Irish reveal how to make a career out of YouTube

Chris O’Neill’s channel has 650,000 subscribers. A Cork couple’s family videos have been viewed 18m times. Stephen O’Regan’s Balcony TV is in 40 countries. They’re our web celebs, says John Hearne

THOUGH he’s had 240m views on YouTube, you’ve probably never heard of Wexford man Chris O’Neill. You’ve probably never heard of Oney’s Video Hole, his channel, the most successful Irish one on YouTube.

With a content mix of animation and buffoonery, Oney’s Video Hole has 650,000 subscribers — impressive numbers.

“I started getting views with parodies of video games,” says O’Neill. “It’s easy to get views on that kind of material, because nerd culture is huge on them. My series, Leo and Satan, is the first original cartoon series I did that got insanely popular.”

The 22-year-old makes a “very decent living” from the site.

Occasional visitors to YouTube have to understand that a channel is different to browsing videos. Channels approximate not so much a mainstream TV channel, but a mainstream TV series. That means the same content provider, similar content, or a common theme in each of the videos on the channel.

O’Neill is collaborating with fellow YouTuber, Psychicpebbles, on a series called Hellbenders, which is also racking up big numbers. The content — as may be inferred from the titles — is of an adult nature. The range of characters and themes will not be found on mainstream TV, even in the dead of night.

Nonetheless, O’Neill is in LA pitching his ideas to mainstream studios.

You don’t have to go mainstream to make YouTube work for you. Ask Jonathan and Anna Saccone-Joly, a Cork couple whose online reality TV series has become a major hit, and liberated both from their day jobs.

Compare their channel, LeFloofTV, with Oney’s Video Hole and you get a pretty good idea of the broad church that is YouTube. Each 15-minute segment of the Saccone-Joly’s lives features Jonathan, his wife, Anna, their newborn baby, Emelia and their pack of small, fluffy dogs, all going about their daily lives without any references to Satan.

As with so much in Irish life, the Saccone-Joly’s YouTube experiment was a product of the recession. “I graduated university at the worst time ever,” Jonathan says. “It was a case of go on the dole and wait it out, or try and do something. YouTube was bubbling up in the US — there was nothing about it in Europe, at that time — and I said ‘why don’t we try and do something on YouTube’?”

Jonathan spent six months experimenting with ideas, uploading 50-odd videos of parodies and sketches, before simply filming his life and posting that.

Within a week, the channel had 1,000 subscribers. Two and a half years later, that had risen to 70,000, while the family’s videos have been viewed more than 18m times. Among the most popular videos are Jonathan’s proposal to Anna, their wedding and the birth of their baby.

Yes, that’s what I said. Emilia’s birth is on YouTube.

“The idea of YouTube is like self-publishing,” says Jonathan. “We get to make our own show. I produce it, direct it, film it, script it, whatever …You do everything, so you’ve got full control of your creative content.” You’re not, however, in control of what people say about it. The two-way engagement that’s central to YouTube means that each video is tailed by hundreds of comments. Most, it has to be said, is positive, but you do get the odd barb.

“I used to work in mainstream media,” says Jonathan. “And we used to produce mainstream shows. There, the creator doesn’t feel the direct impact of the audience, whereas, as a YouTuber, you’re constantly criticised about everything you do, so you’re vulnerable in that sense. It has its good and bad points.”

The turning point in the Saccone-Jolys’ career was when their rising viewer numbers prompted YouTube to offer them a partnership. This is the dream for every aspiring YouTuber, the point at which you get a slice of the advertising revenue that Google, YouTube’s parent, makes on the site.

That revenue is large. Analysts expect it to top $3.6bn globally this year. The numbers powering this profit are mind-boggling. Seventy two hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute. More than 456,000 years of videos are viewed on the site every month. Last year’s biggest viral hit, Gangnam Style — viewed more than 1bn times — has reportedly netted pop sensation Psy a cool $8m in YouTube revenues.

A sophisticated, corporate infrastructure has evolved around YouTube, its content creators, and the complicated process of turning that content into advertising revenue.

The Jolys, for example, have both distribution and advertising agents in LA, who look after this side of the business for them.

But it’s not all about the money. Stephen O’Regan started Balcony TV seven years ago. Sitting around in his flat one afternoon, someone suggested that the balcony was not used enough. Someone suggested they get bands in to play, then they film it and put it on the internet.

“We had the idea one day and we started doing it the next,” says O’Regan.

Balcony TV now has racked up more than 35m views on YouTube, but, more impressively, the ‘movement’, as O’Regan characterises it, is in more than 40 countries on six continents.

Its success lies in its simplicity. “Get on the balcony, play one song and that’s it. It took no time. That was the beauty of it,” he says.

In terms of pure YouTube revenues, however, it’s not a model that leads directly to sports cars and a house in the Hamptons.

O’Regan says that his primary motivation is to create something worthwhile.

“The way you’ve got to look at it is this: it doesn’t take up a whole lot of time, it’s a very positive thing. The bands love it, it brings a smile to people’s faces when you do it. There’s very few people get to do things that they can feel proud of, and good about.”

SO, YOU WANT YOUR OWN YOUTUBE CHANNEL?

Setting up your own channel is easy. If you’re registered with Youtube, a channel has been created for you. This is the online home for the videos you make, together with additional services. You use the channel to store the playlists you’ve created, together with your Youtube activities — your favourites, the channels you subscribe to, the comments you’ve made on other peoples’ content.

Once set up, there is a range of intuitive options for customising the look and feel of the channel. The key step, uploading video, is easiest. Sign in, click ‘upload’, then, well … upload your video. Now, sit back and wait for the cheques to roll in.

Or, maybe not. Says Chris O’Neill, creator of Oney’s Video Hole: “It’s all about being regular with your uploads, and, of course, effort. I never know what will go viral, and it’s very hard to get subscribers at first. You really need to be passionate or you’re in it for the wrong reasons.”


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