Soul & Science
Soul & Science

Season 2, Episode · 2 months ago

S2 Episode 2: Vidcon General Manager Jim Louderback | Inside the Creator Economy


The creator economy has been valued at $100 billion, so it is easy to forget that a decade ago, it was dismissed by many as people listening to themselves talk on YouTube. Jim Louderback recognized what video technology and expression could become. He helped build VidCon, the professional conference and fan fest, into global preeminence and now chronicles it all through his weekly newsletter, Inside the Creator Economy. Louderback’s vision was evident early on, as he left a consulting career to capture the PC revolution at Ziff Davis, eventually putting “geeks like me” on camera for ZDTV/TechTV. He’s been ahead of the internet ever since.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • To go on and answer the help-wanted ad.
  • At start-ups, you spend 90% of your time building outward; big companies mean more managing inward.
  • The metaverse is a new canvas for storytelling
  • Like silents to talkies, not every creator will translate to the metaverse 

Brought to you by Mekanism.

Hi, I'm Jason Harris and you're listening to Soul and Science Fast forward your marketing mind in about twenty minutes. If you like our show, please take a moment to subscribe, rate, review, and share on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can follow us across social platforms at Mechanism. Welcome to the pod today, I'm joined by Jim lauder Back. Jim is a highly respected figure in the media space with over twenty years of experience in digital media, experiential events, and tech marketing. He's the editor and publisher of Inside the Creator Economy, which is a weekly newsletter about the intersection of creators, tech, content, and media. You can subscribe on LinkedIn. He is currently a strategic advisor to Paramount and formally built and sold vid Con to Paramount. Vidcan is the leading I r L and virtual conference where the world's top creators, fans and brands all converge in one place for meaningful discussions about the future of online video content. Jim has a proven ability to scale and sell startups along with growing large companies. He joined Vidcan as editorial director of the Industry Track and took over a CEO from founder Hank Green In following the company's sale to Paramount Ladder, Back took on the title of Vidcan General Manager and s v P. Alright, here we go. We're gonna talk a lot today about the creator economy and the future of online video content as well, so we will dive right in. Welcome Jim. I always like to start with a good origin story. How Jim found his way into the creator tech startup space. Did you kind of always know you wanted to get into this, Like, give me, give me a little of your background. Yeah, my background is pretty much follow the fun things and see what happens. Um got a math degree in an NBA early on, ended up doing consulting for a large company. Is building computer systems as a program or leading programming teams? Answered an ad in the New York Times to run the lab the test labs at an early computer magazine called PC Week. I was like, I'll never get the job, but maybe they'll give me a column someday. They hired me. I actually developed a methodology for building computer systems very different from existing methodology. Gonna geek out a little bit here. That ended up on the cover of a magazine called DBMS Database Management Systems as a Kiki magazine about that. So that's why they gave me the job. That's amazing. Yeah, the Database management was a DVD b M S DBMS magazine on the cover. Amazing. All right, keep going. So then you were talking about Ziff Davis, I believe. Anyway, So Ziff Davis got Um on the editorial side, learned how to be an editor editor in chief, helps start a cable network at z d T called z d t V, which was the first cable network about technology. But also we didn't get stars and people who were really good at reading the teleprompter, but we took geeks me and put them on TV and Leola Port and some others, and so it was radically different. UM did that for a while, UM, but ended up going back on the magazine side. And the website helped launch some early websites for Ziff Davis, including parts of ZD net, and some people I worked with at tech TV started a couple of companies. Now we're talking like two thousand five, two thousand six, I remember z d t V. I remember the pets dot Com web van, remember web van? Well, well, O g on the web Van story. Remember when the Giants opened up their stadium, which is a great stadium pack Bell Park, it was called them. Every cup holder had a web Van sticker on it and there was a big web Van uh, you know, banner in the back. And of course season started in April. They were out of business in June. The banners and the cup holders stayed until October. It's amazing. How did you get into the kind of vid con days? From there? When I went back over to the to the Ziff side,...

...did Um actually was the first person to review this box from a company called New Tech that put an entire television production studio into a PC. It was called the tri Caster. It's like, this thing is amazing. Let's launch shows like what we were doing it at tech TV, but we'll do it with two people instead of twenty people, and we'll distribute it through online streaming. Uh. And so a couple of folks that I've been working with a tech TV started a couple of companies. One was Dig and another was Revision three. And they raised a bunch of money for both and Dig was going like this. You remember Dig, It was on fire. And this was two thousand six, two thousand seven, They're like, why don't you come run Revision three for us. It's gonna take what you've been you know, the vision we had with tech TV. We're gonna distribute it all digitally. Come be our CEO. We just raised a bunch of money. We've got a couple of people lead this thing. So that was my introduction that it's two thousand seven, we're doing Dignation. We were doing um a bunch of other shows Texilla, and what happened in two thousand eight, if you remember, it was another crash. And also what was happening is we were distributing our shows on iTunes, but we're also like thirty other places, Reverend Break and Blip and and so many other platforms, but we're putting it on YouTube. And when the crash happened, we had to tighten our belt and really look at where the world was going, like many other companies, and make sure that our cash survived, and did a deep dive on YouTube. Pivoted the entire company to YouTube, and so we started producing and finding YouTube creators and bringing them in. We became an early YouTube multi channel network, which we had three or four hundred creators who were part of our network YouTube let us do that, and we started doing some really innovative things with advertising that basically we stole from the Ed Sullivan Show and Radio, which we're in show sponsorship. So you'd be doing that along with Dignation and and and Kevin Rose and all Breck be talking about shows on DIG and then in the middle of there like Hey, we want to talk about Budweiser or you know, we're drinking this new beer today, or you know, we would integrate the brands in and that was really controversially YouTube. We had a deal that we could do it, but they almost shut us down. The other networks wanted to do it but couldn't. I mean, eventually everyone's doing it. So that was sort of the introduction to that, and then two thousand twelve we sold that to Discovery UM In two thousand nine, this event popped up that a couple of YouTube creators started that they were going to do in two thousand ten called Vidcan. I had been working with them, found out about it, helped them a little bit. Tried to get Hank and John to be part of Revision three, but they wouldn't do it smartly. Probably UM but I spoken sponsored the first one and subsequent ones, and then after I sold Revision three to Discovery in twelve and was just Discovery for a couple of years. After leaving Discovery, UM went back to Hank and John and I had a little non compete for like a year, and I was like, hey, you know, I can help you with something if you want, and Hank was like, hey, run my industry track for me. And I was like, okay, that sounds like fun. I'll do it for a year and then go do something else. And you heard my bio. So I kind of stuck around instead of going to do something else. So that's kind of have it all kind of evolved. I love that story. Um, what happened to Revision three? When you say it? So we built it into Discovery Digital Network. So we started a bunch of different networks that were in some ways complementary to the Discovery television network. So we started something called Animalists that was, you know, the internet version with YouTubers of Animal Planet. We started um, you know, we started uh something called a more adventure oriented one. We started a science show that was sort of tied into the Discovery networks. And so we built a bunch of networks and it eventually after I had left, it merged with Group nine, another investment that Discovery had made, and Seeker, which was what the adventure brand that we built, is actually still part of the Group nine group right now, so it's the remnants of it are still at Group nine. You were monetizing views on YouTube. That plus the Brandy content was the way that you guys made the business successful. Absolutely, so it was taking money from the you know, the pre roles that they would put in. We had a deal we were able to sell our own pre roles in. But the real thing that...

...worked for us, it's very cost per action stuff that we borrowed from radio. And this is the promise that we gave to the creators when they would come to us and work with us, is we had deals with Netflix, we had deals with Budweiser, We had deals with a wide range of different brands, and we would integrate those brands into the show. And the ones that worked the best were the ones that actually where there was a cost per action. So Netflix in the early days, we we would go and set up movie clubs for these creators so they would say, hey, this week we're gonna watch you know, um, you know, Gone with the Wind, and by the way, you want to watch it with us, We'll sign up for Netflix with our code and we'll give you you know, X amount off for like the first couple of months and then join our Netflix Movie Club. You know. They were all about customer acquisition at that point, and we were getting paid sixty seventy bucks and acquisition and we would turn around and share that, you know, with the creators. So we were making bank until uh like two thousand thirteen, they decided they wanted to go to brand advertising and they didn't care about, you know, customer acquisition anymore. But we used that with Audible, we used that with with Squarespace, used that with so many other brands. Whenever there's an acquisition, it can go one of three ways. It can kind of stay that stay flat, It can really bolster up the company and the company and get to new heights, or just totally dismantles and destroys the company, which path happened in the Revision three world. I think the Revision three world we had the opportunity to and we did a lot of stuff for Discovery, but in the end, it didn't align with Discovery, So I think it didn't crash and burn. It grew, but and a lot of what we did actually permeated Discovery in general, but it became less interesting to them, uh, and that's where they rolled it into secrets. We never actually really got to the profit levels that we had hoped for. I think it's very full circle that you're now advising Paramount. You know, when when Paramount and it was Viacom at the time, bought Revision three, I also bought another company similar Revision three called Awesomeness, which was more around the teen girls space. But one of the reasons why they did that, if you remember, Viacom sued YouTube for like six years and they lost that whole team generation. And so one of the reasons why VidCon was attractive to them and Awesomeness is because it allowed them to connect with teens again in a way that they hadn't really because of the fact that they sued YouTube for so long. So VidCon has done a great job making helping via com Ya, com, CBS, Paramount be relevant to this new generation of consumers that were you know, and sometimes in many ways aging out of Nick didn't really have anywhere to go until they would age into MTV and Comedy Central. Let's say someone hasn't been to vidcan. Maybe they've heard of it, maybe they're not that familiar with it. How would you describe what vacans like. So vidcom has three events in one. It's a summit, a conference, and a festival. On the festival side, which is what gets all the attention and which is a lot of the reason why by commis super interested in buying. It's like comic con for online video geeks. Right, So if you're a fan of Mr Beast or Charlie Damilio or any of those other hundreds and thousands of creators, you come to VidCon to celebrate the connection to those creators, to find other people like you that love them, and to really share in that. You know, it's a it's a music festival combined with a comic con for online video. But the conference side is for people that want to be that next generation of creators. Learn how to make better content, learn how to collaborate with other people, meet other people like them, inspired by creators who have been before them. That's our creator track, that's our conference, and that's where we teach people to be that next generation of creators. And then the summit side is the industry summit. It is where the whole creator economy comes together every year to figure out where things are here from the top platforms and brands figure out where things are going. And that is like all the B two B conferences we all go to in the media world, except the fans are there and the creators are there...

...too. So tell me how the experience, how you've seen it evolve since you've been you know, there so long. Yeah, well, so, I'd say on the brand side, it's definitely expanded as more brands have discovered that if you want to connect with teens, this is the place to do it. And every one of those teens is an amplification engine right there. They're all celebrating their love of their creators, but they're all there were their phones, creating themselves, and so that's great for the brands that know how to take advantage of it. So more and more brands have come in kick the tires and the number of them have stuck around. On the on the audience side, you know, it's it's still teens that are really passionate about the creators and come for that. But it's gotten both younger and older. So it used to be the thirteen the eighteen year olds with a sweet spot. Now we see eight year olds, nine year olds, ten year olds not only coming because they want to meet their favorite creators, but also because they want to make video and be creators. And then from a platform perspective, we were YouTube only for the first five or six years. One of the things that I did when I came in around the industry track was really reach out to different platforms Facebook, Instagram, musically was there early on and now TikTok, snap linked in Pinterest, all I have big presences there now. And the thing that the last thing I'll say that I think is really interesting from a change perspective that we saw this year is YouTube had been our title sponsor for a long time. TikTok came in, it was title sponsor for the first time this year. YouTube probably spent more money this year than they ever have. They had a huge presence as well. But the fact is from a creator perspective and a connection perspective, TikTok is a very different platform than YouTube, and the connection that creators have to their audiences. Those paras social relationships are way deep on YouTube, a lot less deep on on TikTok and TikTok people. The way people use TikTok is much more of a I gotten come sometime to spare I'm just gonna swept swift life lafe ha ha. But they don't develop and as many they do develop deep relationships in some ways with creators, not as many, not as long, not as deep and passionate. So creator that may have millions and millions and millions of followers does not have the deep connection to the audience that a creator with a quarter of those followers on YouTube can have. So not that one is better or worse, But the way I think about it is TikTok is more about awareness. You want to get people aware of you as a creator, aware of you as a brand, aware of what's out there. TikTok is awesome if you want to go deep to the consideration phase or the purchase phase. That's where YouTube and YouTube creators are much stronger because I have a deeper personal relationship with their audiences. So we find creators using TikTok to get people aware of what they're doing. But trying to move them to YouTube to really get that depth of connection and maybe buy something from you convert. How do you see VR and Web three? I'll start Let's start with Web three. One of the things that a creator doesn't get from the platforms that they create on his ownership of their audience. And that's super important because the closer you already your audience, the closer your connection them, the more likely that you can find out who your super fans are and you can really start to monetize them directly or connect with them directly. And you know, if you want to connect with all of your subscribers on YouTube or all of your followers on Instagram, you can't really do that except by posting. So Web three has the promise of allowing a creator to create a direct relationship with the people that care about them the most. And I really love that opportunity and creators are looking at it just like TikTok. Maybe an awareness play YouTube, maybe a depth of experience play UM. These platforms where you can move your audience to using Web three capabilities and align incentives about growing together offer great promise to creators. You know, you've got Patreon and you have some of those other things, but I think the opportunity to do that on Web three is is really interesting. When you look at them metaverse and people are equating Web three in the metaverse,...

I still think they're very different. But when you look at the metaverse, it is a it is a new canvas for storytelling, um, and it's a canvas that we don't understand well. And creators who have been on YouTube for eight or ten years, maybe a couple of them will end up being good creators on the metaverse and creating using that as a canvas for telling stories. But I really think the Mr Beast of the metaverse just graduated from eighth grade somewhere, and we don't know who that person is. They might be building experiences on roadblocks right now, but what that storytelling environment looks like is going to be very different. And I would say watch this space. I'm excited about it. I think it's gonna be amazing. But I don't think you know, the typical suspects that we know in the YouTube and TikTok space are the ones that are going to get it. You can experiment with it, um. I didn't interview at Vidcom with the chief product officer from Roadblocks and Megan Plays as a YouTube creator has now moved into Roadblocks. She's built seeing her husband have built a game studio on Roadblocks. So they're employing seventy people and their building experiences on Roadblocks. That's not for everybody, but there are opportunities to do that. The creator economy when it started, merch became really big. That became a real big way to monetize, and then pre roll became a big way to monetize. Doing brand partnerships became a big way to monetize. Do you feel like there's always a new way to to figure it out or do you feel like those same trusted ways to make money are still existing in the creator economy. I think that new things are coming up all the time. And now you look at like digital goods for example, so being able to create um digital goods and you can do this in Roadblocks where anybody can now go create a skin or go create something there and sell it. You know, n f T s again tarnished and uh but not fading, and the ability to do those sorts of things where they're digital originals that hopefully we can end up using across multiple platforms. Those are new areas to lean into, I think, being able to invest in a creator and sharing their growth. I mean, what if you discovered the next you know, Charlie Nmilio or Mr Beast, and you were a fan of theirs and you were able to buy into their economy as it were, and then grow with them. That's also an area that I think we're going to develop out on the monetization perspective it and also more and more we see creators now taking their content and they're starting to build their own video experiences and maybe putting them on rokupor putting them on connected TVs. So there are a lot of new opportunities and a lot of ways to waste a lot of money and time too. But I'm excited that I think we're gonna keep on seeing more things come up. What impact do you think vidcan has made on the rise of the creator community. Well, I think vidcan has legitimized creators as a trusted source of content and partners for brands. And I also love that Vidcan's a place where we've trained and helped creators reach their audiences, connect with each other, and also work through a lot of the issues that creators have around loneliness and depression and identity, and that we're a safe space and we welcome everybody. And when I see, you know, the faces of the teams who realize that there are other people like them and that they can be themselves and they can connect with their creators. And then a couple of years later, I meet the creator who said, I came here when I was fifteen as a fan, and now I've got five million followers or subscribers and brand deals and I'm building a business. And you know, thanks Vidcom, you helped me. I think vid Kan really helped brands feel like it was a real thing, made it seem like, Okay, I can take a portion of my budget and spend it here and it it feels safe, it doesn't feel fly by night. Yeah, I agree with you, and thanks for saying that, because I think that was a big thing that Vidcan wanted to do...

...and I think you see it play out. Obviously, you have a you know, math background. Do you use a lot of data and research to make your decisions or do you Hey, I think I think we should try this thing and let's just bet on it. First of all, to to think about vidcom being you know, going outside of the US. When we think about a market, our process is do research. So we would do primary research in every market where we would take a look at, you know, what's the appetite for the creator economy, who are the top creators that they like. We do price sensitivity analysis, we do looking at where they would want the event and whether it made sense, and so all of those things tie into where do you do a vidcan? You know, we also use data sourcely with big use of tubular for a long time, trying to take a look at what creators are popping and who's big in region. But but it's also you know, part of events is who wants us? Right, so not only who wants you from a fan perspective, but will the areas that you're interested in going to will they support you? Will they give you you know, money or a convention center or or collaborate with you. And so that's where you go out to the tourism departments and the governments and say, hey, we'll thank you of bringing this in. Is there a way we can collaborate together? And then you know, you pull all those pieces together. Are the creators big or the audience as big as the research come in, and then you look at it and say, okay, we have all these pieces together. Let's just all hold hands and jump off the cliff and see where it goes. What's Jim's favorite thing? Is it? Is its scaling startups or is it modernizing a large company? I think it has to be scaling startups. Um, I've been a big and small companies. I think it's starting new things. You can start new things at at large companies and have a lot of fun with them. We did it was the d TV and tech TV. But what we did with with that is we we started it, but we put it in a separate place, separate from everybody else. Um, you know that was really smart. What I do think, and this is a real having done all of it, is you know when you're doing a startup and a small company, and you know this because you've seen it with the stuff you've built, is when you're small, of your time is spent outwards on clients, on audiences, on hiring people, on what's out there. And then as you get bigger and bigger, bigger the company is, the more time you end up spending internally and meetings and strategy and connecting with other people in the company and making sure that everybody is aware of what's going on, and partnering internally as well. So I happened to find it more interesting to be on the outward side rather than the inward side. Now that I'm not good at meetings, but I'd rather think about doing them on the outside rather than the inside. Who are some of your role models that sort of shaped who you are today? So one of the nice things that we got about UM when and where I got an m b A was there were some really big thinkers at n y U when I was there. One of them was Dr Demming, And this is the guy that orty seven went to Japan to teach them post World War two how to build their economy. And he was very much focused on assembly lines, but not on like you know, the sort of test evaluate put it in. But it was all around quality and connecting people together and saying you're responsible for it. If this thing you're making doesn't work, it's not gonna get picked up by the quality inspector further down the assembly line. You're responsible for it. And those quality circles and giving people the autonomy to be responsible for what they do. He wrote the book and he helped really was a big player in turning the Japanese economy into what it was in the seventies and the eighties. And I got to study at his feet, as it were, and that idea of empowering people and letting them be in charge of what they do and not putting roadblocks or gatekeepers in front of them. I learned that...

...and so that was a huge inspiration. So I fundamentally believe in that. And then beyond that, I mean, I'm super inspired what Hank and John Green have done. Hank is one of the best people in the world and what he's the way he treats people and thinks about things. Uh, and it's such a clear thinker. I'm also just inspired by pretty much every single day. Do you have a favorite author or book that you kind of go back to or that was transformational for you and doesn't have to be business, could be personal. Well, I love The Lord of the Rings. I'll read that every couple of years. Um. But uh, you know, I've really been inspired by some of the stuff around. There's a book called Diffusion of Innovation, and it's all about how innovations get diffused through the world, and it's not like all of a sudden innovation comes out and everybody's like, yeah, of course we're gonna do that. I mean, think about mobile phones, think about VR I think about all those things. But you know, one of the early stories that the author of Diffusion of Innovations talked about was citrus fruit. You know why British sailors are called Limey's. They realized that they packed a bunch of lines onto the boats they go on these like, you know, months long trips around the world and their sailing vessels, and by having lines there, they didn't develop rickets. Rickets was a huge disease for sailors. Their teeth would fall out, and so they called them lines. But what happened was that the citrus fruit citric acid, I guess, and lines kept crickets away. And one of the reasons why the British navy ended up dominating the world for a long time was because their sailors didn't get rickets. And that innovation took forever to weave through the rest of the sailing world powers and you know, it should have been immediate, like yeah, okay, look they got lines that must be it. Let's say, we gotta put lines on our boat. But it took forty years. So that innovator, early adopter, early majority, late majority, laggard is something that was scientifically laid out in this book, the Diffusion of Innovation, And every now and then I pick it up and I'm like, I need another example. Just open it randomly. I'm like, oh, yeah, that happened, and you see it lay out with every technology innovation from the PC to the mobile phone, to birth control pills to like so many different things. Oh wow, I love that. Do you have a favorite Jim ladder Back quote or mantra that you try to live by. If you wake up one morning and you're not having fun at what you do, and if you're not like seven of your work day is enjoyable, go do something else. I'm not saying that you want to, you know, chuck it all and go be a surf instructor, but really, if you're not enjoying it, go do something else. And even if you have to cut your salary in half, just go do it. You spend so many hours doing whatever your career is, you better enjoy it. Yeah, And it's a little bit anathetical to the whole hustle thing. It's like, no matter what you do, hustle and suffer and go through pain, because you'll get there. It's like, no, it's too short for that. Go find something you really like and go do it. I'm not saying the money is gonna follow, because it doesn't always, but you're gonna be happier, you'll be better adjusted, and you're gonna learn more because you're into it, and that will lead you to places that will probably be here than that hating getting out of the bed in the morning. Have you ever had a job that you going to The jobs are part of it, but it's the people I have. I mean, I left tech TV and I really was enjoying what I was doing, but I left it because I hated the person I was working for and management did nothing to fix it. And in the end I was like, I cannot go back to that office another day and have to put up with this. And I didn't have a job. I just left. Tying back to what you asked about on the book side, that's not necessarily what Dr Deming was was preaching, but saying, give the power to people to do it, they're responsible. And the more you empower people and make it responsible and don't micro manage them and demean them and trust them, the better it's going to be for everybody. Wise. Words, all right, well, thank you for your time. This was really enlightening. Thanks. I really appreciate it, Jason, and thanks for everything you do. Thanks for supporting Vidcan. Thanks so much for listening to Soul and Science and we'll see... next week. Soul and Science is a mechanism podcast produced by the unbelievable Frank drist Goal, Ryan Tillotson, Tyler Nielsen, Emma Swanson, and Lily Jablonsky. The show is edited by Daniel Ferrari, theme music by Kyle Merritt, and I'm your host Jason Harris.

In-Stream Audio Search


Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (27)