DIVORCING YouTube

I loved YouTube.  I really did.  It was always there for me, during thick and thin, and never once raised his voice.  But now, the bastard is beginning to piss me off.

Back in 2006 or 2007, I was invited by one of the founders or higher-ups at YouTube to become one of the first YouTube Partners.  As a YouTube Partner, I was suddenly able to post videos of unlimited length, and I was also able to monetize my videos by allowing advertising in them.  This was a fantastic opportunity, and I would receive checks from Google every now and again.

Then I was invited to showcase the feature-length documentary about me called “Wamego: Making Movies Anywhere” as one of the first YouTube Spotlight videos.  One of the founders or higher-ups was a fan of mine, and loved the doc, and was excited to share it.  I was a great and historical honor.

Life with YouTube went along fine until I realized a lot of other filmmakers were signing up with official channels and their brands were being used to name the channel.  When I signed up with YouTube, it had just started, so I used an email address I only engaged for online Christmas shopping.  So the name of my channel was called “pipistrello2004.”  There wasn’t an option to call it “Dikenga Films” at the time.

I contacted the Head Honcho YouTube guy who invited me to become a Partner and for the video Spotlight honor and he told me that there was no way I could just change the name of my channel.  That if I wanted to set up a new channel, I’d have to re-upload all my videos, lose the view count numbers, and all that.  I was bummed.  But, I decided to just keep the pipistrello2004 name as the Channel name and figured no one really cares anyway.

Life went on, new movies were made, new videos were uploaded, and then YouTube started fiddling around with Google, and then suddenly the whole site was different.  Google Adsense, links, emails, channels, names, networks, blah blah blah.  It was enough to confuse anyone, so I just stayed out of it.  (Sometimes its best to let your significant other just act like a brat so you can get on with dinner).

Recently, I realized that the Google checks had stopped coming.  And the other day, I noticed that some of my videos were not being monetized.  I went to the Video Manager, clicked “Claiming Options” (so I could claim copyright for my videos), and then selected the go-ahead for monetization.  And when I clicked “Save” I got a Server Error.  So my recent videos were not able to be copyright claimed or monetized.  Even though all my earlier videos from 2006-2008 were being monetized.

I went to my gmail account to search my history in order to locate the Head Honcho YouTube guy’s email address.  Then I noticed that YouTube’s owner, Google, for some reason, limits email history, and because I have so many messages going in/out each year, my gmail database does not go back far enough.  So I was unable to locate Head Honcho’s email address, which is why I can’t remember his name.

You might figure, as I did, that I could just call up YouTube customer service and tell them my issue and find a solution.  Well, guess again.  Being a special YouTube Partner might sound special, but it clearly doesn’t mean anything.

There is no such thing as YouTube customer service.  Not even for the Partners.  One has to post public messages on the help boards, or weed through endless, and totally worthless FAQ lists on the help pages.  And yes, while I can see that there is such a thing as a Frequently Asked Question, I’m pretty sure that my question isn’t frequent.  How often does YouTube get a question or concern from one of the original YouTube Partners who was able to monetize their videos BEFORE anyone else was able to?

I’ve tweeted @YouTube, and posted dozens of things to the Help Boards, and while certain people have been extremely nice – none of them work at YouTube and they can’t actually help me.

EVERY major company has a customer service phone line.  Well, EVERY company except YouTube and the stupid IMDB, which is owned by Amazon.

So it is with great sadness, I’m thinking about aborting YouTube all together and moving in with Vimeo, who has been very kind to me thus far.  I can post videos on Vimeo on demand and charge for them (brilliant!) and also there’s a thing called a “Tip Jar” that allows fans to donate something small to show their gratitude.  Plus, videos on Vimeo just look better.  She’s a real peach.

In this world of the new Black Market distribution of all things entertainment, I feel abandoned and betrayed by YouTube.  Perhaps one day I’ll get an email from a human being at YouTube who can help me.  But, until then, I’ll just be thankful I don’t work there.  Can you imagine how miserable the internal bureaucracy is in a conglomerate like that when its customers are going through it too?

DISTRIBUTION: DISTRIBUTORS & AGGREGATORS

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles solely about distribution.  A lot of filmmakers are confused about the realities of distribution, and rightly so.  I’ve been making and selling movies internationally for over a decade, and I’m still learning about all the secrets and tricks The Industry hides from us.  Part of the problem is that no one shares this information with each other, both the good and bad, so I’m making it my mission to do so.  Openly, honestly, and hopefully clearly.

When your film is ready for release, there are a variety of ways to get it out into the world.  There are aggregators and sales reps, producer’s reps and distributors, foreign sales agents and a variety of “middle men” who can help you.

Today we’re going to talk about the differences between a Distributor and an Aggregator.

A Distributor is a person (or company) that takes your movie and gets it out to retailers like Blockbuster, RedBox, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, cable and satellite, on-demand, and other VOD platforms.  Aggregators are the people (or companies) who Distributors use to assist them.

Filmmakers have caught on, and now more and more are approaching Aggregators directly instead of using a Distributor.  And it makes sense.  Aggregators will keep their commissions and marketing expenses before paying dues to the Distributor, who in turn will keep their commissions and marketing expenses, before paying their dues to you (or before paying their dues to your Sales Agent, who in turn will deduct their commissions and marketing expenses, before paying you).  So why not cut out all the middle men and hire an Aggregator from the get go?

It isn’t that easy.  In fact, it becomes even more complicated.

If it were easy for filmmakers to get their films to an Aggregator directly, half The Industry would be out of a job.  Distributors would become obsolete.  This will be the eventual outcome, but in the meantime, Distributors everywhere are trying to hold on to their jobs.  So, naturally, Distributors are making it appealing (financially or otherwise) for Aggregators to work with them, instead of you and me.  Today, Aggregators aren’t set up for one-on-one relationships with filmmakers.  As technology advances and makes it possible for more films to be made, the strain will continue to weigh on Aggregators who don’t morph their company structures to suit.

Any musician can post their music to iTunes and sell directly to their fan base.  As of today, iTunes is not open for any filmmaker to upload their movies.  Right now filmmakers must use an iTunes approved Aggregator in order to upload their movies.  There is a question of bandwith, naturally, but in a few years that won’t be a concern.  My hunch is that the moment iTunes opens its doors to filmmakers, directly, as they did with musicians directly, that is the end of the Distributor and potentially the end of the Aggregator.

If Aggregators are to survive, they’ll need to morph into a kind of Distributor, which essentially, brings an entirely new dilemma.  Then there are the Aggregators out there who will take on any project, no matter what it is, for a fee.

I make movies for my audiences.  I do not make them to appeal to Industry executives, Distributors or Aggregators.  And I’m not going to waste money paying an Aggregator to do something today I’ll be able to do without them tomorrow.

If an Aggregator or Distributor tells you there isn’t a market for one of your films because they didn’t like the acting—or whatever excuse they’ll use if they didn’t like it or understand it—ignore them.  Get your movie out there anyway you can.  There are VOD platforms you can get on besides iTunes.  And when the day comes these VOD platforms are open to filmmakers directly, you won’t need to worry about an Aggregator or Distributor every again.  You’ll be able to provide your product directly to your audience.  Just like the music industry.

Our fan bases and audiences around the world don’t care who releases our movies, or what companies have been involved in getting our movies to their desktop, TV or iPad.  Our audiences just care that they can watch whatever they wish… in whatever form they want.