It's been a whole year since the online creative world gasped at Google’s $100 million-plus investment in 100 or so “Original Channels” on YouTube. Shows were pitched, celebrities were called in, and the mainstream media finally portrayed YouTube as the entertainment powerhouse it's been for years.
Now, Google is taking stock. Channels that didn’t take off are being left to their own devices. Some will go quietly into that digital night.
The Original Channels initiative was "scattershot," according to Ad Age, but it found success in programming for younger viewers. Not surprisingly, Original Channels also showed that the best content came from YouTubers themselves, as they already know the territory.
Google could have asked me or any top YouTuber what would work on the video sharing site and found this out without spending huge money on random channels and has-been celebrities.
Regardless, Google is cutting the funding of all but the top 30% to 40% of its Original Channels. Survivors will receive additional funding, with YouTube carefully monitoring watch time for each as Google tries to sell more ads.
Here now are the 10 best YouTube Original Channels -- which will definitely be around next year.
SourceFed was the earliest clear winner among premium channels back in August when it was the first to get 500,000 subscribers. Sourcefed's audience is very active and loyal precisely because of the YouTube celebrity behind it: Philip DeFranco has been on YouTube since 2006.
The pop-culture and news-commentary show is YouTube entrepreneur DeFranco’s latest digital baby. The 26-year-old DeFranco has killed on YouTube for years. Anything he touches on YouTube is magic at this point, and various YouTubers owe their celebrity status to his guiding hand.
(To: illustrate: During the election, DeFranco's talk show outperformed any other show on the YouTube-backed political initiative known as the Election Hub, and TV viewers may have seen him this year hosting Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.)
SourceFed is a bit like DeFranco's signature show, The Philip DeFranco Show, except he doesn't star in it. He has found hosts like Lee Newton and Joe Bereta to do the commentary. It’s a safe bet that SourceFed will be around next year. The reasons for SourceFed’s success -- DeFranco has been builing his million-strong audience for years -- is also why the education focused Sci Show and the Asian-focused entertainment network YOMYOMF, created by top YouTubers as well, are also safe.
Music has always been a huge driver of YouTube views, so it's not shocking that The Warner Sound -- Warner Music Group’s official YouTube channel -- will still be around. Just this August, Nielsen found YouTube is the method of choice for teens discovering new music. The Warner Sound does things a little differently, with the introduction of talk shows and original content beyond music videos. One example, pictured below, is the staged music talk show The Gorburger Show, done in conjunction with Will Ferrell's Funny or Die. It's bizarre and slightly offensive (and not in a good way), and if you do watch it, don't say I didn't warn you.
(Vice’s music channel Noisey, which consistantly ranks in the top 15, will also probably get funding next year given the general popularity of music channels on YouTube.)
Machinima is already ranked as the fourth most-popular YouTube channel, and is one of the oldest and largest YouTube networks. So for them to start another channel and for it to not do well would be inconceivable.
The Machinima Prime channel began July 1, and has racked up 53 million views and more than 600,000 subscribers: a jaw-droppingly impressive feat for being only four months old. Machinima Prime includes original shows featuring top YouTube gamers like the gun-toting FPS Russia (pictured below), and the anticipated prequel to Battlestar Galactica.
Machinima is a Google investment favorite: The video-game entertainment network was included in Original Channels, and Google invested another $35 million in May.
4) Mondo Media
Founded in 1988 by John Evershed, Mondo Media distributes animated shorts and series via the Web. Mondo Media's hit show, Happy Tree Friends, has had a cultish following since first airing in 2006, and the company was getting 40 million views a month as early as 2010.
YouTube's younger audience has always loved Mondo, so Google's investment in the channel last November was a no-brainer. Mondo averages at least 1.5 million views a week, according to data given to Deadline Hollywood, and to date, has generated more than 1 billion views on its main channel.
(Shut Up! Cartoons, an animated channel by the YouTube celebrity duo Smosh rivals Mondo in success, so it will probably get funding next year as well. Shut Up! has averaged 2 million views a week since it began in April.)
5) Red Bull
Red Bull has been on YouTube since 2006, and in that time, it has amassed more than 474 million views and 900,000 subscribers on its extreme-sports videos, interviews and commentary. The Red Bull YouTube channel made headlines last month when Red Bull-sponsored Felix Baumgartner fell through the stratosphere to set a Guiness World Record last month. Baumgartner's livestream lured a record number of viewers. With success like that for a branded content channel, Google would be a fool to not invest again.
6) WWE Fan Nation and MotorTrend
Both channels were founded well before last November (WWE in 2007, MotorTrend in 2008 according to Deadline), so both channels have had a long time to build up their specific, niche audiences. MotorTrend has collected 262 million views with its 465,000 subscribers, while WWE Fan Nation has 395 million with 731,000 subscribers. The content both channels provide is better suited to older audiences, though WWE Fan Nation is easily more testosterone-driven than MotorTrend. MotorTrend's content on average gets almost 3 times the views of an average WWE Fan Nation video, but WWE Fan Nation uploads anywhere from 3 to 20 videos a day.
Who knew people were still into Jay-Z and his music? I kid. His celebrity-powered channel has collected more than 300 million views, mostly on his music videos and promos. The channel also has a variety of music-centric shows, like “The Truth With Elliot Wilson,” “Decoded,” and “Road to Brooklyn.” The channel could get cut, but given YouTube's love of music and music-related content, the channel could just as easily receive additional funding.
Out of all the non-musical celebrity vehicles included in Google’s original investment, Felicia Day’s channel has been the best performing, even beating out Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist’s channel in terms of views (24 million to Harwick’s 18 million) and subscribers (376,000 to Hardwick’s 206,000). Day has always been more of an Internet celebrity than a mainstream one, and her status as nerd queen ensures her channel funding for Google’s second round of investments. Like the Nerdist, Geek & Sundry airs different shows for different days of the week, with my favorite being The Flog.
Who would have thought a traditional entertainment news show would do well on the web? I didn't, but ENTV is entertainment news done right for YouTube, pulling in news from Variety, Deadline, HollywoodLife, TVLine and Movieline. While their subscriber numbers are low, at 50,000, 104 million views since launching this January is not bad, considering all the other well-established pop culture DIY news shows on YouTube with million-strong fan bases like The What the Buck Show by Michael Buckley.
10) The Onion
Do I really need to explain why The Onion is doing well on YouTube? It's the freakin' Onion, a staple of American satire. The print-based publication's seemingly effortless transition to the digital world of video makes other outlets attempts look pitiful.