Why it's time for a video site that puts its users first.
Here’s a fun game: head over to YouTube and search for the phrase “I hate YouTube.”
A cool 21,900 results later, and you get the impression that a lot of the platform’s creators agree it’s far from perfect.
Whether it’s the poor return on advertising revenue, the mysterious removal of subscribers, the heavy-handed response to copyright infringement, or just the site’s general lack of transparency, YouTubers have a lot to moan about.
A key problem – as The Memo reported two years ago – is the realisation that creators are not YouTube’s priority; advertisers are.
But if you’re a neglected vlogger your choices are limited: alternatives to the video sharing behemoth are few and far between.
While Vimeo is popular it has developed a very different audience; Vessel, one platform which actively tried to woo top YouTubers away in 2015, was shuttered after less than two years.
All this makes Maven – a new platform launched by two British filmmakers this week – all the more interesting.
“Ads have never worked for video,” argues Lindvall. “Ads compete with content. They distract the viewer and the revenue that the creator gets from clicks and impressions is not significant unless you get millions of views.”
Their solution is rather elegant: an unobtrusive interactive overlay which lets viewers donate directly to the creator, buy products from them, or see sponsorship messaging – without leaving the video.
To see what this looks like, I tried out Maven with some of my own videos. In the embed below you can view extra information about me and the story as well as donate money or support my work on Patreon.
The experience requires more work than simply using YouTube: you need to plan and write each overlay (or card, as Maven calls them) but the user experience has been designed to make that as simple as possible.
What’s also nice is that the Maven interactive player can be embedded all over the internet, meaning people can click to donate or buy wherever they see the video. The founders told The Memo they hope to introduce the ability to embed their videos in tweets in the not-too-distant future.
After several months in beta, the platform has already attracted more than 3,300 creators and has big plans to change the way art is supported online.
“We believe that the age of an ad-powered web is coming to an end. What will inevitably replace it is likely something that will give creative content makers more control over the economics and attribution of their own work” says co-founder Guy Gunaratne.
In their view, part of the solution lies in micro-payments: a way of donating a small amount on a case-by-case basis to work you admire.
The exception is Patreon, the US crowdfunding platform that combines micro-payments with a subscription model and lets fans support creators they like on an ongoing basis. At the time of writing, some creators are making upwards of $30,000 a month through the site. (Disclaimer: I am a Patreon user myself, albeit a much less successful one).
“Micro-payments built into our content-player is just the first step” Guy Gunaratne told us. “Maven intends to upend not only how content is valued but also how we measure viewing experiences. The old metrics of ‘view counts’, ‘watch-time’ and ‘likes’ need to be overcome if we are to find a path that better suits today’s audiences and creators.”
Audiences may take some time to get onboard with micro-payments.
But one thing few people need convincing about is the desire for new platforms that put creators and community above advertisers.
Adam Westbrook is Associate Editor of The Memo’s Creative section. He’s an independent video artist, filmmaker, and occasional lecturer in journalism and production.