Vanessa Wilson was back in class last week for the first time since law school. Only this time, she said, she wasn’t bored.
Ms. Wilson, 27, was one of the winners of a recent talent search sponsored by YouTube. Her prize was a boot camp at Google’s Manhattan offices, where some of YouTube’s most successful stars led sessions on how to create a viral video, build an audience and bolster a brand.
Some of the tips that, with luck, might one day lead to a six-figure income? Don’t upload videos on Friday afternoons. Send e-mails to at least a dozen key bloggers and ask them to post a link. Surprise your audience. Don’t forget: there is key light, front light, flood light. And never, ever put the word sex in a title or tag. It could cost you some of the advertising revenue that YouTube shares with its content creators.
The boot camp is part of YouTube’s campaign to find its own original high-quality video content. Facing fierce competition from Web video services like Hulu, iTunes and Netflix, YouTube is looking to increase the range of content and improve the quality of its channels as it continues to try to make more money, even after doubling revenue, according to Google’s last quarterly report.
“We’re a platform,” said Margaret Healy, who has worked for YouTube for several years in the role of developing strategic partnerships with both big brands and amateur video makers. “We would like it if everyone who had the talent, interest and potential to gain an audience to come on YouTube and start a channel and make original content.”
In 2007, YouTube identified those amateur and professional video makers whose channels were drawing audiences, and the company began sharing advertising revenue with them under its Partner Program.
Ms. Healy said it was not easy in the beginning to persuade brands to spend advertising money on many quirky videos. But last year, the top channels under the Partner Program generated 100 billion views and attracted millions of dollars in advertising revenue. While most of them are big brands earning millions, there are several hundred people who began as amateurs who now make more than $100,000 a year, although most payments to the 20,000 channel operators are small.
In March, in a fresh effort to increase original programming, Google purchased Next New Networks, a Web video production company that now also delivers training and support to video makers in YouTube’s Partner Program. The 25 people who won YouTube’s talent search — their rising stars contest — began receiving help from Next New Networks at the boot camp.
For Ms. Wilson, 27, who makes YouTube videos about sewing and quilting and uses her Crafty Gemini channel to help sell craft supplies and patterns, the advice has been invaluable as she tries to turn her hobby into a business.
“I’m thinking now, how can I expand?” said Ms. Wilson, of Gainesville, Fla., who took up sewing while at law school. She spent four days last week in what YouTube called its first Content Creator Camp. “I could do a tutorial for Halloween. I could do something for all the holidays.”
Several of the teachers at the camp were from Next New Networks, including Joe Sabia, who is known for the innovative and amusing videos he began making while attending Boston College, and the Gregory brothers, who had the most-watched video on YouTube last year, titled “The Bed Intruder Song.” The Fine brothers, who have made YouTube a full-time job since last July, were also on hand to share their experiences.
While Benny Fine said that he and his brother were not earning a six-figure income from sharing advertising revenue under YouTube’s Partner program, he said they were making enough to pay the rent and cover the costs of their Fine brothers channel. It now ranks as the 58th most popular channel on the platform, bolstered by a weekly show, “Kids React,” that they started last fall.
By having a channel on YouTube, Mr. Fine said they were able to expand and sustain an audience around their work, helping build their own brand. “There are a lot of companies that can get you 2 million or 3 million views,” said Mr. Fine, 30, who works with his brother, Rafi, 27. “But no one becomes a fan of the content.”
Bryan Odell, 21, of Lincoln, Neb., one of the contest winners, said he hoped to become the next Ryan Seacrest. He parlayed his internship at a local television station, where he interviewed rock and music stars, into his own Web site and YouTube channel, BryanStars Interviews.
“There are a lot of kids going to college to become media stars,” said Mr. Odell, who left the University of Nebraska after his sophomore year to develop his Web site and YouTube channel. “What YouTube has done is made all of these jobs a reality because we can just do it and distribute it right to the Internet.”
Though a handful of the 25 winners are professional filmmakers, most of the campers were just people with a passion for a specific interest, like advising people on how to put on make-up or cook Korean food.
“We see people go from hobbyists to part-time job to business to career to stardom,” Ms. Healy said.
Others are using their YouTube channels to create a brand identity, to help promote the products they sell and draw attention to other businesses.
“This is my job now,” said Meghan Camarena, 23, of Modesto, Calif., a contest winner who was in camp last week. She makes music videos and sells T-shirts and other clothing from her YouTube channel. “I started in 2008 as something to do for fun. I now make a decent amount to pay my bills.”
One of the camp activities involved collaborating with a fellow contest winner on a video. For the project, Mr. Odell found himself in a Manhattan quilting shop, starring in a video on sewing directed by Ms. Wilson.
“We want to help each other,” he said. “We are all on the same team. No one understands a YouTuber like another YouTuber.”