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If I Were the CEO of YouTube

| January 28, 2013

A modest proposal by Walter Sabo

By Walter Sabo
Sabo Media

NEW YORK — First, I will never be the CEO of YouTube because I could not pass the battery of Google employment tests. Math was not my strength. Also, based on a visit to their NY offices, their hallway labyrinth would keep me lost all day.

But here’s why I should be CEO:

Why do you look at YouTube? The primary reasons are to see cats, music videos, your kids and “web stars.” I am perfectly comfortable with these crowd pleasers. Why? Because they please the crowd.

About 18 months ago YouTube announced a multi-million dollar initiative to pay for premium video content created by “top producers” and Hollywood stars. At the time I explained to my annoyed relatives and friends that this was an insane waste of money and it wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t work because it violated a key axiom of show business:

Each Medium Creates Its Own Stars!

David Caruso the star of CSI Miami, for years the number one show on TV, was the star of the first season of NYPD Blue. Then he quit NYPD Blue to be a movie star. Name a Caruso movie.

Lucille Ball was in B movies for years before she found her medium: television.

There are great magazine writers who have been finishing their novel for—-decades.  Brilliant watercolorists who make a mess in oil.

Talent is rarely transferable from medium to medium. The internet is not a movie or TV set.

YouTube has stars. They were first identified by (ahem) me in 2007. I called them, WebStars.  Search them on YouTube their names are Smosh, Ray Williams Jr, Nalts, Naders, Venetian Princess and several more. They do not have a million lifetime views they have over a BILLION. Yes, a BILLION. These online stars can move product and eyeballs online. Not on TV or in movies or radio but online. WebStars know how to build an online constituency.

YouTube announced it was “pulling back” on most of the spending for channels. I would stop all of the “channel” spending now, end the silly pay-per-view formula for “partners” (you’re not making hats, you’re making magic) and treat WebStars like true partners and …stars. No matter how much money a company throws at “Hollywood” stars, they will never be online video stars that deliver predictable results.

I know nothing about computer science  

Remember the last Yahoo CEO who apparently lied on his job application? He said he has a degree in computer science. He also had cancer. No one cared that the guy needed a job for health insurance because he has a fatal disease, my gosh he lied about a degree from 20 years ago. What is worrisome about his lie is that a degree in computer science is perceived as being valuable for the Yahoo CEO position. The site is already built, it works. Why would the board want a computer science major?

For many years I’ve run TV and radio stations. I know they have transmitters. I have absolutely no understanding of the “science” behind them. Yet, I am considered an excellent broadcast station operator. Interested in 50% free cash-flow? Call me.

If Yahoo, YouTube, AOL, Gurgle, Schmurgle and Mo.com are going to move into robust profits they must be run by computer idiots like me. The successful CEO of ANY business knows what the crowd wants, respects the crowd and gets home in time for dinner.

For decades the cable industry was crippled because it was run by technicians who knew how to buy and lay the cable. Really. Then bankers came in to buy more cable. Then marketers entered the cable offices. But the explosion in subs came when SHOWMEN were put in charge to make original, proprietary content. Anyone can show movies, only one network can produce a Sopranos.

Brilliant programmers like Jarl Mohn at Rainbow Cable, Ed Hersh the stealth strategist and futuristic showman at A&E, Court TV, and now the Military Channel, and freakin’ genius Nancy Dubuc at the History Channel are the reason you watch cable.

(Pretend those giant granite blocks in the ruins were cut by aliens and, voila, you have a whole night of ratings; brilliant.)

Web portals will revel in revenues and profits when their CEOs passionately share the tastes of their customers.

Celebrate the wild west

YouTube used to be a video platform. Single videos were posted and then sorted by many search functions. Now it is a “video channel” platform. As a result of YouTube’s “channel” orientation, finding an individual video is difficult. Raw discovery is more difficult. I’m sure the sales department is to blame although I have no proof, certainly this must be the doings of the sales department.  So much easier to sell a “channel” of videos than trying to pull together individual offerings.

Organizing YouTube neatly into channels makes a great deal of sense in a meeting room. Ultimately, though, it will deflate the spirit of adventure, age the portal and precipitate the launch of a more “dangerous” UGC stage.

Slick channels, neatly organized, is a different stage than the one that made the company popular. The WebStars who regularly get 10M+ views utilize poor production values, bad cameras, murky sound and the result is authenticity, credibility and predictable popularity.


When I’m CEO of YouTube here are my first five actions:

1. Get rid of out-of-control pop-ups, pre-rolls and banners. The page looks like a penny-saver in the Midwest.  Really, an ad that says, “You can close this ad in 5 seconds”? Instead, the majority of advertising should be product placement within WebStar videos. Seamless, elegant, fun. Yes, clients love it. My company already motivated companies like Microsoft, Fox, Pepsi, Timberland, TiVo, the US Government, the CBS TELEVISION Network and dozens more “triple A” to place their messages inside WebStar shows.

2. Establish an attitude of super-friendly to vendors, presenters and visitors. For example, if the meeting is supposed to start at 3, show up at 3 and stay for the scheduled time. Offer snacks.

We are at the primordial moment of the internet. NO ONE is an expert. Stay humble. Listen to everyone.

3. Most videos made by advertisers for their products fail to attract viewers. WebStars attract millions of viewers. Establish a marketing arm that connects WebStar expertise with brands trying to establish an on-line presence. In fact, don’t take a dollar of advertising from clients who refuse to go to our school. (Did I say “our…”?)

4. Keep off the stage. Putting “YouTube stars” on TV shows is a mistake because it destroys the unique interactive online environment. They are WebStars and they rarely come off well on old fashioned TV. Remember not one TV show has as many viewers as a WebStar. Instead, all contestants for “reality” TV shows should do their auditions online and be voted online. The networks should pay for that privilege.

5. Profits this year. “Radio guys” like me know how to make money. I would deliver profits this year. Yes, this year.

There, that felt good.


Walter Sabo is the Chairman of Sabo Media, a company that offers executive-on-demand services. He has worked on-site to build out new digital content platforms such as Sirius/XM. His team was the first to discover the marketing clout of web stars, Internet organic video producers. They founded OMMA award winning HITVIEWS. The company placed brands such as CBS, TiVo and Mountain Dew inside UGC. In FM broadcasting he is the leader in the profitable sector of FM Talk and held executive positions at NBC and ABC Radio. He can be reached at Walter@sabomedia.com. Meet Walter Sabo at TALKERS 2013 New York on Thursday June 6.


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Category: Digital, Opinions