On New Media

Road to a Million YouTube Views: You love Cirque

There’s little doubt that powerful, well recognized brands such as Cirque du Soleil, and well recognized celebrities such as James Franco, Ed Norton and Robin Williams can help drive views. It’s worked for us on Stark Insider TV.

Welcome to the third article in our Road to a Million Views series. Stark Insider TV is closing in on 1 million YouTube views (estimate it will happen this summer) and we’re celebrating by publishing a weekly piece on our experience — good and bad — with video on the web.

Stark Insider YouTube Channel Views: 894,432

Weekly change: +6,664 views, +2 subscribers

Loni Stark talks with Ardee Dionisio backstage at the touring production of Cirque du Soleil's Quidam.

Loni Stark interviews Ardee Dionisio backstage at the touring production of Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam at HP Pavilion in San Jose.

People love Cirque.

Now pushing 30 it’s an unstoppable juggernaut, apparently revered by children, teens, and adults alike. I’m still amazed that there are so many Cirque du Soleil shows in existence, some touring, some playing in Cirque’s home town of Montreal. Drive the strip in Vegas, and you soon realize the power of the Cirque brand. There’s signs for shows everywhere. And here I was thinking this town was all about Lance Burton. At last count there are 7 shows playing Sin City: “O”, Mystère, Zumanity, The Beatles Love, Criss Angel Believe, Zarkana, and KÀ.

So I suppose it’s not much of a surprise that our Stark Insider TV segments about Cirque shows outnumber any other subject matter on our YouTube channel – by a long shot.

There’s little doubt that powerful, well recognized brands such as Cirque du Soleil, and well recognized celebrities such as James Franco, Ed Norton and Robin Williams can help drive views. It’s worked for us on Stark Insider. And, frankly, I’ve tried to leverage namebrands as much as possible; I suspect I’m not alone in that regard. Anytime a “brand” – be it a person or institution - receives significant amounts of promotion with a sizable marketing budget to match there’s a two-way opportunity. For the media outlet, such as Stark Insider, it means possibly leveraging the bigger name and gaining visibility and thus traffic and video views. For the subject, it means being able to tap into the larger pool of distribution channels, most of which didn’t exist even ten years ago. Facebook is one of those new ways to reach new audiences. So is Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. And YouTube, especially, is a leading destination. If OVO swings into town, it’ll receive the typical 90-second spot on local news. But it’s increasingly unlikely it will do Cirque any good. Yes, there’s a built-in subscriber base for cable news – but it’s not necessarily then and there when the segment in question runs. Worse still, the methods to measure its effectiveness are suspect at best, and totally inaccurate at worst (still, after all these years of broadcast TV). With YouTube, on the other hand, when some person pushes the play button, we know that’s a deliberate action; there is interest in the subject at hand, and you’ve got the viewer’s attention since, after all, it was he or she that initiated the process. With YouTube, and other forms of online media, we know exactly who is doing what and when and from where.

Later, TechCrunch uploaded a 30-second shaky video with a paragraph about the show. It was crap. I thought, that’s it?!

Here’s something else I’ve learned about the Stark Insider TV march to a million views on YouTube: being different matters.

Uniqueness counts. However unpolished, or quirky, I’ll take personality over slick, uber-production values any day of the week. That’s a large reason why I absolutely refuse to do the standard news-reporter style segment for our videos. I have nothing against that format. It’s just been done to death, and the last thing that we need to see on YouTube is a copycat version of traditional media formats.

I remember working with Cirque for the first time on a backstage segment for OVO. The story was typical Cirque: come behind-the-scenes and witness all the technology used, and all the whiz-bang gadgetry and how the performers prepare nightly. It’s pretty cool stuff to see in person. We — Stark Insider — were there with TechCrunch, a local NBC affiliate, and I think CNN also had a crew there on that day if I remember correctly. Later, TechCrunch uploaded a 30-second shaky video with a paragraph about the show. It was crap. I thought, that’s it?! You’ve been given carte blanche to interview performers, explore cool stuff backstage, and you publish an out-of-focus video with no story-line whatsoever. Being a TechCrunch fan (pre-AOL) I was appalled at the overall crapiness factor. It was sad. I could just see the reporter rushing off to an “exciting” tech event, and salivating over the prospect of getting their hands on the next big Apple or Google gadget (I’ve been there too!). Surely, must have been the thinking, that was far more interesting than a bunch of adults in makeup and stretch pants. So I decided then and there that we’d try 110% each time, with each video. I’m not so sure the results are great, or even respectable at times, but at least I’d give it the good old college try. At the very least the artists deserve it.

Cirque is big business. I get that. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t passionate performers working every night, at every performance. The more time I’ve spent backstage at various shows, filming the Little Loni as she talks to them, and partakes in various escapades, the more I begin to appreciate the commitment it takes to stage such astounding performances. The training tent at Totem in San Francisco at AT&T Park wasn’t unlike what you might find at the Olympics – there’s weights, trampolines, various machines, and coaches. I admit I choked up a little when shooting a performer at Quidam in San Jose as he recounted how he loves what he does, and that he was so fortunate to have been discovered on… YouTube (just like Justin Bieber). His eyes watered up while telling Loni how much he loves to perform. It was a moment I’ll never forget:

There’s more to come on Road to a Million Views. In the coming weeks (every Wednesday) I’ll talk about demographics, storytelling (with a trick that we use), time-shifting, the ever-long list of mistakes I’ve made (poorly named YouTube titles is a good place to start), and, of course, everyone’s favorite, monetization.

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Clinton Stark
Clint is based in Silicon Valley and co-founded Stark Insider. A new media venture, the goal was to fill the increasing gap in arts and food & wine coverage. This site has consumed his every fiber. Yet, he still has time to talk Android, praise Pebble, and shoot videos. More: Clint's story...