Web Video | 2013-02-08

Today, Lindsay Small-Butera, co-creator of Baman Piderman, posted a complaint on her Tumblr about a site called Videohall that downloaded her work from YouTube and posted it to the Videohall Tumblr without including a source. I have a few thoughts about the whole thing.

"Hey mother fuckers. Thanks for stealing my video by ripping it off of youtube, putting an mp4 of it on your site, not sourcing it at all, and getting a ton of notes."

"Stealing" is kind of a nebulous term. Usually we use stealing to indicate taking a physical object, but in media it is often called stealing when a number of different things happen. Piracy is one example, where someone takes a digital item (video, music, software) and distributes it to other people without paying the creator. So the kind of "theft" that Videohall has committed is much more accurately categorized as piracy.

The problem with calling piracy stealing, however, is that the video is not a physical object. If you pirate a video from me, I still have a copy of the video. Our two videos are identical and I have not lost my use of mine. So theft, in cases of piracy, is loss of potential revenue. If you pirated a video I made, then you got the video without paying me for it. So I "lost" money. This is a potential theft, because there is no way to know, in this hypothetical situation, if you would have paid for it anyway. Maybe you would have looked at the thumbnail of the video and said $5 is too expensive for this video. Or maybe since it cost money you would have checked out reviews to help your decision.

But how does this relate to Lindsay and Alex Butera's video? Their video is hosted on YouTube, which is free anyway.

I'll tell you how: ad revenue.

The situation gets even more tricky with this additional element. Because now it's not just a loss of potential revenue, it's loss of potential ad revenue. This means it's a potential for potential money. Basically users are served ads, and content creators (more often publishers) are paid based on some metrics that I don't understand. That's not important to me. I'm more concerned about the cost to the consumer.

Cost of Advertising 1: Time Spent

In the above photo you'll notice that I have 22 seconds left in the ad. The ad is a total of 30 seconds I'm going to spend for a 51 second video. At the time of this screenshot, the video has 987,512 views which comes out to 493,756 minutes or 8229 hours or 343 collective days that have been spent for just this one video.*

*Yes, I know that you can skip the ad after a certain time, or go to the bathroom while it's playing, or install adblock, so these are not absolute figures, but I included them to make a point.

Cost of Advertising 2: Cheapened Experience

Much more insidious is the dreaded "lower third." We've all seen these in YouTube videos and TV Shows. I can excuse a commercial prior to a video, but blocking part of the screen with a banner ad turns the whole thing ugly and really indicates to me that you have no respect for your art.

Cost of Advertising 3: Behavior Modification

Behavior modification is psychologically influencing someone to do something you would not normally do, like purchase a belt that electrocutes your abs.

So, now that we know that YouTube artists make money by exploiting fans, I can tell you: I'm actually on Lindsay's side.. partially. Videohall is obviously just a piece of shit site. They repost videos other people have made, without source, in order to show it on their site with ads (although, I'm not sure how that works on Tumblr since most people just follow a blog and never see the homepage again). This is a big problem for independent artists, which the internet should be really good at supporting. I don't necessarily care about ad revenue she's losing, but it does suck when people find something they like and they can't find out who made it (a big problem on Tumblr, especially). "Exposure" as Lindsay calls it, is important for artists.

Why YouTube Sucks (as well as other streaming services)

How I Would Do It

I do not intend this post to be merely a list of complaints. I hope that I can help people (and myself) by improving how we serve online video.

Step 1: Include the Source in the Video

I'm not saying you need a watermark. That will make the video ugly, just as much as a lower third ad. But including a five second frame at the end of the video which says "Visit blaineallenbrown.com for more!" is not disrespecting your medium. It's just being honest and helping people who like the things you made find you.

This won't solve all problems. There are many cases of people removing sources from webcomics, art pieces, etc. on Tumblr by physically editing the image. Sometimes people will go through the effort to obscure your authorship, but it's at least a little more difficult on a video.

Note: This does not mean to put a long-ass intro on every one of your videos. I hate that.

Step 2: Hard Code the Ad

Wait a minute, Blaine, didn't you just say ads were bad news?

Yes they are. That's why we need to wean people off the idea of "free" media in the first place.

I understand that there is a lot of good web content out there that wouldn't be possible in our current system without advertising. But that doesn't mean all content creators should just join the party willingly.

Web content should be either:

  1. Wholly free (no ads) with a potential to gain a fanbase that could pay for future work or
  2. Free with ad support, but with a pay-for option.

Here is an example of how I would run ads. I would work directly with companies who wanted to advertise with me and I would include their commercial (or even better a simple logo with a narration of "This video was brought to you by...") as an actual part of the video. Ads today are run separately (so they can be more effective and easily changed) and as an artist, you never know what commercials are running before your content.

I would post that video on YouTube, but I would include a lower third only during the ad (ironic, right?) describing how people can remove the ads by paying. If you do this, and charge a fair amount, I am totally on board! This gives an option to free users who can't or won't pay, but lets the people who really care about your content fund you directly and honestly (without being exploited). Wow!

Jeff and Casey Time hosts their videos for free (no ads!) and offers an option to download each season for $5. They accomplish this through PayPal. I don't know the specifics, but it seems pretty easy to me.

Roosterteeth maintains an entire social network, and allows you to subscribe for $10 every six months for ad-free versions of videos and access to exclusive content. They also sell DVDs and Merch.

As an independent artist, you might not have the resources of a company like Roosterteeth, but you could always use something like CreateSpace which distributes Books, CDs, and DVDs as well as digital media for independents.

Unfortunately, this requires content creators to be active in the business aspects of online videos, instead of just focusing on the art. But I don't think it's too much work to offer downloadable ad-free versions of videos via PayPal or CreateSpace in addition to YouTube. People want to support the things they love, so just give them a method.

And for consumers, download Adblock Plus and never see ads again. Then go order a commission from Lindsay and Alex Butera, because they deserve your support, just maybe not in the way they want.