of highlighting their relationship and the Gay and a NonGay brand. It’s a great build for what they’ve been doing. They have also clearly invested in their Instagram, broadening it out from plugs to covering broad LGBTQ + topics, news and memes.
There’s a great opportunity for podcasts to expand the scope of what they’re doing, to make better use of the platforms at their disposal. As the media market gets ever busier, working at achieving cut through becomes more and more essential.
A new episode of The Media Podcast has dropped. Joining me on the show is Press Gazette’s Charlotte Tobitt and Great Scott Media’s Leon Wilson. We talk Daily Mail, podcast telly conversions, Rugby on C4, Talk TV, Buzzfeed and more. Listen and subscribe here.
How content creators need to iterate their content and delivery (7min read)