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YouTube Red: What’s More Important Than Its Content (Guest Column)

Three original movies and an original series debuted this week (Feb. 10) on YouTube’s Red subscription-video service. The press and traditional entertainment are excited to see the new content, report on its out-of-the-gate performance and pass judgement. The smart minds are more interested in the context of the experience and its fit with creators and their fan communities.

Red launched with great excitement last year, as industry and press speculated on SVOD from the biggest name in online video. Now the service rolls out the first of its originals, including content featuring PewDiePie (41.9 million YouTube subs), Meg DeAngelis (4.5 million subs) and Lilly Singh (7.8 million subs). A fourth project, “Lazer Team,” is a sci-fi adventure movie from Rooster Teeth, the Austin-based production company that has been making online video since before YouTube existed.

In an age of maturing MCNs and documented YouTube best practices, it’s easy to forget that five years ago it was not clear how to win on the platform. In 2011, YouTube kicked off its $100 million original content initiative and had to make its own bets. Some of that programming worked, some did not, but everyone in the industry learned from the initiative.

A similar learning opportunity lies ahead on Red. These are early days in digital-native subscription video. It’s not clear what content and operational best practices translate from the known ad-supported YouTube business. Subscription video is a different animal, with different context, audience expectations and social dynamics. I expect operational learnings for creators, networks and the Red team itself.

Instead of judging the first original content, people should be asking questions like: How does this new content relate to the creators’ ad-supported content? What are the most efficient ways to market it? How are people discovering it? How does it fit relative to social juggernauts like Facebook and Twitter that drive fan following and discovery mechanics? Should creators post native-video clips of this content to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine like they do with their ad-supported content? When are fans engaging with this content? What part of the fans day does it capture? What devices are they watching on? Is it capturing a subset of normal fans? Do I have the right pacing and story structure for context? How is the community engagement around the content? Is it being shared like my ad-supported content?

Whether Red’s original content is an instant success or a slow ramp, the first people to begin answering these questions will have a leg up on success in the inevitable SVOD part of the digital-native creator ecosystem.

In short, the most powerful online video platform is teaming with some of the biggest creators to show us their take on operating SVOD. Hopefully we will enjoy some great content and have a new monetization option. We are certain to observe a fascinating learning curve and exciting iteration cycles that will educate the industry.

Juan Bruce is CEO of Epoxy.tv, the leading publishing software for online video creators and networks across platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and more.

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