PREFACE

This paper is the outcome of a period of research carried out by Video in Common and has been authored by Tom Clark and Caroline Heron. Video in Common (ViC) is a digital video production unit for the small scale arts sector in London. It was established in 2013 with the help of the Common Practice advocacy group and supported initially by an Arts Council England GfTA award. Through their work Common Practice identified a need for better digital and online video documentation of core activities and acknowledged that, as a resource heavy task, it was beyond the current reach of any existing individual small scale arts organisation. Video in Common (ViC) was therefore established with the aim to increase capacity in smaller cultural organisations, to act as an extended arm to describe, promote and contextualise their art and public programmes. Getting to grips with each aspect of this task, the Video in Common project (formerly Common Practice Video Network) has produced over 50 videos since production began in March 2013, most of which are available to view on the project’s portfolio site: http://video.incommon.org.uk.

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ViC also provides opportunities for formal research in digital strategy, with a focus on digital and online video. The project was established to directly address an immediate shortfall in video production capacity. However, in addition and in the spirit of action-research, as we progress we are keen to re-distribute the knowledge we gather while working through written reports like this and public forums such as ViC’s sister project Art of Digital London (AoDL); an events programme to highlight, discuss and connect through new developments in digital strategy in the cultural field.

We have prepared this paper as a continuation of our research at ViC. Working in this format for the first time offers us a new space to fully explore an area of digital strategy we feel deserves attention. The topic of this first report will be online video and new broadcast models with emphasis on Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs) that function within YouTube. The paper follows on from several events held as part of Art of Digital London over 2012-14 and the work of Video in Common. Through this research we will explore the broad range of contemporary online video environments and assess their value in relation to the cultural sector, seeing how new spaces are opening up to engagement with, and experience of, art.

The impetus for this piece of research, and the exploratory case study used here, is a recent Arts Council England Creative Media commission to set up and run an arts-specific Multi-Channel Network over the period 2014-18. At the point of writing a successful candidate has yet to be named and therefore a chosen strategy is not yet in place for us to comment on. Instead this paper is intended to be a general assessment of the commission as a scenario, allowing us to think through aspects of socially-networked broadcasting in a cultural setting. Through the paper we advocate a move into such environments and an articulation of the value of video in the experience of art today. This commission is of interest to Video in Common, not only as producers of online video, but additionally, as a future-thinking commission it prompts many crucial questions around the fundamental issues faced by institutions online and how best to represent a mixed environment of organisations, artists and individuals in this new environment.

CHAPTER 1 From Broadcast Models to a Model of Exchange

In this section we will set the scene for our case study by charting the move – instigated by a massive shift in content-viewing to mobile digital devices – from traditional fixed, broadcast media distribution models to online models. We will describe how digital ubiquity, on demand access and socially networked viewing environments have engendered the end of static TV sets and scheduled programming and beckoned in a massive proliferation of production methods, platforms and content types. We will report the responses of mainstream television broadcasters to such an altered landscape and conclude with an introduction to the Multi-Channel Network, a new media distribution model that capitalises on the sharing economies of the age.

MOBILE SHIFTS

The transition from a PC or notebook to the “always-on” smartphone or tablet is not primarily about the smaller, more portable, mobile device. It is rather about the fact that computing services are now available virtually wherever and whenever the user desires them. The mobile shift marks an evolutionary leap to the era of ubiquitous computing.

Mobility initiates ubiquity. This is the true import and impact of the mobile shift. Mobile is, no doubt, a channel. But it is not ‘just another channel’, because ubiquity imposes the need to erase the distinctions between channels and modes of interaction.[1]

The prevalence of connected devices is producing a complex shift in consumer patterns in moving image and encouraging many new situations in which to experience art. We are watching and, more importantly, producing[2] more moving images than ever before. We are watching these in more places, accessing our favourite channels via laptops, smartphones, smart TVs and tablets. We choose what we want, when we want and where we want to view it. We might snack on music videos or binge on entire seasons of feature length material.[3] To provide a sense of scale we can look towards one of the largest video hosting sites in the world, YouTube, who in 2013 released official statistics citing that over 100 hours of video are uploaded to their site every minute and over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month.[4]

UK television broadcasters have also long been mindful of advances in technologies that originally augmented but now sit alongside fixed, broadcast, television programming, with most major broadcasters committing substantial resources to developing their internet television services and platforms or video on-demand (VOD) applications (including iOS 7/8, Android, PS3, Smart TVs, Wii, Xbox etc).[5] Viewing figures suggest that these new outlets might not present, as Joe Lewis (Project Director at BARB[6]) put it, ‘a major risk and disruption to the current economic model’ in the immediate timeframe, but they have proved highly successful.’[7]

More recently, we can see on-demand beginning to take precedence over live broadcast when in March 2014 the BBC announced a programme of exclusive content for the iPlayer, heralding it as ‘the new front door’ for the corporation’s output.[8] Also, in September 2014, Channel 4 unveiled their new online hub, All 4. The platform will ‘make live streaming of its TV networks and on-demand service 4oD available in a new online hub, branded All 4, in a bid to better exploit the growing trend in viewing on devices such as tablets and smartphones.[9] This is the next stage in their plan to ‘keep connected with the broadcaster’s youth audience, for which advertisers pay a premium, [and] which is drifting from traditional TV to digital.’[10] Speaking at a recent conference, Channel 4 Chief Executive, David Abraham noted; ‘We believe All 4 will deliver the most advanced broadcaster response to changing viewer behaviour in the digital age’.[11] It can therefore be said that the progression of online video and VOD indicates a move that marks the decline of the television set as the fixed, dominant point of viewing and the daily schedule as the means to dictate when we can watch something.[12]

THE END OF BROADCAST?

It is therefore an unprecedented time for moving image with the digital playing field becoming increasingly layered and complex. Devices are mobile and therefore viewers are (potentially) likewise, ‘always-on’. A user navigates their personal cultural narrative across many different platforms and situations, the increasing majority of which are also connected to social networks. As technologies move into practically all areas of human activity they re-shape behaviour and establish new expectations. When we talk about watching TV now it’s not necessarily the scheduled, static formats of traditional broadcast models. As well as video on demand, we have to talk more and more in terms of socially networked online or connected video content.

We’re living in a golden age where there has never been more ways to tell, listen to, engage with and react to stories – it’s a Cambrian explosion of platforms and behaviours and such an exciting time.[13]

What and who we watch is changing. In June 2014 (as reported by The Guardian);

Ericsson Consumer Labs has estimated that by 2020 fixed broadband connections will exceed 1bn homes globally; there will be more than 50bn connected devices of which 15bn will be video-enabled and reliant on mobile internet networks.[14]

We are still watching broadcast programming, be that free or via subscription, but as we are supplementing that content with movies; music videos; old ripped or archive material; or shows from amateurs (AKA bedroom producers) TV ceases to just be ‘the box in the corner’. As this progresses the difference between on-demand and continuous broadcast will gradually dissolve.[15]

TV is the box in the corner, Video is the medium, and Broadcast is the business model [...]The thing that we’re all watching more of is Video – online, on TVs over broadcast channels, on our phones and tablets, on Xbox’s, or whatever. TV is increasingly too small a definition, with too much historical baggage, to capture the way video consumption is growing.[16]

It’s an interesting time for video as the cinema and, perhaps more so, TV industries go through a similarly difficult digital re-birth as that experienced by the music and publishing industries. As video moves further in the direction of digital networks, broadcast infrastructures have been circumnavigated – as have, to an extent, the hierarchies of programming. We own fewer TVs but actually watch more hours of content per day.[17] However, instead of vegging out in front of the telly and flicking through what’s on, our TVs now move with us and double up as telephones, cameras, mailboxes, browsers and games consoles. As such TV broadcasters are responding with new On Demand platforms and content shaped by viewer habits within these rather active settings.

THE MCN

A distribution model that consolidates and aggregates the qualities of this trend in online video noted above (and is consequently the focus of this paper), is the Multi-Channel Network (MCN). An MCN is a collection of YouTube channels gathered and supported by a media agency (also refereed to as an MCN) into a recognisable network identity or brand. The agency’s role is to better understand a channel’s audience, hone content strategies to reflect this and therefore increase viewership. The MCN agency then monetises content by securing and managing partnerships with advertisers or sponsors. While there are similarities between these agencies and those working in digital advertising display networks that represent websites and sell banner advertising, MCNs are different in that they ‘often participate and work with channels to help create and improve their content; they are also actively involved in the development of some channels themselves within their network.’[18]

The MCN is a future-facing media distribution model. Their strength lies in the fact that they are inherently structured to operate within social-network environments and that they have grown out of the communities that already exist here. In an ‘always-on’ lifestyle YouTube channels aim to establish strong feedback relationships with their subscribers or ‘fans’. This includes speaking directly to subscribers, encouraging them to participate in commentary and responding to their requests and content ideas. With the help of the MCNs, successful channels have sharpened these techniques by learning from YouTube best practice and forming a recognisable stylistic attitude.

An additional means of understanding the audiences of the MCNs (and of many new online businesses) is the tracking and analysis of subscriber activity. MCNs offer to manage detailed YouTube analytics of channels as well as often providing network wide information through their own analytic CMS (content management system).

MCNs actively support the cultivation of a channel’s fanbase or community because, through this strong identification and process of co-creation with the YouTube channel, these fanbases make for regular visitors. These regular visitors respond positively to the message or advice of a channel and, key to audience growth, share the videos amongst their own trusted network of friends. The MCNs acknowledge the power and value of the fanbase in the new networked means of media distribution and view the channel’s brand as porous – that is something that exists across and is carried by every party: producer, advertiser, subscriber and agency.

CHAPTER 2 Video Expands the Experience of the Arts

Out of this complex digital reconfiguration of media consumption, online video has emerged as a medium for new ways to both present art and create a space for dialogue. This emerging dual-role is particularly true in relation to video in a networked context and is a consequence of the appetite on the part of broadcasters, arts organisations and publishers to claim an institutional plot within these environments.

Since Video in Common began we have been tracking the expanding role of video in cultural production. In the following section we will explore the wide range of arts video content currently being produced by both organisations and individual artists, outlining the core values of the medium such as; profiling activities, increasing visibility, and as a new route for creative outputs. It is by no means an exhaustive list but does well to introduce the scope of material being produced and some key players so that we may begin, in the final sections of this paper, to open up the MCN commission and reflect on these projects in our conclusion.

THE EXPANDED SPACE OF LIVE ARTS

The indistinction between online video, on-demand content and national-broadcast is bringing about an ever more interesting space in which artworks, exhibitions, theatre, live performance, publishing and the archive can meet and be met.

The uptake in collaborations between large media bodies in TV and cinema and the culture sector presents the possibility of a two way exchange; one where cultural organisations can extend their reach to a wider audience base and in return broadcasters are able to assert their expertise in commissioning – their expert role in contributing to and highlighting the UK’s cultural assets – and thereby distinguishing themselves within the growing number of media outlets.

In May 2014 the BBC launched a dedicated BBC Arts strand, providing viewers with a front row seat to the country’s best events in a collaboration between BBC TV, radio and online (internally) and with platforms such as The Space (externally)[1]. Announcing its launch, Director General Tony Hall stated:

I want BBC Arts – and BBC Music – to sit proudly alongside BBC News. The arts are for everyone – and, from now on, BBC Arts will be at the very heart of what we do. We’ll be joining up arts on the BBC like never before – across television, radio and digital. And, we’ll be working more closely with our country’s great artists, performers and cultural institutions[2]

Following this, in June 2014 an arts commissioning panel was held as part of the Sheffield Doc Fest 2014 that brought together commissioners from BBC, Channel 4, Sky and ABC TV (Australia). All four representatives presented their channel’s arts strategy, each one keen to impress that through their commissions they want to see ‘art happen in the screen’, working with artists currently active in the contemporary scene, making them a central part of the process rather than simply making work about them.[3]

Channel 4 launched their Random Acts initiative in 2011, which sought to approach ‘television as art, rather than television about art’.[4] Since launching they have broadcast and made available on-demand over 300 newly commissioned moving image works by artists such as Nathaniel Mellors,[5] Petra Cortright[6] and Mark Wallinger.[7] The programme was renewed in 2014 in partnership with Arts Council England, this time placing an emphasis on supporting young talent. Sky Arts focus their efforts on the quality capture of performances in theatre, opera and music, partnering with organisations such as Royal Opera House to broadcast their recent production Metamorphosis.[8]

As video distribution moves to incorporate on-demand viewing as standard, the need to retain the sense of time and occasion in which to view arts content has been addressed, perhaps in the most explicit way, by the BBC. Rather than have artists make or perform work in the screen the BBC are working from the early stages of planning with cultural institutions to construct content around events happening as part of their core programmes; exhibitions, live events, publishing and within the community. Examples of this would be some of the exclusive content made for the iPlayer – Goldie’s Private View of the Matisse Exhibition at Tate Modern[9] or Peter Saville: Abstraction and Design.[10]

From an opposite direction, larger arts organisations (with bigger capacities and therefore more ambitious strategies) are also initiating projects that establish an expanded space of ‘event’ through video – channeling significant resources into commissioning, producing and distributing high quality performance capture. This crossover content is taken up by partners in cinema and then broadcast or streamed online as scheduled events or even live to cinemas throughout the UK. Their work in the gallery space is opened up like an umbrella to create a simultaneous collective experience across multiple physical locations and to remote audiences online. NTLive[11] is the most successful example of this and perhaps the earliest, they have been transmitting live performances to cinemas across the UK since 2009. Digital Theatre, who launched soon after, have an established viewership across VOD, smart TV and mobile devices, documenting the work of the Royal Opera House, Young Vic, Royal Shakespeare Company, the Bush Theatre and other venues.[12]

Tate Modern have also entered into cinema having recently produced Matisse Live from Tate Modern[13] a behind-the-scenes look at the major exhibition accompanied by several performances of dance, theatre and music. They have been active on smaller screens for some time with Tate Shots, however in 2012 they began producing the more adventurous BMW Live series,[14] streaming live performances on YouTube followed by artist/curator interviews. Through this they opened up the gallery space to an unknown, remote audience on YouTube and allowed them to interact with the performers and presenters via the comments feed.

ORGANISATIONS ONLINE

Video is becoming an increasingly accessible medium to produce. Production qualities can be acceptably amateur, encoding standards are lower and services for hosting and distribution are a fraction of the cost they once were. Most organisations have produced some level of online video around their core programmes and there are now hundreds of channels online with all of these varying in quality, style and content type. However, although certain means of production are undoubtedly cheaper, the process is still expensive as it requires additional (and sometimes hidden) costs such as in-house technical knowledge, staff time and attention in management, if not production, and the large cash outlay of up-to-date equipment. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, it is generally only larger organisations, or if smaller those who place video at the core of their organisational model, who can dedicate the resources and maintain a regular stream of content.

In the expanding space of the gallery brought about through networked digital technologies, video offers many interesting prospects.

Firstly, it is a space to present artists moving image online. For 10 years Tank.tv for example has worked with guest curators to offer regular exhibitions of works hosted on their site; Italian-based publishers Kaleidoscope magazine have also created a dedicated online exhibition space for contemporary video collections that are released alongside specially commissioned texts and live events; and similarly Mousse magazine and LUX’s Vdrome project screens single works by visual artists and filmmakers for a limited period of time. As well as offering an outlet for existing works in this way, organisations such as MOCA L.A. also take the opportunity to commission new artists’ video projects for their vibrant YouTube channel MOCAtv.

Online video additionally provides a platform for organisations to capture and expand the reach of core activities and offer remote or online audiences time-shifted access to their programme. The majority of this content can be categorised into five main types: talks, exhibition overviews, artwork documentation, artists and curator interviews and performance capture. Video in Common’s portfolio site video.incommon.org.uk or FACT’s Artplayer.tv – a video platform gathering content from across the UK’s cultural sector – displays a good cross section of material that is evidence of this ongoing development. An indirect benefit of such content is that it can articulate the contribution of individual organisations to the cultural sector for posterity. In the case of smaller organisations this historicisation is an important record of their sometimes under-acknowledged value in supporting the early careers of artists – a key finding of the Common Practice advocacy group laid out in their paper ‘Size Matters’[15] that initiated the funding and setup of Video in Common.

Finally, in addition to the creation and display of a growing body of new content, several organisations are digitising important video art and archival documentation content alongside other image and text material. Reformatting archival content, whether handled in a holistic or piecemeal fashion, is a complicated, expensive and time consuming task and has been a consistent concern since the introduction of recording equipment. However, with funding support programmes like the BFI’s Film Heritage Digitisation Fund and increasingly more secure and paywalled (pay-per view or subscription) services online there are a range of cheap customisable options.

In terms of distribution and discoverability, many organisations choose to use free video sites, predominantly YouTube or Vimeo depending on their priorities, with only a few opting for expensive private services such as Kaltura or Brightcove. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that organisations often treat these platforms more as low cost hosting services than socially networked channels, meaning there is little engagement with their structures or respective wider communities. In the main, content is therefore is discovered as an embed in the organisation’s main site or social media feed by an often already known and invested audience.

INDIVIDUALS ONLINE

As with videos produced by arts organisations, individual artists have been using video hosting sites such as YouTube and Vimeo as a central part of, or as a portfolio or context for, their practice. A search query on these sites is now, and increasingly, a normal way to find or interact with an artist’s work. ‘The rise of the internet has undoubtedly given birth to a new kind of subjectivity’[16] and this art experience, according to Omar Kholeif (curator at the Whitechapel and editor of the 2014 book You Are Here: Art After the Internet), manages to exist and find room for itself even as it sits side-by-side with the wide variety of dialogues and discourse because of the openness particular to these online sites.

As many established artists today use moving image as part of their practice in some form or another, they will also use online video hosting sites as a portfolio or access point for this work. As a portfolio, these online versions do not replace the gallery experience, but instead support the visibility and value of high-quality gallery presentations of the work. With artists using online video in this way Vimeo seems to be the preferred option with its pared-down design and interface, and more user search-driven – less algorithmic – serving of videos. In addition, Vimeo offers greater security for artists’ videos; for example, by allowing password-protected videos, site-by-site embedding choices and other features that control the conditions of display[17]. In these terms, Vimeo has more in common with the controlled display, access and proprietary conditions of the traditional gallery model.

Some examples of these artists include:

  1. Jon Rafman - https://vimeo.com/jonrafman
  2. Ann Hirsch - https://vimeo.com/user2990149
  3. Ryan Trecartin - https://vimeo.com/trecartin
  4. Benedict Drew - https://vimeo.com/user1316557
  5. Rachel Maclean - https://vimeo.com/user4225460

However, for artists engaging in a more ongoing, or content specific, investigation with online video, YouTube appears to be the preferred platform. Here, the more networked and related-content driven display of video gives the artist a clear institutional site to interact with; an active community engaging with both this context, format and debate (online); and a platform that is better suited to regular, conversation or narrative-like, updates.

Some examples of artists using or having used YouTube in this way include:

  1. Hennessy Youngman (Jayson Musson) - https://www.youtube.com/user/HennesyYoungman
  2. Mark McGowan - https://www.youtube.com/user/chunkymark
  3. Holly White - https://www.youtube.com/user/hollyharriet
  4. Kalup Linzy - https://www.youtube.com/user/kklinzy
  5. Ann Hirsch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYKoj8_dSzE

These factors have already helped the arts to generate the fan-like audience that is fostered (and indeed favoured) by YouTube, through this approach one can develop a relationship to the channel and its chronological narrative.

Vimeo gathers smaller niche audiences in comparison to YouTube. Due to its focus on security, distribution and upload quality, it is often seen as more aspirational or professional of the two and therefore has traditionally attracted and fostered artist and filmmaker communities.[18] In addition, being archive-focused, one pivotal aspect of sites such as Vimeo or UbuWeb (a massive online collection of artists moving-image ‘curated’ by Kenneth Goldsmith) in comparison to YouTube is that they are only able to generate and support specific, inwardly focused, communities with much of the material being discovered as embedded content in destination sites.

Many of the examples listed in this report are instances of publishing or presenting works online that are artworks in their own right, i.e.: artists moving image, or that are longer-form documentary and informational pieces specially commissioned around public programmes, relating online events to those taking place in the physical space. Artist-run YouTube channels can be seen as different to the numerous online exhibition platforms that come out of similar groups and communities (as video-production grows), however they are not necessarily mutually exclusive or entirely separate from each other; the edges here are much more blurry.

Some examples of these online exhibitions:

  1. Bubble Byte - http://www.bubblebyte.org/about/
  2. Opening Times - http://otdac.org/
  3. Or Bits - http://or-bits.com/
  4. Miner Pie - www.minerpie.net/GALLERIE5.html
  5. Lunch Bytes - http://lunch-bytes.com/

CHAPTER 3 Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs)

In the following section we will provide a detailed introduction to the Multi-Channel Network or MCN. This is the point where the network, video and its audiences meet; and where traditional media has both been disrupted and proliferated with an emerging audience and group of producers. We will trace the arrival of two principal characters: the bedroom producer turned global star and the MCN. We will then give a point by point breakdown of the role of the MCN – from pairing producers with advertisers; growing audiences; optimising best practice; and supporting producers through collaboration and syndications. This will open up the social and operational structure of the YouTube environment so we can outline how this has precipitated an increasingly close relationship between the producer and their audience creating a space of co-production in content development. Finally, we will see how the audience has taken on greater agency within industry rhetoric as the fanbase and show how this relationship has been captured and accentuated in the business model of the MCN as described through the brand.

Through understanding the nature and operations of the MCN we can then in the conclusion start to see how this model relates to conversations happening within the cultural sector around how organisations can fully translate into networked environments. We will outline how this proposed model can provide a unique space for experimentation in online forms from the point of both knowledge production and economic sustainability in the monetisation of assets.

FROM BEDROOM PRODUCER TO STAR - THE GROWTH OF THE YOUTUBE CHANNEL

We did some research for Neilsen recently and shared some data […] and we’re seeing that, at least from our perspective, we are by far the largest distributor of content to millennials[1] in the US […] Are they watching broadcast? Some are but I think that they are spending a disproportionate amount of time online and I think the opportunity is to get marketers to understand that this is where that audience lives. (Courtney Holt, Maker Studios)[2]

As discussed in the introduction, there is a new model of video consumption that is rapidly overtaking broadcast. The once fringe behaviour of ‘digital natives’ (born after the inception of the internet) has now moved centre stage. Certainly in terms of viewing figures. Younger audiences (teens-to-mid-twenties) are congregating on platforms like YouTube. Here they are watching episodic shows made by people their own age on subjects they find interesting and in a tone and style that is accessible and engages with shared cultural references. Content is not pushed to viewers, rather viewers and YouTubers alike are drawn together around shared interest, be that ‘video blogs ("vlogs") from cute middle-class boys with Bieber sweeps, make-up instructionals, comedy sketches featuring cute middle-class boys with Bieber sweeps, and video-game "playthroughs", step-by-step guides to completing, say, Resident Evil 5’.[3]

Popular YouTubers spend years developing a close and loyal following and it is this audience i.e.: their popularity or positive feedback, that sustains their content, viewership and therefore income. ‘As a creator, you get to cater to what your audience want. So it's not a passive experience, you get instant feedback from likes and comments and you can respond and be influenced by that.’[4]

There is a discernible style and tone of YouTube content that has grown up and developed integrally with the platform. Budgets, production qualities and encoding standards are acceptably amateur in comparison to TV broadcast and cinema, meaning that bedroom producers can quickly turnaround short, sharp programmes on the fly using their cheap digital camera and editing content in pre-loaded packages on their laptops (to start with at least). CEO of Vice Media, Shane Smith, ‘The reason young people are leaving TV is they [commissioners] don't do things like this [Vice’s online food channel Munchies]: take chances, switch things up, and give the cameras over to 24-year-old kids. TV missed the boat on this kind of content.[5]

Unlike previous broadcast models that project to an audience, YouTube channels listen to their audiences, the conversation between presenter and audience plays a large role. The tone is a personal one where the bedroom producer (now star) talks direct to camera using a language similar to the viewers they are addressing. It comes from a mutual and shared subject interest, and forms a locus around the channel and its narrative, wrapping the viewer and channel into an active and participatory discussion that is played out in comments and behind the scenes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.[8] To show appreciation of the role subscribers play all good YouTubers regularly thank them for watching, for continuing to watch and expressing how much they mean to the individual presenter.

Inviting and responding to audience requests is a popular way for YouTubers to engage with their audience and to quickly build content together. A collaboration between two channels such as an interview can often generate and be generated by viewer suggestions: the YouTube channel Capser (that has over 3 million subscribers) features a number of interviews with other famous YouTube vloggers that draw heavily on questions from fans sent in via Twitter – see for example this interview with channel Danisonfire[9] – and gaining massive combined view counts. Alternatively this process of co-creation of content can take the form of YouTubers responding to challenges from their audiences; or getting fans to send in their own responses. For example, a regular feature on blogger Tyler Oakley’s channel , ‘Q and Slay’, sees him answer audience questions, but in this video he asks fans to send in the questions as videos using Skype, which is used as material directly in his Q+A video characterised by multiple layers of participation for the fan.[10]

Mounting ‘a cause’ is another means around which content can be produced with a large degree of viewer engagement – either around a brand-campaign such as Kelloggs Krave[11]; or a charitable cause which can draw on fan-allegiances and ethical concern. JacksGap, which was started by brothers Finn and Jack Harries to document a gap year (which now has over 3 million subscribers), drew upon this large fanbase to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust through a serialised vlog whilst driving rickshaws across northern India. The brothers identify that the specific nature of this success comes from the fact that on YouTube; ‘People are directly engaged with you as a person and your story,’ said Jack. ‘People were subscribing and coming back every single week to find out more.’[12]

From the point of view of the fans, the way to interact, whether this is via the comments, on social media, or just by participating in the same community of interest as the vlogger, is unimportant. The value is in being part of the community. For the channel this close relationship is crucial to maintaining the organic and therefore self-sustaining audiences[13] around the channel and shared interest. As we will explore later in the chapter, the economic value of this relationship is then extracted in the revenue model of the YouTube Partner Programme and MCN.

THE OPPORTUNITY FOR MONETISATION

Access to these so called organic audiences, built through authentic relationships with the channels/creators, is much sought after by advertisers seeking to market to the emerging digital-native consumers. These ‘millennials’ are more connected to both each other and brands online, yet at the same time more fragmented in how, what and who they identify with. Growing up with so much media – and media that is so self-aware – these audiences are viewed as being much more savvy when it comes to advertising, ignoring traditional forms which more often than not interrupt the flow of their media-narrative. As such it is the organic traffic and engagement that comes with the fan-channel relationship or shared interest that offers a much more integrated approach to advertisers: either viewers trust the advertising because they trust the channel or see advertising as acceptable by association.

In recognition of the opportunity to monetise channels through advertising YouTube introduced their Partner Programme in 2007 giving creators the option to enable web banners and pre-roll adverts at the beginning of their content in return for a split of the revenue generated per-view (even though now less obvious advertising and marketing is more preferred as mentioned above). This not only helped creators gather income from their generally unpaid work and therefore make room to concentrate on bettering their channel (just like we saw with the monetisation of blogs back in the early 2000s), it generated income for YouTube and opened up advertising routes to young, diverse audiences.

Alongside the Partner Programme we have also seen the growth of media agencies who saw the opportunity to better and further accelerate this process of monetisation of content in the YouTube environment. These agencies set themselves up as middlemen between the advertisers and the channels establishing what is now referred to as the Multi-Channel Network.

Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs) can be defined as media agencies for online video that gather and manage a defined set of channels on YouTube (as well as other video distribution sites) and develop the monetisation of content introduced by YouTube’s Partner Programme. Many argue that the MCN model replaces TV broadcasting in that it brings different programmes together in a recognisable brand that covers the interests of a broad but definable target demographic.

The most popular [YouTube] networks are powerful brands in their own right and can help increase brand awareness and advertising revenue for YouTubers by using the relationships they’ve formed with companies that are willing to put sponsorship money down for talented video creators.[14]

The role of an MCN is to promote and support the channels they represent, with the primary purpose of increasing audience reach and retaining viewership to therefore secure deals with advertising partners and draw higher advertising revenue. They use the network brand and collective user stats as proof of a steady, known audience base to target and establish good relationships to advertisers and bring in large hub channels.

Growing up with the platform, MCNs are very well schooled in all aspects of YouTube and given the volume of content a successful channel is expected to produce an MCN will often see its role as facilitator – to ‘enable their creativity […] allowing creators to just make videos’.[15] In practice, this means that they provide channel creators with training and equipment so that better quality programmes can be made, they manipulate several aspects of a channel’s operation to optimise content and manage audience flows, and lastly, they track and synthesise detailed information on user activity to develop content strategies.

The audience figures and potential income of an MCN is sizeable when compared to counterparts in broadcast. Popular channels in the UK, such as Amazing Phil and Zoella in the UK have over 2 million and 5.8 million regular viewers (subscribers) respectively with 500,000 and 1 million weekly-video viewers on average. Scale this within a Multi-channel Network and the combined numbers rapidly stack up; for global leader Maker Studios (US) this accrues 6.5 billion + monthly views and 450 million + subscribers. Not only is this scale reflected in their popularity with fans, but in what advertisers and sponsors are willing to pay too. It’s estimated that Jenna Marbles’ self-deprecating video blogs earn her up to £846,000 a year, and Tyler Oakley who has over 215 million views in total makes close to £570,000 a year.[16]

Going back to Vice Media for a moment we can see how their model in many ways prefigures that of the MCN. During the mid-to-late noughties, the publishing sector underwent their digital overhaul and has been experimenting in approaches to digital technology that augments rather than replaces print publishing since.

Organisations such as Vice Media have been successful in integrating an MCN-style model (as well as employing branded content) by incorporating a wide, syndicated video network into their magazine brand. Editorial elements have been selectively migrated online, rather than wholesale, with the print publication remaining a core activity, and as such their overall output has stayed recognisable to its audiences.

The company have also been developing this synthesis of editorial content with large, invested, partners and sponsors (such as Intel in the Creators Project) for years. It is because of this aggressively networked approach that Vice Media has grown so massively and is now syndicated across a ‘successful cable show, a successful global magazine, and successful websites in multiple verticals, all supported by a successful ad agency that sells the company's cool young audience to major corporate brands.’[6] In the context of the MCN however we can look to how this cements the advertising-led revenue model for online businesses – where content is (more often than not) free(ish) at the point of access but revenue is deferred through advertising on that content, and which is also now picked up by LVMH's shopping-led fashion website Nowness (created with the help of Dazed White Label) for what are arguably still quite niche audiences (content views in the thousands and tens of thousands).[7]

THE ROLE OF AN MCN

a). TO LISTEN TO THEIR AUDIENCE

‘Who’s watching and where are they watching, and how can I build on that to maximise my channel?’[17]

As previously stated, successful channels develop solid relationships with their audience by listening to them; reading comments and feedback across their social media platforms; encouraging their viewers to write what they like and don’t like about the channel; and using YouTube's detailed analytics to track user stats. MCN agencies support and augment this process, gathering additional quantitative and qualitative user data, using YouTube’s and often their own specially designed content management system (CMS). Through this the agency have a privileged ‘big data’ overview of all activity within the MCN that is synthesised and queried. They can record user habits within ‘the verticals’, that is, individual channels, or horizontally between channels and across networks.

YouTube (Google) analytics currently focus on watchtime as its primary metric – which is broken down into playback location, sources, devices and demographics relating to each; following this engagement, retention and sharing is measured – who and how are they watching the videos, for how long and what are they doing or saying with these videos.[18] To a large extent most channel content is driven by the channel creators (in dialogue with their fans and audience) and their own editorial direction, but an MCN agency will guide this content based on the metrics they are able to measure. By narrowing in on what audiences watch (and particularly watch all of) MCNs are able to emphasise or commission the kinds of content which drive hit counts.

As well as responding to good analytical data in their videos, Diagonal View’s Adam King (who himself moved to YouTube from TV production) also stresses that the nature of audience-facing commissioning means that they can no longer treat their viewers as an audience, rather; ‘we treat them as a community – we talk to them all the time’[19] – and respond accordingly. He continued, unlike previous TV broadcast models, when it comes to what content should be produced for YouTube ‘everyone who watches my videos knows better than me what they want to watch, and when they want to watch it’.[20] The vast amount of discussion that happens through user comments and sub-threads offers valuable qualitative data on a video’s successes or failure, the ability it holds to generate engagement or conversation and, for its producers, the opportunity to meaningfully ask: ‘what would you like to see next?’[21]

THE SHIFT FROM AUDIENCE TO FANBASE

Exploring further the idea of community, it can be said that there has been a shift in how we conceive of the viewer-channel relationship. It has moved from an organisation broadcasting to a ‘passively receptive’ audience towards a presenter talking direct, one to one, with a collective base of viewers. An audience is no longer there to be simply educated or entertained, but play an active and dynamic role within a channel’s output.

As each viewer is also a user who can comment or like, to which a channel will respond, it is possible to grow a genuine and strong reciprocal relationship between the channel and viewer, a relationship which is generally typified by the fan rather than an audience. This shift has been greatly influenced by widespread participation in networked platforms facilitated by digital (and especially mobile) devices. If, as according to the Digital Clarity Group, the shift to ubiquitous computing because of mobile devices has meant that content producers need to think of access as always on, with a blurring of distinction between modes and channels of interaction – then so too must the viewer be reconfigured in the mind of the channel as similarly always-on. This viewer is not just interested in a subject but they are devoted and always finding ways and situations in which to engage with the object of their fanhood, they are a fan.

Stuart Dredge quotes Michael Stevens of science YouTube network Vsauce: ‘You can build a really big audience on YouTube: they show up, they listen. But a fanbase is going to subscribe and watch everything you make in the future, and tell their friends about you.’[22] Indeed, Alex Carloss (Global Head of Entertainment at YouTube) suggested in a keynote given at the MIPTV conference in April 2014 that the ‘video giant's power is less about audiences and more about fans’.[23] The rhetoric of his speech focused around the agency of the viewer: ‘An audience tunes in when they're told to, a fanbase chooses when and what to watch’. He goes on to suggest that it is the fan’s engagement behaviour that is most effective for YouTube and its invested parties in growing audiences, ‘An audience changes the channel when their show is over. A fanbase shares, it comments, it curates, it creates’.

This focus on fanbases rather than audiences has produced ‘a shift in the language and identifying the key metrics of YouTube’ that places ‘more emphasis on subscribers, comments and shares, and average viewing time for videos drawing focus on how engaged YouTube users are’.[24] The fan is therefore much more useful to MCNs, channels and advertisers than audiences in generating these key metrics as it is the fan who will never switch off or change channel, and with networked mobile devices this is ever more possible. The fan stays, the fan shares, and it importantly, it would seem that fan is not put off by sponsorship and advertising on the channels they subscribe to.

b.) TO MONETISE CONTENT THROUGH DEVELOPING PARTNERSHIPS

NEGOTIATING THAT AWKWARD PAIRING

Multi-channel networks (MCNs) are essentially middlemen between YouTube channels and advertisers. While the networks are busy arranging the marketing efforts, the video creators are left with plenty of time to do what they do best: create valuable content.[1]

The MCNs position themselves as experts in audiences and YouTube functionality to channels, bettering the individual reach. However, in gathering routes to and describing these audiences they can in turn also provide a selection service to companies and advertisers, bringing to them choice, known fanbases for their product or brand.

The science is in how they appropriately pair and manage the relationship between the channel and the advertiser or company. In representing a collection of channels under an identifiable brand the MCN models hold several attractive and beneficial qualities for advertisers. Firstly as gatekeepers the MCNs have gathered and vetted the channels they stand for. MCNs also have a solid understanding of their audience. The collective user stats for the network, sometimes numbering into the billions, presents an impressive potential reach for their investment. However it’s not the size of the audience but being able to define and provide access to the right audience: one that would be most receptive to the message that is a higher priority for advertisers. Lastly, in negotiating with advertisers on behalf of a network the MCNs can offer greater flexibility in how commissioning and production budgets can be spread across individual channels.

c.) TO BUILD AND CONNECT AUDIENCES ACROSS THE NETWORK

CONTENT MANAGEMENT

An MCN-managed channel is able to nudge traffic through the channels and videos it associates itself with, on its channel homepage; and the suggested next view video (displayed in the video panel); or with in-video links (to subscribe to its channel or outbound links to its website for example). An MCN channel cannot though have any immediate effect on the related content that you see in the right hand side sidebar (other than in metadata optimisation). Thus developing the identity and associations of the channel is also crucially integral to subscriber retention and getting the viewer to want to and feel confident to click to more of that channel’s content rather than clicking away to another. An additionally important task in content management will include optimising YouTube features such as thumbnail, titles, and descriptions to enhance ‘clickability’ of a video and search optimisation so that directly uncontrollable elements, such as related content, can better favour the channel.[2]

To maintain and grow audiences the MCN agency, as network and channel manager, will look to establish relationships and develop links across individual channels and setup affiliations or collaborations between creators. This is made clear through friends lists on channel homepages, mentions, or mentions during videos, and relating content through embedded links at the end of videos as well as social media. These techniques amplify users’ existing habits, exploiting a tendency to rely on suggestions within the YouTube environment and be influenced by the existing relationship we have with a channel.

OPTIMISATION SESSIONS

An MCN will have a number of YouTube Certified staff[3] who have been trained in YouTube best practice, and will employ this knowledge in an optimisation session to tell partners ‘how to get the channel noticed and how to make it as big as it can possibly be’.[4] This training will include scheduling, graphic design, proper tagging of videos, metadata for search engine algorithms – ‘which is a lot of words to say that if you’ve made a video about making cookies, make sure you put in the description that you’re making cookies’ – video descriptions and links (‘if you’re selling something make sure you have a link to it, so people can actually find it’) and how to implement content ID.[5] In short, MCNs are well versed and well practiced in the mechanisms put in place by YouTube to most efficiently operate a channel and are able to either manage this for a channel or help a channel implement these for each video to the best possible degree, leaving the video producers to focus on content and fan interaction.

COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT - CONTENT ID

Content ID is the copyright framework and mechanism provided by YouTube. Rights-holders use Content ID to claim their copyright or state fair use of content uploaded and in extension to this claim the right to any monetisation of it. At the point of upload any media (video and sound) owners are looking to enforce copyright on is added to the Content ID database. YouTube scans all uploads across their platform against this database, looking for matches. If a match is found then a claim is actioned and the copyright-owner is notified. By flagging up any unsolicited use of copyrighted material in a ‘claim’ it is a means for holders to control ‘whether and how their content is shown on YouTube’.[6]

It’s important for everyone to do it when they’re uploading because you never know when something you upload is going to go viral, and what you don’t want [in this case] is someone else taking this and putting it on their channel and making lots of money out of your copyright.[7]

If any part of a video matches any file in the Content ID library the video receives a content ID claim and YouTube offers four options for rights holders:

1) Mute audio that matches their music

2) Block a whole video from being viewed

3) Monetise the video on 3rd party sites by running ads against it

4) Track the video’s viewership statistics

In addition to this copyright framework that blocks use YouTube have constructed a licensing agreement, so in options 3) and 4) above, the owner can agree to a third party channel using their content if they can have access to their audiences, advertising on these third party videos or gaining access to their user data. This option allows users ‘fair use’ to re-use, re-mix or adapt content while the initial rights holder is still paid for their intellectual property and is in line with YouTube’s focus on building fan communities rather than audiences within walled gardens. Also, licensing and syndication is an option for copyright control that, making use of the scale and distributed nature of networked video, can potentially increase revenue way beyond the traditional enforcement of copyright. In an interview with Business Insider, Vice Media CEO Shane Smith claimed licensing fees as the primary reason his company earned more revenues in the first quarter of 2014 than it did during all of 2013.

We used to believe much more in owned and operated content. We felt we had to own every eyeball, but now it doesn't matter [...] As long as you’re growing an audience that’s branded, and you’re making money, then who the f--- cares? It’s actually very restricting to keep everything on your own platform.[8]

2. CROSS-CHANNEL COLLABORATION

As well as relating channels through content management the MCN will commission collaborations between channels. For the MCN collaboration is a code word for building and joining audiences, pushing them towards one another. Kevin Lieber (of channel Vsauce2) advises, when speaking for the YouTube’s Creator Academy, ‘YouTube is gigantic and audiences as a result are pretty fractured. So even if you make pretty similar content to someone else, they might have a totally different audience to you. So if you collab with them, you let their audience know that you exist and you let your audience know that they exist.’[9]

MCNs approach collaborations with the attitude of more is more, Adam King from UK-based MCN Diagonal View states, ‘on YouTube I want to be promiscuous; I want to collaborate with as many people as possible.’ Comparing this to his background in TV he goes on; ‘In TV it was a walled garden, [they have the attitude of] – I want viewers to watch this and I want them to watch it here, [however for audiences and watch-figures] on YouTube if the water goes up all the boats rise’.[10]

3. SYNDICATION

Broadcast syndication is the licensing of content to other outlets as a means to reach further audiences and extend possibilities for monetisation. Large media producers such as Guardian News & Media or ITN have pre-established routes to audiences through broadcast TV, newspapers or sites online. MCN agencies such as Rightster[11] see the opportunity to expand their reach to the vast sets of viewers on YouTube who might never have considered visiting their outlets before, offering themselves as an 'upload once – commercialise everywhere' solution for organisations with a variety of existing output channels.

As experts in getting content noticed in YouTube, MCN agencies are employed by large media producers to syndicate content into the environment and manage all ‘reporting, analytics, content claims and revenue performance’ (Rightster, Guardian News & Media case-study).[12] Working with larger clients such as the Guardian, these MCNs maintain the same soft touch to content development as with smaller channels, meaning that partners like Guardian News & Media are left to focus on their editorial core. However, in developing insights into their audiences through analytics, MCN agencies will still offer guidance on formats and how to grow audiences.

d.) BRANDED CONTENT - EXTENDING AND DEEPENING RELATIONSHIPS TO BRANDS

The final intermediary function of the MCN agency that we will explore in this paper is the commissioning of branded content. In addition to brokering advertising deals between channels and advertisers where banner ads or pre-roll adverts are placed on content, MCNs will also negotiate deals where channels are paid by single advertisers to make new content that sits somewhere between the regular output of the channel and a tradiational advertorial, this is known as branded content. This is not to be confused with work that is funded by a number of advertisers and other bodies acting as sponsors, but rather here we can witness the transition from advertising overlaid to advertising as content. It marks the latest attempt by companies to avoid ‘Banner Blindness’ – a situation where users have become conditioned not only to ignore animated adverts, but also are unable to recognise brands.[13] Through branded content advertising is blended into the user’s everyday life so that there is no distinction left to be ignored.

Branded content ranges from editorialised advertising on websites such as LVMH owned Nowness, Vice Media-owed ID White Label or Dazed Vision from the Dazed Group; it can be the conversion of advertising in a service such as Google Search; or it can be social gaming such as those produced by agency Kiip.[14] In relation to video UK-based MCN ChannelFlip produce more branded content than all other European MCNs combined.[15] Computer technology company Dell have been repeat partners with ChannelFlip on branded content having foregrounded it as the overarching digital strategy to net new customers and build engagement with its brands.[16] An example of this partnership was in commissioning David Mitchell via his web-show Soapbox to encourage his viewers to video-audition to win their own show on the ChannelFlip network, and which will be supported for a year by Dell.[17]

BRANDS IN A ‘PULL’ ECONOMY

The introduction of branded content as a business strategy is indicative of the wider impact of networked mobile technologies in exaggerating the transformation of ‘push’ economies into ‘pull’ economies. In push economies businesses organise activities and arrange resources in anticipation of consumer demand. They create standardised products and then ‘push’ these out into the market and culture through rigid distribution models. They are ‘tightly scripted specifications of activities designed to be invoked by known parties in pre-determined contexts’.[18] Businesses operating in pull economies on the other hand can offer products and services that are open, flexible and responsive to demand in that they are iteratively developed in line with customer feedback. They are able to do this because they rely on networked technologies to coordinate a diverse range of resources, producers and consumers.

The ‘pull’ phenomenon is not confined to business. Through the widespread uptake of networked technologies ‘pull’ techniques are being applied across politics, education, government and importantly in the case of this paper, culture.[19]

Success in the ‘Pull Economy’ means understanding that a number of significant business principles have changed. In a hyper connected world information flows much faster and more freely. Organisations as a result are subjected to a growing level of collective intelligence and value creation from outside the company’s walls brought on by the increased collaboration of customers, consumers, employees and suppliers in what is now a much larger ecosystem of data, conversation, innovation and participation […] The generation of economic capital is being augmented by the generation of social capital (defined as the economic value created through the collaboration of customers/consumers, employees and suppliers in the networked economy) powered by social power structures such as open source, crowdsourcing, customer/consumer communities, mass self service and social CRM that are proving to be more effective and efficient.[20]

In their 2012 report, Game Changers, brand consultants Wolff Olins lay out ‘how new mainstream consumer behaviours are creating opportunities for game change by demanding a new deal in their relationship with institutions, organizations and brands’.[21] The brand agency claim that the once fringe behaviours of the digital natives, living increasingly in a socially-mediated public space means that share-economies that side-step big institutions and brands have become the norm. We are, they say, increasingly working in an environment ‘of exchange, not of broadcast. One of give and take’.[22] For Wolff Olins the relationship between people and companies and organisations must therefore also become equal. They introduce a new conceptual approach to the brand, seeing its role as the facilitator and host of the relationships between all these parties, as a framework that leverages the power of the crowd. ‘The new role of brand is to create relationships of fair exchange, where consumers and companies meet as equals, where each contributes, where everyone gains’.[23]

In this increased porosity between the producer and consumer Wolff Olins contend that brands become boundaryless, sharing their brand and IT products or IP ‘across an ecosystem of organisations and individuals, and let them all shape what you are.’[24] Much as we have seen in the example in YouTube of how fanbases shape the direction of the channel, Wolff Olins continue to advocate that, ‘In the world of sidestepping, companies gain trust by giving people a new power. Offer your customers new ways of getting inside your business.’[25] Within this paradigm users, viewers and consumers have in this way come to expect this give and take in their interaction with a brand or organisation who, if they want the participation of these groups, must now allow for this flexibility.

EMPLOYING A CHANNEL’S ‘HEARTBEAT’

A crucial factor in the success of branded content is the use and incorporation of the selected channel’s ‘heartbeat’ (its identity, as described by Diagonal View’s Adam King) and the retention of the qualities that maintain the authentic relationship and therefore built up trust between channel and its fanbase. For example, the direct to camera/viewer presentation style, coupled with comments and social media interaction conveys a subjective and, therefore in the pull-economy of YouTube, a trustworthy message.

Branded content further blurs the distinction between an economic exchange and a social one. The heartbeat is core to the overall monetisation strategy of an MCN because it is this ‘organic traffic’ that advertisers find so attractive due to the fact that if a fanbase believes and trusts their reputation then any suggestions or affiliations made by that channel carry much greater weight.[26] Computer game reviewers such as PewDiePie[27] or KSI[28] are exemplary in straddling these messages as the product – the computer game – is always already central to the channel. As a result, his fans are more like acolytes: ‘when he [KSI] recommended stuff to them, they listened and acted on his advice. He turns down well over 80% of the commercial deals he is offered, thereby maintaining his credibility’.[29]

The intention is to not make branded content seem like adverts. There is a generally held view, particularly among UK-based MCN’s, that YouTube viewers are advert-savvy, in that they avoid ‘American-style in your face advertising’, but are not put off when the channels they subscribe to work with even the biggest brands so long as ‘it doesn’t feel like an advert […] and keys in with the heartbeat of that channel.’[30]

It is this recognisable identity that is key to a video or channel’s success in retaining an audience and getting them to come back, regularly, as a fan, and so even in a brand-lead commission such as Channel Flip’s Kelloggs Krave campaign it is in the MCN’s interest for the ‘YouTubers, not brands [to be] in charge’.[31] In blending into the culture or demographic they advertise to, the brands are keen to become ‘irrelevant to the entire process and the channels are just making content’.[32] In stepping to the side, brands make room for the fanbase to drive the campaign therefore ensuring that they are able to extend their message much further through a carrier who is much more greatly invested.

CHAPTER 4 An Arts Specific MCN

With section 4 we address the core motivation for this paper – Arts Council England's proposed arts-specific MCN. Here we will provide a breakdown of the expectations ACE have for the commission, including what gaps they have identified across the cultural sector and their understanding of the benefits of an applied MCN model. We will also outline the expert and supportive role they expect the MCN agency to play. It will pre-empt the final section of this paper in which we will draw conclusions on the MCN model in relation to cultural production as well as offer comments on the future role of network participants.

CASE STUDY: ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND CREATIVE MEDIA MCN COMMISSION

Earlier in 2014, Arts Council England released a commission to set up and run an arts-specific Multi-Channel Network over the period 2014-18. In their call for applications to the £1.8 million grant A new Multi-channel Network for the Arts, the Arts Council of England (ACE) identify a huge, unmet, opportunity to expand audiences in the revolution in digital video distribution such as on YouTube. ACE propose to support the creation of new online arts destinations primarily on YouTube.

The broad aims of ACE’s investment are:

  1. to make digital arts content more discoverable and engaging to audiences
  2. to increase the number and range of people engaging with the arts – both online and in physical space
  3. to increase the volume and quality of creative media
  4. to support the skills and digital capacity of the arts sector

And to deliver this from October 2014 until March 2018.

(ACE, 2014)[1]

However, according to ACE, while online video has proved a highly successful and popular model in lifestyle areas such as food, sport, fashion and comedy:

The exponential growth of online video across the arts and commercial entertainment sector has not, to date, been seen in the publicly funded arts sector, either in volume, quality of content, hours viewed or audiences reached.[2]

They propose that the unmet demand for existing content on YouTube (and other video platforms) for ‘high quality arts content’ arises from three main snagging points;

  1. Volume and Quality of Content – while a range of arts-based content exists on YouTube, this is currently too varied in quality and content or it is marketing-focused.
  2. Discoverability Issues – as it appears that organisations have not followed the best practices advocated by an MCN, content is fragmented across a mixture of well and lesser-known brands. Similarly there is little cross-promotion or collaboration in the arts-channels, and little aggregation.
  3. Limited Audiences – finally, of utmost importance to ACE is the comparative (to other YouTube channel audiences in other sectors) small size of arts-organisation channel audiences. ACE also cite the relative lack of user-driven ‘communities of interest’ seen elsewhere on YouTube as in need of redress.

However, ACE state that this demand could indeed be met, and the large growth in other sectors matched, if new and existing high-quality arts content is ‘aggregated, packaged and presented in the right way.’[3] They believe an MCN model is best-served to meet the demands of these three flaws in current capacity. Due to it being based on YouTube and other syndicated networked-video providers, the MCN model is attractive in its ability to engage ‘both existing arts consumers and also consumers who have little engagement with the publicly-funded arts sector.’[4] While ACE state that an MCN (or a number of MCNs) will be best placed to drive a ‘step change in digital performance’,[5] they see it as their own responsibility to stimulate activity to fill this gap with a £1.8 million grant.

This activity, as well as amplifying the existing work done by arts professionals, is required to take into account the differentiation and sub networks in the field and not just treat the arts as an homogenous whole. ACE are encouraging MCNs to think of all their six target artforms as well as museums, libraries and archives. The ‘audience-facing’ response offered must be equally diverse and bring together art forms, sectors and content-types in addition to driving traffic to each particular art form.

The ambition to build audiences, and opportunities to access art and culture, and to drive an increase in capacity and quality, talent and skills in the field in the MCN grant ties in explicitly with ACE’s Great Art and Culture Initiative.[6] ACE view the MCN grant as supporting this in four broad ways:

  1. ‘Aggregate, brand and operate new destination/s for arts content that provide compelling and easy-to-discover content propositions for audiences’
    1. As well as building existing content by producing more efficient and discoverable channels, MCNs are also asked to produce new channels and content for arts organisations and to disseminate and share their technical and editorial expertise in the field; to boost collaborations in YouTube and incorporate existing ACE-supported digital arts providers The Space and Hibrow.[7] Lastly ACE hope the winning MCN will incorporate ‘light-touch’ curating while allowing ‘artists and arts organisations to contribute’ and lead user-driven communities of interest.
  2. ‘Commission new original content to support these destinations, and build capacity in the sector’
    1. ACE aim to support this by ring-fencing at least £250,000 a year within the overall budget to produce original content, re-purpose existing material and archives, develop new content vehicles for ‘new talent and figureheads’.
  3. ‘Drive an increase in both the number of people engaging with the arts online and offline, and the breadth and depth of this engagement’
    1. ACE hope that the value in the MCN grant will be in being able to deliver sizeable audiences that will engage with art on and offline; to identify audience segments and drive these to place-based events or organisation’s own online properties and social media presences; lastly it hopes that there will be a sizable feedback of data by the MCNs into the public sector, to be used by arts organisations to inform marketing and commissioning.
  4. ‘Explore and develop opportunities for longer term, sustainable propositions and new business models’
    1. To encourage new business models, ACE ask MCNs to explore advertising and partnership opportunities with the expectation of further public-private investment to content creators and rights holders. Key to this is insight, syndication and commercial sustainability.

Overall, ACE hope that the winning MCN will deliver the benefits they have been able to in other sectors (such as food, lifestyle, gaming) while recognising the specific needs and characteristics of the arts which are not interchangeable with those of already successful MCN channels. In addition, it is hoped that the MCN will both share their commercial insight widely across the public arts sector, and that they will provide capacity building training to artists, arts organisations and content providers.

CHAPTER 5 The Challenge of The Digital and How To Meet It

The MCN commission’s core function is to support an uplift in the popularity and accessibility of online video for the arts sector. However, in addition to this we believe the MCN model offers an exciting opportunity to explore the conditions within which arts organisations can begin to engage a networked approach to what we consider is an inevitably digital future.

We believe that cultural organisations need to translate some of their enclosed bricks and mortar institutional forms into new more open online organisational entities. Not because traditional methods are now unworkable or anachronistic, but because online networked environments are a central feature of the contemporary cultural experience. We believe that ‘the digital’ should be seen as an expanded discursive space of the venue, spaces of authority through which to engage existing communities and enable greater exchange between these and others.

There have been many initiatives in the cultural sector that look to reflect and respond to the growing presence of digital technologies. To establish the goal for our concluding chapter we will introduce one such undertaking that articulates the challenge we feel the MCN model can meet.

CULTURAL VALUE AND THE DIGITAL: PRACTICE, POLICY AND THEORY

Cultural Value and the Digital: Practice, Policy and Theory is a piece of research conducted by partners; Royal College of Art, London South Bank University and Tate. Through this research project the group have reiterated the need to integrate digital technologies into the operational mode of organisations but also – as a key extension to the conversations currently happening in the sector – they identify the explicit need to explore how digital technologies are provoking and reshaping institutional forms of knowledge production. This research is;

based upon the recognition that contemporary professional practice, policy-formation and understandings of cultural value remain resolutely analogue despite the profound changes in how knowledge and contemporary culture is being produced and experienced due to the fundamental changes in human communication that digital technologies and network cultures are creating.[8]

Following this, the research looked to explore how museums reflect the widespread uptake of digital technologies and emerging online behaviours and in turn, how the involvement of such technologies are altering the social profile of the organisation and its relationship to audiences.

Looking into these new dynamics of organisation and audience interaction the research seeks to define ways of constituting cultural knowledge through digital networks:

Whilst our social, political and cultural value systems remain tied to representational forms through which society and the individual are constructed and identified, network culture is defined by new non-representational forms of distributed communication and exchange of value in which both the social and the human are being reconstituted.[9]

In this context of non-representational forms making up a large portion of what online audiences are engaging with, and with which our report concurs, Cultural Value and the Digital asks what aspects of museum processes should be made accessible and what level of public participation should be encouraged. Through this approach the research sets out methodologies to assess how institutional practices and conventions relate (or as the case may be, don’t relate) to online audiences and their newly formed behaviours.

Finally, the research draws focus on methods of co-production in the construction of institutional knowledge and the need to identify and enable new spaces of knowledge exchange online. This was led in part by the work of the AHRC who have recognised co-production as an important aspect of contemporary production, distribution, circulation and consumption.

Overall, the work of Cultural Value and the Digital identifies the central challenge in integrating with digital cultures and navigating the retention of institutional authority – namely the difficulty in assimilating institutional forms and traditional audience bases (slow, large, singular) into online structures and behaviors (fast, granular, multiple and asynchonic).

In light of the findings of Cultural Value and the Digital we believe the MCN commission can step into the gap and offer a twin level functionality to participating organisations as channels. Firstly, in the immediate need to grow audiences for arts video content. Secondly, to offer an experimental space in which to explore online institutional entities and methods of co-production. In addition to providing opportunities to get to grips with the practical elements of YouTube’s operations, we feel the MCN commission presents the arts with an important challenge by raising pertinent questions about the role of cultural organisations in the age of networked technologies and the agency of online video in the construction of contemporary culture.

However, in preparing for such an undertaking we believe a step change is necessary amongst those who participate. Especially if we are to take what are relatively small audiences for arts video content and garner the explosive effect in engagement seen with MCN-managed video output in other areas such as sport or food. We propose, in line with the findings of Cultural Value and the Digital and indeed the methodology of the MCNs outlined here, that what is required is a move from habitual models of arts organisational outreach and authority into much more collaborative and audience-directed methods of authorship. The MCN model, with its emphasis on digital-native metrics and descriptors such as analytics and fan bases, is an opportunity to provoke organisations to consider the potential already held in the relationship between them and their audiences. In the digital network these will diversify and enter the organisational brand through many points and platforms.

CONCLUSION

In section 3 of this paper we examined the value of social exchange in the MCN model and the operational structures that facilitated this. The conclusion will reflect on these findings and apply them to a potential sketch for an arts specific MCN. We would like to see how the model can satisfy this twin demand of growing audiences and adequately shifting institutional approaches to the network.

We will highlight the fundamental changes to audiences brought about by new media distribution models like the MCN and elaborate on how arts organisations can shift and build on their activities to meet this change. We will see how YouTube functionality enables the migration of institutional models in the arts (as a cultural field and history, with an existing set of audiences, practices and forms), and newly emerging natively digital ones, aiding the retention of a degree of institutional authority while enabling access to new unknown audiences. Suggesting how the MCN model can structure a dialogue between artists, organisations and audiences with a level of engagement previously difficult to achieve.

FAN BASES, SHARING & ‘THE STORY’

How the User Carries their Narrative: From Audience to Fanbase

As new models of media distribution MCNs demonstrate the power of socially networked, sharable content in growing audience figures. The ability to embed and share YouTube’s content (much more freely than say the BBC’s iPlayer) in social media platforms is coupled with a general trend encouraged by the platforms themselves towards treating and supporting audiences as fans.

As we have already seen, in the highly loyal and rapidly growing fan bases associated with MCN-managed YouTube channels, in sharing economies channels are built around identity with respect to both the producer and consumer of that content. The pivotal aspect of community forming online lies in being able to form one’s own and see others’ identities – often at the same time and in the same places.[1] With a focus on identity, rather than say aesthetic appreciation or education (as in earlier models of the institution), the fan model is a more effective driver in building allegiances within these user-driven communities than expressions of collective identity (such as class, religion or politics) that congregate around institutions. Considering this today, in an environment where the profile-centric internet provides (or demands of) every user the opportunity to express and see other’s identity, it becomes ever more important for the organisation to find ways to navigate this, bringing these expressions together under the aegis of the arts organisation fostering and supporting culture as a community itself.

Breaking Down and Joining Audiences as Fanbases

MCNs talk much of joining audiences as fanbases. But these fanbases are more granular and specific than the general categories already known to us, such as ‘visual arts’ or ‘theatre’. Instead, YouTube audiences, while large, could be considered niche – forming around channels, personalities and specific interests. So, while the audiences of two similar channels could have previously fallen under the category of a ‘comedy audience’ profile, as fans of a particular channel they constitute two distinct, but equally joinable, fanbases (through channel collaboration or merging of areas of interest). In the case of the arts sector this might translate to joining the two audiences of two galleries with not-dissimilar programmes; or the channels of two publications with writer or editorial thematic crossover instead of applying broad-stroke groupings based on ambiguous lifestyle or artform choices.

Here the value of online and networked video is very much in its ability to cater for niche, alternative or otherwise excluded audiences alongside mainstream ones and without necessarily foreclosing interaction between them in this specificity.[2]

From Broadcast to Sharing Economies

As with the shift in online video from broadcast to a more audience-facing output, arts organisations will need to shift to a more community-led and collaborative approach to their brand identity and output if they want to attract and cater for these multiple niche and granular audiences in this way.

If institutions traditionally represent verticality, historic profundity, canons, tradition, values and dignity, ‘grandeur’, stability, and certainty,[3] this meshes uncomfortably with the horizontal structures of the web – not to mention the circumnavigating tendencies of audience-led share economies or co-production that makes up a fan base’s relationship with content online. In spite of this though, the institution still has an immensely important function in culture, as well as an existing, known identity and output to maintain and develop. The question becomes therefore, how can this authority be retained but translated into online networks?

To go back to Wolff Olins’ Game Changers report, the new concept of a brand in a pull economy is one where a brand or organisation’s role is as the facilitator and host of the relationships between people, companies and organisations. It is a framework that leverages the power of the crowd. A modern brand must allow for a place for each and every potential user to put their own spin and profile into it – to come together with other like-minded users and form micro brands within the overall brand structure. In practice this means a porous and open visual, organisational and collaborative structure and forms of communication – something we see already in the attitudes of the YouTube channels discussed so far. In participating in the MCN, arts organisations will need to consider how they can open up their organisational output and identity as well as treat their audiences as fans.

The Story

Beyond responding to a fanbase’s feedback, which to an extent most organisations already do, how can the organisation’s identity be made porous and interwoven into that of the fan, to the extent the fanbase comes back repeatedly and grows and connects with others in a community of organic interaction and co-production?

One of the key curatorial or editorial metaphors to be picked up from successful online video cultures is ‘The Story’.This is considered from both from the point of view of the story told within or across a series of videos, and the story of the channel or presenter. Crucially, given that this is built on shared interest, the story of the channel is also how the fan relates to them: the narrative the user builds up.

Content made in a conversational style can fall into what is often called ‘self-curation’. Self-curation platforms such as Storify bring together a notion of exploration and browsing with the viewing of selected content. Here users drag into or focus on specific elements in their personal dashboard or feed, by subscribing to or following others. This forefronting of the users’ story traces it across a number of platforms and devices and attempts to stem the overwhelming flow of information online. If the institution’s narrative also takes place episodically across various sites and in identifiable and fragmented components, the user as they go can pick up the narrative of the institution and carry it with them. Rather than invoking the official story of the institution it is drafted and spread by its audience. The ways a user finds or views content online becomes increasingly intertwined with the ways of them organising and re-distributing content deployed by the producer.

Where the user is able to construct or pull the narrative in their direction, (or at least feel that they are) as much as read the one presented, is key to thinking about what kind of story should be offered and how this might be received and spread.

In this way an organisation would not just produce a website as the single destination point for its content but rather multiple sources of content that feed into various aggregation engines and self-curated user dashboards. Overall this allows stories of users to both connect with others as well as the organisation; but also broaches the expectations inherent to the sharing economy. Users want to be engaged in an exchange – if they are expected to contribute attention or knowledge production (as with crowdsourcing), they are rightfully asking what are they getting in return or how their investment will pay off. In offering content, archives and a story the institutions is both opening itself up and at the same time giving something back to its community.

Working With Pre-Existing Communities

Through the MCN model we can see how participating organisations can approach their pre-existing communities as their channel’s fanbase. Here the MCN model takes a different approach to building audiences. Rather than just lowering the boundaries of access through increased platforms or points of entry; educational programmes, or by connecting to the ‘everyday user’ (which digital technology and video is often seen as being able to do),[4] it instead considers the means by which these fan-groups or audiences might be able to speak to each other or how they are of interest to each other or what they have common.

While they take a different approach to building audiences, an MCN for the arts does not mean starting from scratch to build these viewers. Like the audiences or fan groups who form around YouTube channels, arts organisations already have audiences who could become the basis of the sort of audiences that grow within MCN networks. If we consider this from the point of view of the arts, these existing audiences are on the whole arts literate or at the very least familiar with the arts. So a practical step for cementing this online will be to start developing an editorial style from this estsblished investment. This is in distinction to the marketing-style videos prevalent in existing arts content which can be seen on platforms such as ArtPlayer.tv or Hibrow, that have – as ACE point out – only garnered low audience figures, but builds a community of common interest, the type of which YouTube audiences are based on. This inverts the traditional institutional model which pushes cultural knowledge and artefacts at audiences.

ONE OF MANY SITES OF INTERACTION

In the translation of the organisation into network, authority and levels of participation vary in degree across activities. If we look back to the role of video within the multi-faceted brand of media organisations such as Vice Media or Dazed Group we can see how the output of the MCN should be approached as one of many sites of interaction with the organisation, rather than attempt to dissolve the network into all of their activities, some of which are rightly incompatible, such as long term curatorial programmes for example.

Looking towards arts publishers such as Frieze and Kaleidoscope we can see how for a number of years they have begun to explore the translation and separation between print and video publishing.

Kaleidoscope is an Italian publishing house that releases both a quarterly print magazine and regular online articles. In spring 2014 they launched an extended video publishing arm and online video-exhibition space for artists moving image called Videoclub. According to their own description, the online video club stemmed from a reflection on ‘modes of distribution and reception of moving image in the Internet era’[5] and hosts curated, thematic and monographic presentations of often difficult to see archival material. Videoclub distribute this curatorial activity through email lists and social media, and with concurrent event space in Milan, they hope that by bridging between platforms they can draw upon the visual-communicative qualities of the internet and reinvent the concept of the film club ‘as a digital space for experiencing and discussing art’. As an organisation it is live to processes of contemporary networked cultural production and has constructed a programme that spans local and international audiences, across devices and mediums, stating that with Videoclub they are; ‘pursuing [the] idea that the magazine is an open platform which can exist in print, online, and live’.[6]

What ultimately characterises this approach though, is the desire to use video to integrate moving image into existing editorial themes in ways that print articles don’t allow. As Jennifer Higgie of Frieze describes, you reach a definite limit when ‘in an article about say a filmmaker, you’ve got six stills and that’s it […] which is especially frustrating with so many artists working with moving image.’[7] To tackle this in 2012 Frieze set up Frieze Video with former Frieze magazine art-editor Marcus Werner – who had left to set up the video production company Punderson Gardens:

we thought that you could start including the films online; so with the Frieze app if there’s an article about a filmmaker, on the app, you’ll get to see clips of all of their films. And then, we thought that’d we’d make our own films, that would in a sense continue the exploration that we’re doing in the print medium.[8]

Looking to publishing therefore we can see digital and networked video as an additional, yet connected, layer in the production, viewing and experiencing of art. The network, supported by the MCN, helps the circulation between these sites, directing and growing audiences between them. The MCN, like publishing, sets an editorial agenda and scheme for the content it produces and distributes or syndicates across various networks, but like publishing this occurs within this editorial framework and is approached as such. Like the micro networks set up by the above mentioned publishers between their print, online and video platforms, content is clearly produced as part of an editorial mandate, but audiences are aware of this and can follow this content as part of a moving many-sided narrative, rather than a singular monolithic one.

STRENGTHENING FANBASES

Channel-Based Browsing

In 2012 YouTube restructured their interface to favour channel-based browsing (rather than search term-led browsing) as a means to support a broadcast/advertiser based income model. This channel-based browsing, is seen to be better for retaining the identity of the channel in a network:

its various changes made subscriptions more prominent, with the hopes that people would stick around longer on specific channels, rather than hopping from random video to random video. By boosting viewer retention and subscription rates, YouTube creators can reach a wider audience, thus securing more advertising revenue, which means they’ll have a bigger budget with which to create even more valuable videos.[9]

With relation to the formation and support of communities of interest, it allows users to relate and subscribe to other content, thus sustaining the development of connected audiences.

We can see here the value of an increased institutional porosity, at least in terms of online video output. The vertical and horizontal nature of networked video and its audiences offers multi-layered discoverability and accessibility of content. As audiences can come to the organisation, contribute to or identify with it from numerous points, the overall identity is both projected into and supported by the network. The MCN model therefore combines the (horizontal) community forming described in our description of the translation between audiences and fan bases (see again William Streeck) with porous yet recognisable (vertical) identities still associated with the institution (see again: Pascal Geilen).

Collaboration Not Just Partnerships

Another key feature of these networks is collaboration. As Adam King stressed, in the MCN model collaboration is encouraged as much as possible: this collaboration takes the form of joint programmes (with say two YouTube personalities coming together in an interview or dual show), content or platform exchanges, interviews or making use of another channel’s archives. As attested to by analytics reports, building audiences through association – literally bringing together two channel audiences to form new much larger connected ones rather than diluting a channel’s identity – in fact strengthens the reach and potency of it through the network this creates.

We believe collaboration has to replace competition between organisations in order to counter the gaps in capacity, or difference in speeds, between slow-moving organisations and fast-moving consumers. The work carried out by the Common Practice advocacy group’s Size-Matters[10] and Circular Facts[11] report and publication (among many others) has also shown collaboration and pooling resources to be of the utmost importance.

This model proposes an interesting challenge to the arts sector to extend collaborations beyond partnerships with discrete roles and ring-fenced authorship. Collaborating in this way could be the means by which an organisation shares its story while at the same time allowing for its identity to overall become more porous to its audience or fanbase, new dialogues and other organisations. In this approach capacity, audiences and insight are built from the combined resources of the network, rather than each organisation applying the large resources to build comparable audience figures and engagement from scratch.

In an arts MCN an organisation might manage and maintain the identity, quality and output of their own channels[12] but rely on an MCN to generate these connections and collaborations, or indeed take up this challenge itself. Collaboration through online video allows lots of people to pass through the content but also to become more involved. Audiences and content are both brought together in channels to legible organisational or artistic identities, but at the same time this will be combined with the horizontal flexibility and conversation of these online video network-platforms, so that the narrative-identification mentioned earlier is encouraged to seep and spread beyond the habitual choices of each user.

Metadata and Analytics

Metadata is central to the functioning of YouTube and syndicated video. Being able to augment and effectively understand and develop this is central to the success of a video on YouTube and especially important to the impact and popularity of a YouTube Channel. Ultimately YouTube best-practice and optimisation means that any video uploaded to YouTube can perform well in YouTube’s search and related content system if its suggestions are adhered to. Yet, this performance is amplified when it can be applied across a network of insight, trends and experience encapsulated by an MCN. Put simply, there is a large amount of valuable data accessible to any vertical channel about their own content, but as this would be scaled up within an MCN data about trends or user-movements between a number of verticals or channels becomes available. Comparable insight is currently unavailable in the arts sector (at least to anything like the same degree as in other sectors) and this potential resource represents both a highly attractive proposition to advertisers[14] but also offers the arts sector itself a mass of information and insight upon which to build strategy and funding resilience. In addition to accessing this data, we also believe that this data should, to the largest possible degree, be part of open data sets.

Syndication

It is certainly worth mentioning syndication specifically at this point. As we have seen within YouTube in the case of the MCN; the cluster of platforms available to Kaleidoscope and Frieze; or across a variety of other platforms with Rightster and Vice Media, the ability to syndicate content is and will be central to any successful audience growth in online video for the arts. In this case, content produced for consumption online should therefore at least bear this in mind. Whether this be achieved by being increasingly accessible or offering introductions to longer or more in-depth content it needs to be engaging and effective within the platforms made available. The MCN will no doubt support this in one way or another.

A SPECIAL MENTION FOR CONTENT ID

As we have seen, MCNs have built their entire organisation and business model around optimising video production, monetisation and audience growth for online video platforms and syndication. At the point of upload they are well placed to work with video material for the arts. For example ContentID, a system internal to YouTube but managed and augmented by the MCN, offers a flexible, but seemingly effective approach to copyright; something that has perennially been a major issue online. It supports total copyright control, flexible fair re-use of content or completely open access, all with options for monetisation. It is therefore a viable means by which to safeguard content and to recompense content producers and owners, with bloggers earning six figure sums an, albeit extreme, evidence of this.

RESISTANCE TO BRANDED CONTENT

In the main body we took quite some space to introduce the developing role of branded content in the MCN model. We did this because as a proposition it has the most potential to instigate a mood of resistance amongst arts organisations to the entire idea of experimenting with MCNs. Indeed the relationship between branded fundraising and an organisation’s capacity to be curatorially (or editorially) unbiased is already a contentious issue. The broad-brush character of ongoing protests against BP’s sponsorship of the Tate indicates that branded content is both already pervasive but perceived as being deeply at odds with the remit of these institutions. Likewise, the curators of the São Paulo Biennial, after supporting an artist-led boycott of Israeli-backing for the biennale, have written ‘the sources of cultural funding have an increasingly dramatic impact on the supposedly “independent” curatorial and artistic narrative of an event.’[15] As a major sponsor, many of the Tate’s events could be considered BP branded content, with arts critic Julian Stallabrass describing the situation where ‘The brand permeates everything, from the products in the shop to the designer uniform of the staff.’

Branded content does deliberately erase the distinction between the video and the advert which might have at one point been a banner or overlay on or entirely separate to the video. It is often very much the same as the material produced for the site it occupies, except that instead of an editorial or curatorial outcome, the video’s focus is on conveying some part of the brand’s message directly or by association. But, as the advertising activity therefore moves into the narrative and voice of the channel (rather than into the world of the video as in product placement), a channel has to be careful to ensure that it remains true to the relationship the channel has to their fans. Indeed, the MCNs claim it as their responsibility to dissuade sponsors from trying to ‘dictate the content’. If it's not right for the audience it would kill that audience. As Adam King from Diagonal View stressed, ‘this would hurt you [the channel]; it would the brand; it would hurt everyone involved’, instead, ‘you have to marry up the right people’.

Likewise, as King is keen to stress, while there is a clear gain in branded content from the point of view of the advertiser (in that promotion, advocation, marketing and often purchase can all be wrapped into a 2-3 click package) the [stated] bottom line is the provision of a sustainable funding model for popular YouTube Channels.[16] Rather than overly determining editorial policy via the wants of advertisers, MCNs stress that they offer ‘a service that allows them to do what they want to do, which is content creation […] people who make good stuff should be rewarded for what they do […] everyday you spend on the phone to [media companies like] Mediacom or Starvest or whatever that’s time you could spend creating stuff.’ The pay-off is an increased involvement with advertisers, sponsorship and branded content, even if this is relatively small.

If, as we presume, there would be resistance to branded content’s compromising of curatorial and editorial autonomy across the sector, how would the proposed arts specific MCN – fitting with the not for profit model supported by ACE – generate income, and in the long term become a sustainable offer? For our answer to this question we go back to Adam King and his presentation to Art of Digital London. King stressed that the benefits of an MCN, particularly for the arts, could be described on three points of a triangle. Firstly, there is the potential revenue generated by advertising. Secondly, the benefits could consist simply in driving and generating audiences (citing Diagonal View’s work with the Olympics). Finally, the network would help to steer traffic to other sites, for example artists, galleries or events. Each of these elements connect together and support one another in a network: they are indeed proximal, but they don’t have to become inter-changable.

King stressed that the expectation of ACE is that monetisation would come later on once the previously difficult to reach and highly specific arts audiences become identifiable for advertisers. Of course, to what extent this is true in practice remains to be seen.

CONCLUDING REMARKS - PLAYING TO OUR STRENGTHS

It was our desire through this paper to demonstrate to staff in the cultural sector the value of participating in an arts specific MCN. We tracked how the changing landscape of media distribution has brought networked video to the fore of contemporary experience and outlined how this has pushed open new spaces in which to engage with art and artistic discourse. We took the time to articulate how the MCN model satisfies the current desires expressed by key figures in the sector: to engage more effectively in networked cultures as a means to translate their position and secure the future impact of their work amongst growing online audiences.

As a final point we would like to raise the perhaps obvious concern over the highly commercial character of the MCNs we have chosen to investigate here. It is important to question how sensitively the much coveted artwork, related discourse and relationships will be handled by the selected agency. In this we believe that a primary task going forward is to discuss how those from the cultural sector who participate can work with the MCN to steer the best course for this commission.

Like ACE we feel it is imperative that this MCN is able to maintain the nuances, critical capacity and difference that the arts has to offer. This would set it apart from other more commercial networks whilst at the same time attending to the potential for reaching broader audiences and generating a reasonable level of income. We feel that the channels should reflect the wealth of cultural output in the UK, representing a range of parties – artists, organisations and critics – and a range of content - from artists’ video to curatorial walk through, video essays to institutional promotional material, to access to the archives to name just a few.

Although there are clear differences between the majority of content already produced on YouTube, and the material produced in and for the arts sector (both the art itself and the discourse around it), we believe that while ostensibly being more suited to YouTube, comedy, blogging and gaming are not its only mode. Indeed, we can look to already existing YouTube channels such as the much celebrated MOCA.tv to see that good quality story telling and journalism is good quality and engaging wherever it sits. And as we see already for the artists and organisations developing a programme primarily on YouTube, it can also be an entirely appropriate space for the arts as one layer among, and meshed with, many others.

In this commission we believe there is a need to play to strengths. We cannot expect an MCN to have a solid understanding of the complex and long histories of the UK cultural sector, both curatorially and in the politics across organisations, artists and individuals. There is a large amount of public funding directed into this commission and it is ultimately in support of our work and for the benefit of the people we aim to represent – our communities. We believe that there is a responsibility amongst those looking to participate in the MCN to support the agency in identifying where connections could be made with artists, between organisations and taking charge of content development from an early stage. In this we believe it is important to fully participate in all aspects of the network i.e.: better listening to our communities, co-production of content, collaborations with other organisations, etc. taking direction from the MCN as expects in growing audiences and monetising content.

A primary aim of this paper (as with the work of Art of Digital London) was to set up a space to fully investigate new developments in digital strategy - the MCN model being the case here. The digital field moves quickly, perhaps faster than can be effectively tracked by a cash, labour and resource poor sector. The aim of our research was to become more informed about the technology and business model behind the MCN and then use this knowledge to reflect on its suitability to the unique nature of a UK cultural producer. In sharing this knowledge with our community it is our hope that this paper can alleviate some of the work by assessing the task and provide the beginnings of a discussion around a new arts specific MCN.

FOOTNOTES

  1. Digital Clarity Group, 2012, Understanding the ‘Mobile Shift’, [online] available at: http://digitalclaritygroup.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/DCG-Insight-Understanding-the-Mobile-Shift-Nov-2012.pdf)

  2. Robert Tercek, TEDxHollywood in: TEDx Talks, 2014, Documentary Film Makers in a Surveillence Society, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sh9t1UE7b7A

  3. Kanji, 2013, ‘Why Binge Viewing is on the Rise’, VOD Professional, [online] available at: http://www.vodprofessional.com/features/why-binge-viewing-is-on-the-rise/

  4. YouTube Statistics, 2014, Statistics [online] available at: https://www.youtube.com/yt/press/en-GB/statistics.html

  5. Kauser Kanji, 2013, ‘Roadmap 2014 – Five strategic chellenges facing broadcasters and video service providers’, VOD Professional, [online] available at: http://www.vodprofessional.com/features/roadmap-2014-five-strategic-challenges-facing-broadcasters-vod-service-providers/

  6. BARB is the acronym for Broadcasters' Audience Research Board. It is owned by BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BSkyB and the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising).

  7. Joe Lewis, 2014, ‘Netflix - Friend or Foe’, BARB, [online] available at: http://www.barb.co.uk/whats-new/329

  8. Jason Deans and Tara Conlan, 2014, BBC iPlayer: major upgrade to include exclusive content from Boyle and Curtis, The Guardian, [online] available at: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/mar/11/bbc-iplayer-revamped-adam-curtis

  9. Mark Sweney, 2014,‘Channel 4 to replace 4oD with new online hub All 4’, [online] available at:

    http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/sep/11/channel-4-replace-4od-new-online-hub-streaming-tablets-smartphones?CMP=ema_546

  10. Ibid.

  11. Ibid.

  12. In 2013 a BBC report marked the point where reqests for iPlayer on mobile devices such as mobile phones and tablets for on-demand viewing outstripped desktop computers and their shift in focus accordingly: BBC, 2013, ‘Monthly Performance Pack March 2013’, BBC Media Centre, [online] available at: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/iplayer/iplayer-performance-mar13.pdf. See also: Christopher Williams, 2013, ‘BBC iPlayer viewers abandon computers for smartphones and tablets’, The Telegraph, [online] available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/digital-media/10401398/BBC-iPlayer-viewers-abandon-computers-for-smartphones-and-tablets.html

  13. Rohan Gunatillake, 2014, ‘The Importance Of Being Curious: an interview with Matt Locke’, Native, [online] available at: http://artsdigitalrnd.org.uk/features/the-importance-of-being-curious-an-interview-with-matt-locke/

  14. Richard Sambrook and Sean McGuire, 2014, ‘We want news on the phone – and that means reinventing the TV news channel’, The Guardian, [online] available at: http://www.theguardian.com/media/media-blog/2014/aug/28/tv-news-channel-phone-digital?CMP=ema_546

  15. Ericsson, 2014, What is TV going to be like in 2020? [online video] available at: http://www.ericsson.com/news/140619-what-is-tv-going-to-be-like-in-2020_244099437_c?query=networked

  16. Matt Locke, 2013, ‘What we do we mean when we talk about ‘TV’?’, Test.org.uk, [online] available at: http://test.org.uk/2013/03/19/what-we-do-we-mean-when-we-talk-about-tv/

  17. Ben Dowell, 2013, ‘Britons own fewer TVs but watch more television, research finds’, The Guardian, [online] available at: http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2013/mar/18/britons-own-fewer-tvs-research?CMP=twt_fd

  18. Carlos Pacheco, 2014, ‘What is a YouTube Multi-Channel Network – MCN 101’ Uncategorised,[online] available at: http://carlospache.co/2014/07/24/what-is-a-youtube-multi-channel-network-mcn-101/

  19. 2014, ‘Tony Hall - BBC Arts launch’, [online] available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/speeches/2014/dg-bbc-arts

  20. Tony Hall, Ibid.

  21. Panel: Arts, 2014, Sheffield Doc Fest, [online] available at: https://sheffdocfest.com/events/3385

  22. http://randomacts.channel4.com

  23. http://randomacts.channel4.com/artist/327/Nathaniel%20Mellors

  24. http://randomacts.channel4.com/artist/318/Petra%20Cortright

  25. http://randomacts.channel4.com/artist/313/Mark%20Wallinger

  26. See: http://www.roh.org.uk/news/the-metamorphosis-broadcast-by-sky-arts-on-27-may

  27. Private View: 1. Matisse Exhibition at the Tate Modern, [TV Programme] BBC, BBC iPlayer, 7.30pm 17 Apr 2014, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b041d67n/private-view-1-matisse-exhibition-at-tate-modern

  28. Peter Saville: Abstraction and Design, [TV Programme] BBC, BBC Arts, 2014, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3FXDy3hQb71BFHGVtcXdmvj/peter-saville-abstraction-and-design

  29. http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk

  30. http://www.digitaltheatre.com/

  31. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/matisse-live-tate-modern-trailer

  32. http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/eventseries/bmw-tate-live

  33. Sarah Thelwal, 2011, Size Matters, London: Common Practice, available online at: http://www.commonpractice.org.uk/Common-Practice-London-Size-Matters.pdf

  34. Omar Kholeif, 2011, ‘Performing the Self’, Art Monthly, 343, p.12.

  35. https://vimeo.com/pro

  36. See: Eric Larson, ‘Five Reasons to choose Vimeo Over YouTube,’ Mashable, [online] available at: http://mashable.com/2013/05/30/vimeo-over-youtube/

  37. The millennial generation – succeeding generation X born between 1980 and 2000 –s are a primary market for YouTube Channels and MCNs due to their high proportion of device usage and online consumption patterns. Millennials are generally understood to spend more work and leisure time online, be more connected, more flexibly employed and more pluralistic in their identities than previous generations. See http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/topics/millennials/

  38. Courtney Holt, 2013, Maker Studios: The MCN That Miniaturized The Movie Studio, Interview with Ryan Lawler [online] available at: http://techcrunch.com/video/maker-studios-the-mcn-that-miniaturized-the-movie-studio/517903092/

  39. Tim Lewis, 2013, ‘YouTube superstars: the generation taking on TV – and winning’, The Guardian [online] available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/apr/07/youtube-superstars-new-generation-bloggers

  40. Hannah Ellis-Petersen, 2014, ‘YouTube's young celebrities shine at biggest ever UK convention’ theGuardian, [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/08/youtube-convention-celebrities-young

  41. Stuart Dredge, 2014, ‘Vice aims to disrupt 'dull, bland' TV cookery shows with Munchies channel’, The Guardian, [online] available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/07/vice-munchies-food-online-video-fremantlemedia

  42. http://gawker.com/working-at-vice-media-is-not-as-cool-as-it-seems-1579711577

  43. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/opinion/ian-burrell-the-multitasking-jefferson-hack-reveals-how-he-keeps-dazed--confused-relevant-in-a-fastmoving-sector-8961120.html

  44. For a good example of this phenomenon see: http://instagram.com/jackharries

  45. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V5ikrRRhXM

  46. httpswww.youtube.com/channel/UCvVuqRzGVqRlmZYlTf99M_w

  47. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hk8o1OXRZ1g

  48. In: Stuart Dredge, 2014, ‘The secret to a successful YouTube video - by some of the site's stars’, The Guardian, [online] available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/09/youtube-rhett-link-jacksgap-young-turks

  49. These so called organic audiences or traffic refer to the self-generating groups, discussion and interaction around shared interests and which can often include products, commodities or brands and so do not necessarily require additional advertising.

  50. Neil Davidson, 2013, ‘Can a Multi-Channel Network Boost Your YouTube Marketing Success?’ SiteProNews, [online] available at: http://www.sitepronews.com/2013/03/08/can-a-multi-channel-network-boost-your-youtube-marketing-success/

  51. Elly Garrod (Channel Flip), 6 June 2014, ‘AoDL Meetup - Arts Video Online #3’, The Photographers’ Gallery London, available at: http://www.aodl.org.uk/post/94806559445/sound-file-aodl-meetup-arts-video-online-3

  52. Tim Lewis, 2013, ‘YouTube superstars: the generation taking on TV – and winning’, The Guardian, [online] available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/apr/07/youtube-superstars-new-generation-bloggers

  53. Adam King (Diagonal View), 6 June 2014, ‘AoDL Meetup - Arts Video Online #3’, The Photographers’ Gallery London, available at: http://www.aodl.org.uk/post/94806559445/sound-file-aodl-meetup-arts-video-online-3

  54. Elly Garrod (Channel Flip), 6 June 2014, ‘AoDL Meetup - Arts Video Online #3’, The Photographers’ Gallery London, vailable at: http://www.aodl.org.uk/post/94806559445/sound-file-aodl-meetup-arts-video-online-3

  55. Adam King (Diagonal View), Ibid.

  56. Adam King (Diagonal View), Ibid.

  57. Adam King (Diagonal View), Ibid.

  58. Michael Stevens quoted by Stuart Dredge, 2014, ‘YouTube wants its creators to build 'fanbases' rather than audiences’, The Guardian, [online], available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/08/youtube-fanbases-jimmy-fallon-psy

  59. Stuart Dredge, 2014, ‘YouTube wants its creators to build 'fanbases' rather than audiences’, The Guardian, [online], available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/08/youtube-fanbases-jimmy-fallon-psy

  60. Stuart Dredge, 2014, ‘YouTube wants its creators to build 'fanbases' rather than audiences’, The Guardian, [online], available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/08/youtube-fanbases-jimmy-fallon-psy

  61. Neil Davidson, 2013, ‘Can a Multi-Channel Network Boost Your YouTube Marketing Success?’, SiteProNews, [online], available at: http://www.sitepronews.com/2013/03/08/can-a-multi-channel-network-boost-your-youtube-marketing-success/

  62. YouTube’s Creator Academy web-seminars on ‘The art of getting viewers’ give a good indication of what an MCN can help channels with, see: http://www.youtube.com/yt/creators/viewership-bootcamp.html

  63. YouTube Certification is a YouTube-run training course in YouTube best practice that enables an individual creator to display this recognition as well as accessing special services; for a company or organisation to display this certification at least 3 of its staff must undergo this training course. More can be found here: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2952738?hl=en-GB

  64. Elly Garrod (Channel Flip) Ibid.

  65. Elly Garrod (Channel Flip) Ibid.

  66. YouTube, 2014, ‘How Content ID Works’, available at: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2797370?hl=en-GB

  67. Elly Garrod (Channel Flip) Ibid.

  68. Aaron Taube, 2014, ‘How Vice Media Will Make $500 Million This Year’, Business Insider, available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-vice-will-make-500-million-in-2014-2014-6#ixzz3B1eDIff0

  69. Kevin Lieber, 2014, ‘Create videos that attract viewers - Essentials for your creative strategy’, YouTube’s Creator Academy, available at: http://www.youtube.com/yt/creators/get-viewers.html

  70. Adam King (Diagonal View) Ibid.

  71. http://rightster.com

  72. Rightster, 2013, ‘Case Study: The Guardian’, available at: http://corp.rightster.com/our-clients/118/The_Guardian

  73. JooWon Lee and Jae-Hyeon Ahn, 2012, ‘Attention to Banner Ads and Their Effectiveness: An Eye-Tracking Approach’, International Journal of Electronic Commerce, Volume 17 Number 1, Fall 2012, p.119-138 [online], abstract available at: http://www.ijec-web.org/past-issues/volume-17-number-1-fall-2012/attention-to-banner-ads-and-their-effectiveness-an-eye-tracking-approach/

  74. http://www.kiip.me/

  75. Elly Garrod (Channel Flip) Ibid.

  76. https://econsultancy.com/nma-archive/58650-dell-drives-branded-content-strategy-with-channel-flip

  77. See a preview of other branded content types commissioned by UK-MCN Channel Flip here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJadgKOjhkjOYBmTVm1im2QNLhdi-aGez

  78. P2P Foundation wiki, 2013, ‘Pull Economies’ page, available at: http://p2pfoundation.net/Pull_Economies

  79. David Bollier, 2006, Summary of ‘When Push comes To Pull: The New Economy and Culture of Networking Technology’, The Aspen Institute, available at: http://www.cooperationcommons.com/node/416

  80. Andrew Needham, 2014, ‘From Socially Intelligent Business to Socially Intelligent Research’ White Paper, The Face Group. Available at: http://www.facegroup.com/#studies/White_Papers

  81. Wolff Olins & Flamingo, ‘Game Changers’ Report, 2013, available at: http://gamechangers.wolffolins.com/

  82. Wolff Olins & Flamingo Ibid.

  83. Wolff Olins & Flamingo Ibid.

  84. Wolff Olins & Flamingo Ibid.

  85. Wolff Olins & Flamingo Ibid.

  86. Adam King (Diagonal View) Ibid.

  87. http://www.youtube.com/user/PewDiePie

  88. http://www.youtube.com/user/KSIOlajidebt

  89. Sam Delaney, 2014, ’KSI: what I learned from one of YouTube’s biggest stars’, theGuardian [online], available at: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jul/31/ksi-youtube-star-comedy-central-demolished?CMP=ema_546

  90. Elly Garrod (Channel Flip) Ibid.

  91. Elly Garrod (Channel Flip) Ibid.

  92. Elly Garrod (Channel Flip) Ibid.

  93. Arts Council of England, 2014, A New Multi-channel Network for the Arts - guidance for applicants, available at: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/media/uploads/pdf/Multi-channel_Network_Guidance_for_applicants.pdf

  94. ACE, 2014, p.3.

  95. ACE, 2014, p.4.

  96. ACE, 2014, p.4.

  97. ACE, 2014, p.4.

  98. Arts Council England, 2013, ‘Great art and culture for everyone: 10-Year Strategic Framework, 2010-2020’, available at: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/browse-advice-and-guidance/great-art-and-culture-everyone

  99. http://www.hibrow.tv/home.html

  100. Royal College of Art, London South Bank University and Tate, 2014, Cultural Value and the Digital: Practice, Policy and Theory, London, 20th May - 7th July 2014. London: Tate, 2014.

  101. Royal College of Art et al. Ibid.

  102. See: Wolfgang Streeck, 2012, ‘Politics as Consumption’, New Left Review, #76 July/Aug 2012, pp.27-47.

  103. Of course it certainly can’t be said that MCN channels do not exclude, or at the very least privilege, certain audiences. Currently, the vast majority of MCN managed channels are fronted by hetero-normative, caucasian men. In the name of balance, a vast majority of these channels focus on computer-gaming, itself vastly biased in terms of representation.

  104. Pascal Gielen, 2013, Institutional Attitudes: Instituting Art in a Flat World, Amsterdam: Valiz Antenne.

  105. Museums and the Web 2013, 2013, Diving into the Museum’s Social Media Stream. Analysis of the Visitor Experience in 140 Characters [online] available at: http://mw2013.museumsandtheweb.com/paper/diving-into-the-museums-social-media-stream/

  106. Kaleidoscope, 2014, Kaleidoscope Press - Videoclub, [online] available at: http://kaleidoscope-press.com

  107. Kaleidoscope, Ibid.

  108. Jennifer Higgie, Frieze Video talking at AoDL - Arts Video Online #3

  109. Jennifer Higgie, Ibid

  110. Neil Davidson, ‘Can a Multi-Channel Network Boost Your YouTube Marketing Success?’, SiteProNews, [online], 8 March 2013, available at: http://www.sitepronews.com/2013/03/08/can-a-multi-channel-network-boost-your-youtube-marketing-success/

  111. Sarah Thelwall for Common Practice, 2011, Size Matters [online] available at: http://www.commonpractice.org.uk/Common-Practice-London-Size-Matters.pdf

  112. Circular Facts [online], available at: http://www.circularfacts.eu/

  113. The organisations may well act like users too, and make their own links – but should change their activities to suit the environment accordingly.

  114. Adam King, Ibid.

  115. Rachel Spence, 2014, ‘Who funds the arts and why we should care’, Financial Times, [online] available at: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/4313691c-3513-11e4-aa47-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz3Dn2VEIyJ

  116. Behind the rhetoric of ‘supporting talent’ it is of course beneficial for an MCN that their core product – accurate demographic breakdown and networked insight applied to massive view counts to the advertisers, and regularly updated and well produced content true to the channel’s identity –maintains and grows its audience. These seemingly benevolent statement about supporting and understanding creative talent have much more to do with maintaining a dynamic data set and watch time.