On the latest episode of Recode Media, Shots Studios CEO John Shahidi talked with Recode’s Kurt Wagner about how the company is embracing its role as an “arms dealer” in the war being fought among platforms like YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, Apple Music and Twitter. All those companies want content to differentiate themsleves, he explained, and Shots cuts deals between those companies and the seven young online media stars it manages.
“What’s the point of going to battle against everyone else when you don’t have premium content?” Shahidi asked. “What we wanna do is supply, you know? Like, ‘Hey, Netflix, do you need something? Well, guess what? Guess who’s got the best mobile creators? And we all know, Netflix, that your mobile growth is growing.’”
Earlier this year, his company produced a documentary series for Netflix about one of Shots’ acts, the Brazilian musician Anitta, called “Vai Anitta.” And unlike a traditional movie studio that might see Netflix as an alternative to theatrical distribution, Shots assumed the movie would be watched on her fans’ phones.
“When we were reviewing the video, the editing and everything post-production, the Anitta show, we weren’t watching it on a TV,” Shahidi said. “And not only that, Sam [Shahidi, John’s brother and co-founder] went on eBay and bought some of the most popular phones in Brazil, which is not the iPhone. Different Samsung phones are the most popular phones down there, and we would test these and we would zoom in on the faces and we would change the coloring based on those devices that are popular in Brazil.”
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kurt’s conversation with John.
Kurt Wagner: This is Recode Media from the Vox Media Podcast Network. I’m Kurt Wagner, in for Peter Kafka, and today I’m in Los Angeles with John Shahidi, the co-founder and CEO of Shots Studios. It’s Shots Studios?
John Shahidi: Correct.
Not Shots anymore?
It used to be just Shots. Now it’s Shots Studios.
No, it’s not Shots.
I knew you back when you were just Shots.
Yeah. Or Shots app. It’s not Shots app.
Or the Shots app.
Nope. Rest in peace.
Rest in peace, yeah. The selfie app. We have a million things to get to. I’ve known you for a handful of years now. We actually worked on the same floor, back when it was Shots app, and that was at Mashable back in the day. So, I’m really excited.
Now you’re doing all kinds of stuff around media. You’re managing some ... what I used to, would have called social media stars. Now they’re just like stars, that are musicians and people like that. Why don’t you give us a quick update on what Shots Studios is, and then I wanna go back and figure out how you got here. What do you guys actually do?
Well, there’s five parts of Shots Studios.
Yeah. And tech is not one of them.
Is that good? You’re smiling, I feel like.
Well, it’s a little bit of a relief until we figure out what we want to do. I mean, tech’s always gonna be a passion, my brother and I before, we even made video games. Always just into tech, right, Sam used to hack into Xboxes just to pay for like different stuff when he was going to college. It’s always been, I’ve always had an itch — and don’t get me wrong, probably once a week I call Sam, “I’ve got an app idea.” He hangs up on me, he hangs up, or I’ll call him and say, “You got a sec?” And he’s like, “Not for an app idea.”
So I still, it’s always ... but right now, it’s really nice to focus on what we’ve been focused on for the last little over two years. I think it was April 2016 when I think you even wrote about Shots making the pivot from an app to a content studio.
Okay, so the five things that you do.
Five is, one is we’re a production company. We create all our videos, whether they’re an Instagram sketch or a YouTube sketch or a music video or even our new show on Netflix.
Yup, the Netflix show.
Everything’s in-house. We have our management company. So, we actually ... sometimes we’ll produce for a third party if it’s an interesting deal — not financially — if it’s something that kinda fits our DNA. But most of the content we create are by artists, musicians, comedians that are managed in-house as well. So, if there’s an idea, we don’t have to go through the politics of talking to a manager, then an agent, then a lawyer, then a business manager, sometimes a family member. We just go.
You just do it all yourself. And you manage, what? A half-dozen people or so?
We manage seven folks right now, yeah. We’ll be adding to the roster quite a bit in 2019, which I could get into a little bit. Then we have our music side, which isn’t announced yet, although it will be something on the music label side that we’re really excited about but we’re not announcing it until probably after the holidays.
Okay. Because a handful of those seven are musicians.
Are all of them musicians or most?
No, no. I would say four of seven are musicians.
Four of seven are musicians. Okay. So you’re doing music. All right, that’s three.
And then there’s the touring side. With Alesso and Anitta, eventually Lele and Rudy are going to get into the touring stuff. But then, even the non-musicians, the comedians, or the entertainers like Delaney. There’ll be some different things; it doesn’t always have to be a concert. It doesn’t have to be a festival. It will be getting into the play business and different types of shows, anything that’s really entertaining but also visually rich as well, so we can film.
And then there’s our product and brand teams which is led by Marshall Osborne, who was actually a friend of mine in San Francisco. He worked at Uber, worked at marketing there, he recently just joined our team, too. We’re on products, brands. This year, we’ll have over 20 billion minutes watched just on YouTube alone.
We’re always trying to explain to brands why we’re better than other people, why our watch-through and this and that... And brands still are kind of really a little bit scared to spend money on social media. They’re still on the traditional side, so until they get educated, we’re going to create our own products, as well.
Products being, I guess, you said you don’t want to build apps anymore, so what is a product in this case?
A product ... It could be mostly consumer good products, could be in the beauty space, could be in the food and beverage space.
Oh, so literal, I don’t know, we’re drinking out of these Shots Studios mugs right now. An actual physical product like that?
Yeah, there’ll be merchandising. Food and beverage and beauty are our focus right now. But then, we’ll be getting into the merchandising business. You could eventually maybe see a pajama company maybe owned by us.
Oh, wow, pajamas. That’s kind of random, no?
Well, that’s the thing with this company. We are just random. It’s gotta be something that not only is there a need for it in the world and in the consumer goods space, but also we’ve gotta be able to create content around it, right? So I could just see sleepover series that we produce for Facebook Watch, a slumber party show, and the pajamas in this show happen to be all our pajamas, and that’s available for sale on whatever.com.
So, you have seven people and basically, you do everything around their careers. You produce, you manage, you help with tour, maybe you’re gonna build products that have their brand. So, pretty much these seven people, anything that touches their professional creative lives is what you guys are helping to run.
Yeah, it’s an entire experience. Even pretty soon here, we’re gonna have a couple, outside of just the creators and artists, we’re gonna start signing — and this is where our roster’s gonna grow next year — songwriters and producers. So, even the lyric of the song is written by someone in-house. The beat of the song. The melodies of the song will be produced in-house, sang by artists.
So, it’s a whole experience from the writing down the lyric of the song to putting that lyric over a beat to the artist recording it, to it being mixed and engineered will be in-house. We’ll be creating the music video for it to the marketing side which goes to our products and brands team will do all the marketing for the song, the label that distributes it.
Everything is you.
It’ll be a whole experience.
So, let’s go back in time for a second because this is not what I would have pegged you as doing when we first met. I mentioned we literally worked on the same floor which is how I met you which is kind of funny, but you were running a selfie app called Shots, and part of the reason that it was a big deal was because it was Justin Bieber-backed, he’s one of your best friends, he was an investor and used the app all the time.
He’s still an investor.
What the heck was Shots app?
Well, Shots app was everything, you know, that we’re creating right now, the initial plan was to create this stuff in-house, find the next social media star within our app, which instead of finding them in our app we found them on Vine. But, we went to create this ecosystem where we could go in and we could find talent within our app and team up with them and produce content that would live inside our app. Which we actually tried, right before we pulled the app, we had our Awkward Puppet series.
You tried to do original content inside of Shots.
Yeah, yeah. And we did. We uploaded the Awkward Puppet series into the app. We did a few sketches inside the app. And then we put that onto YouTube and when it went on YouTube ...
There’s a lot more people on YouTube.
Yeah, a lot more YouTube, we had a discoverability issue, you had to be following the Awkward Puppets page or Rudy’s page to have seen the Awkward Puppets.
This is Rudy Mancuso, right?
Rudy Mancuso, who was one of our artists.
But with Rudy, so … and Rudy was actually, Rudy was in the beginning, “I don’t want it on YouTube. I don’t care, we’ll make this work.”
He just wanted it inside the app.
He loved it. He was the one we were fighting, I was like “Rudy, trust me, let’s do it on YouTube.” But he was so Team Shots at the time where he was like, “No, it’s so much cooler to have our own thing,” he kept it on ours even though he wasn’t an investor at the time. He was just part of, he just believed in it so much, but then I was like, “We’re doing a disservice to you, Rudy, this is too funny, too good.”
And as soon as we put it on YouTube, it blew up and then it got the attention of YouTube where we spoke with them more and we said, “You know what, we’re going to bring everyone onto YouTube.”
Explain to people who don’t know how you get an app that’s invested in by Justin Bieber, right, ‘cause he’s an international superstar. How does that come about for someone like yourself?
Well, I explained all this to Justin.
But how did you even meet him?
I met Justin through a couple mutual friends, two different people, one being his father and one that was at the time his jeweler, was actually a friend of mine ‘cause he happened to be Mayweather’s jeweler, who Mayweather was an investor.
This is Floyd Mayweather, the boxer.
Floyd Mayweather, yeah.
So you knew Floyd, too.
Yeah, so I knew Floyd, who I met, that’s a different story, whole different story with Floyd, how I met him and how he invested. He actually tried to give us cash, literally, like $500-whatever.
He tried to give you $500,000 in cash.
In cash, yeah.
And what do you say with that when ...
Oh I had to argue with him for two hours, I said, “Hey, I need a wire.” He just didn’t understand what a wire was. He was like, “No,” he’s like, “I pay everything cash.” But anyway ...
All right. Weird world. So you know Floyd Mayweather, his jeweler is Justin Bieber’s jeweler, you meet Justin Bieber.
Mm-hmm. So I met Justin and Justin actually was a fan of our apps. He was using, at the time before the Shots app we had created a few different iPhone games.
And he was playing the games. So my friend Ben Baller who’s the jeweler, he happened to be with Justin, they had some business together and he saw that Justin had a couple of our apps on his phone. He was like, “Yeah, I know the guys who made that.” He’s like, “I’m a huge fan.”
Long story, he gave him my info and I met with Justin, explained to him everything. Actually, I remember taking, I don’t know, a 20-25 slide deck printed out to his house, and I was like showing content, creating content, we wanted to create cartoons, we wanted to build an app where we had user-generated content and original content all in one, and that’s what we wanted to create. And that’s when he said, “I want to be part of this.”
And why do you start with the selfie, though? Because that’s what it was known as, it was known as a selfie app. And I remember talking to you early on and it was like — and we can get into this a little bit later on — but you were like, “Hey, we want to build this kind of network where people don’t feel pressured about likes.” I don’t think you could ... you couldn’t see how many likes photos got at the time ...
Yeah, no comments.
You could only comment if you sent someone a message back, so it kind of, you know, created this extra barrier where someone couldn’t just leave a nasty comment. So, you really seemed to be trying to clean up this social networking experience to, in my opinion, that seemed like the goal much less than this content idea that you ultimately came up with.
Well, we wanted to because you can’t move backwards. You can’t have comments and everything at first and then remove it. And we just wanted to start in a place that was positive and it was just not even positive, but just, I lack the word, but it was just like don’t overthink, you known what I mean? Just post.
We didn’t even have filters. Yeah, very low barrier. Just, you know, just post, you know, because remember, that was before Snapchat Stories. That was before Instagram Stories, and before Twitter-supported photos and before Facebook was really mobile. I don’t even know if Facebook had a mobile app back then. Remember, it took them a long time to have a mobile app and their mobile app was awful the first year.
So, really, okay, where was that place where you could just snap a quick picture? You know what I mean? I just took a picture of my Google Home Hub and I posted it on my Instagram Story. Back then, there was nowhere to host anything like that. So that’s what Shots app was. So don’t think about it, don’t worry about the negative comments, post that picture of Google Home Hub. Don’t worry about someone saying, “Hey man, you’re destroying my feed,” or this and that. There was no filters, so don’t worry about someone making fun of a wrinkle or how your makeup’s done. Don’t overthink.
And then that’s why the selfie, that’s why, you know, and there was a need for selfies. You know, really at the time, there was nothing, you know, other than an IOS camera, there was no social network that had a reverse camera. You know, so, I don’t even know, yeah, I don’t even think Instagram, even if Instagram did, no one was really using the camera. Even to this day, people don’t use the camera for a timeline for, obviously, for Stories you use the camera but for a timeline post, you weren’t using the Instagram camera. You were taking things from a camera roll, making them nice and uploading them.
And, of course, you had arguably the world’s most popular selfie-taker, right? Justin Bieber as a user and investor.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. He loved taking the selfies so we just knew he was the right person. You know, but it wasn’t necessarily about the selfie. He also believed in the very long-term vision of this company.
That’s why he wanted, he didn’t want to just invest in the selfie app, he wanted to invest in everything that we were doing. And to this day, he’s still super supportive of everyone on our team.
Yeah, so he’s still an investor, but he’s not one of the seven that is part of the, kind of, management that you’re doing.
No, no, no no. He’s managed by Scooter Braun.
Yeah, yeah. You manage — I said this kind of at the beginning — I always thought of these guys as internet stars because a lot of them got famous on Vine, which you mentioned. Walk me through how this team came together. So, where did you find Rudy Mancuso, for example. He’s a good example not only because he’s very talented, he also performed at our Code Conference in May.
That was great.
And he was awesome. But how did you find this group of people, through Vine and other platforms like that?
They were, you know, at the time, they were using Vine for video but they were using the Shots app for photos. And I remember looking at, you know, just data on our top users and I was just really interested. And we used to have get-togethers, you know, something that YouTube and Instagram do actually a great job of is catering to the community.
They have — Instagram, YouTube, even some of the streaming networks like Spotify, Apple Music — they all have these teams that cater towards the artists, the influencers, the comedians, the athletes, they all have different teams now. It took a while for them to build teams that actually cater towards their, you know, the power users.
The different verticals. Or, the users in each of those verticals.
Yeah, but now they’re split up. But back then they didn’t really have that, and we wanted that. We wanted, you know, if you had an issue, right, like if you didn’t have your login, there was like VIP lines. So, we, you know, we just assumed who we knew, which was all our investors obviously were using it, Justin was using it, Mayweather was using it, I think Mayweather announced one of his fights exclusively on our app.
Marlon Wayans, Mike Tyson, Cristiano Ronaldo. So, we assumed that they were our top users. And then Sam, my brother Sam, gave me data for our top users. And, it was like Justin 1, Kylie Jenner 2, and it was like a list of like a bunch of people I’ve never heard of. It was like, then I was looking at, you know, Snoop Dogg was like No. 18, I was like, who are all these people in between? I thought Snoop Dogg would be the biggest guy, especially he was very active on social, he was using Twitter, HQ, and doing viral stuff on Instagram. And, when I started looking at our names we started reaching out and Rudy was one of them, Lele was one of them, Anwar was one of them, King Bach.
Really, you did not know them before ...
I did not know. The only one I recognized when I looked them up was King Bach. I was like, “Oh, wow, that’s the guy. I see his videos.”
Right. But meanwhile they were very popular on Vine.
These guys were all part of that original Vine star crew, right?
Correct. Not only were they big on Vine but they were also, they were big on Vine, but they were looking for a place to go to to get away from the comments and bullying. Because Vine users are probably the most cruel. Like, if you read some of their comments and just video platforms. Even YouTube comments are a lot more cruel than other platforms.
’Cause I think a lot of Vine users, you go through their profile — I’m talking about the regular users — you go to their profile and you don’t see their personal life. Where Instagram, it’s like, oh okay cool. You wanna see that? Well I saw a picture of you and your mother, you know what I mean? Like, on Vine and YouTube they don’t really have content where you can’t ... it’s easy for someone to hide, you know, on the Vine account. So I think they were looking for that escape, and I think they were hearing about an app that they could use for photos and they could use Vine as video.
That’s how it was happening. So then when we start reaching out to everyone, understanding, and I said, “These are the guys that we should be creating the content with.”
Yeah. And you do something really unique, so for those who don’t know, the seven people that you manage, to me it doesn’t really feel like they’re all operating in seven different worlds. Like, Rudy Mancuso directs a music video for Lele Pons who appears in a music video for Anitta, who’s one of the top Brazilian pop stars, like they are participating in each other’s projects, like it’s almost a little team thing. I assume that’s obviously by design.
Like, how did you get them to buy into this notion of, “Hey, you could all be kind of famous on your own, or you could all kind of collaborate together.”
So I think, well, there’s a business behind it but then there’s also what we call the Shots family. And the Shots family is in the ... Let’s not make work first, let’s make friendship first, we’re gonna spend a lot of our life together. So let’s work together, let’s, you know, there’s a no-negativity rule. You know, someone ...
That’s a natural rule.
That’s a nice sure rule.
It’s like, uh, the kindergarten rule that I would have.
Yeah. Well there’s no, like, you can’t call me and complain about someone. If you don’t agree with what so-and-so did or said or posted, you call them, you don’t call me and complain like, “Hey, why’s so-and-so doing this?”
You don’t want to babysit, basically.
Yeah, none of that. We’re very hands on with our business, as I mentioned the five different parts.
So we’re very active. And we’re always there, if you’re having a bad day, you could call me. But I don’t wanna hear you complain about something else. And it’s not just within our group. It could be another creator. There’s a lot of creators that have been in the press for a lot of different controversies with internet creators last year. I don’t wanna hear about it.
I saw it. I saw what so-and-so did and posted and is getting backlash for, I saw it. Just learn from it.
We don’t do that. But I don’t wanna hear about it, like oh hey, you know, I’m not a gossip guy.
So there’s that one part, but then there’s the strategic business part. Every one of our seven owns their vertical. Like Anitta, you mentioned. Anitta’s the biggest star in Brazil. Like, No. 1.
I did not know much about Anitta. You have a Netflix show, which you mentioned, it’s about her career, I guess. I was pretty blown away, I don’t know anything about the Brazilian music scene, I mean, she’s like selling out massive stadiums full of people.
Oh she does stadiums, she does festivals down there... She’s growing internationally, but you know what’s interesting about Anitta is 12 percent of Brazil population — which is 220 million people — follow her on social media. Yeah. That’s how powerful and big she is. She’s, you know, we call her the queen of Brazil. A lot of people, the press, the media, other artists call her the queen of Brazil and so she owns that market, so we don’t...we’re not gonna go look for another Brazilian to step on her toes. So that also makes that no-negativity rule easy, right?
’Cause she doesn’t feel like she’s competing directly with the other members of your crew here.
Correct. Or Alesso, for instance. Alesso’s our producer/DJ.
That’s it. You know. We get DJs calling us all the time, “Man, I let go of my manager.” “Hey, let me know if you need a referral.” “Well, what about you guys?” “We have our guy.”
And he’s part of this team. We don’t ...
It’s kind of like you’re forming a sports team or something like that. It’s like, all right you got your quarterback, you got your left tackle, you got your ...
I think I would kill it as a basketball coach.
There you go!
I’m thinking about it.
You’re general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers.
I think I would kill it as a basketball manager, watch these guys like, have you talked to them? Oh yeah, I know exactly what to do.
I could kill it on the basketball court.
So you’re basically saying these are the different areas where we need someone to contribute to the group.
You find someone to fill that need and people buy into that.
Well, Lele is our pop star. International. Right? She’s big in the Spanish world and the English world. She’s also our comedian. She’s our overall entertainer.
You know, Rudy’s our entertainer but Rudy, we’ll see a lot more piano in 2019 with him. He’s gonna own the piano. There is no new generation Billy Joel, Elton John.
You know? Like, he should be that. Everyone loves the piano.
So explain to me how ... I can imagine, explain to those of us who are listening here how it benefits one another for them. I mean, is it simply, hey, Rudy tags Lele in a video and therefore they reach both user bases or is it more complex than that?
Yeah. Well, I’ll give you a great example and you could see this in a Netflix show. Anitta’s career started changing when she started collaborating with Alesso. Alesso, at the time when we started working with him, owned ...
Who is a DJ, by the way.
Alesso’s our DJ producer, who’s also producer, he’s a dance DJ. He is massive in Europe. No. 1 market, like, by a landslide in Germany, Sweden, U.K., Italy. And when we started working with Anitta, at first, 99 percent of her followers were Brazil. At first.
One percent was spam.
Would explain why someone like me didn’t really know who she was.
Yeah. You know. So 99 percent, yeah, exactly, most people. Anitta before us, and in the show we talk about it, she met everything with a dozen music managers here. And some of the biggest names. I don’t wanna say their names but some biggest names and there was like, “no.”
They just didn’t know who she was.
But we were lucky enough cause Shots app’s biggest market was Brazil.
One of the reasons why we couldn’t raise money is we used to go pitch about how big we were in Brazil. And people were comparing us to Path, who was like always bragging about Indonesia.
R.I.P. Path, talking about Path, yeah.
Yeah. All the nice apps. And so I understood Brazil. And I understood people not understanding Brazil.
So that’s how we ... But then we’re going back to ... how this all works is so when we first started with Anitta and then Alesso was right around the same summer, summer of 2017.
And we said, “Why don’t they do a song together?” And fast-forward to a little over a year later, Anitta’s selling out shows in Paris, Portugal, she did the Royal Albert Hall in London. Remember, a year and a half ago she was 99 percent followings in Brazil.
She’s selling out the Royal Albert Hall, one of the most iconic venues in the world. And Alesso’s No. 1 market is now Brazil. No. 2 market is Mexico City.
Yeah. And now the U.K. is his third-largest market.
And so is that as simple as ... It sounds so easy when you say it like that, right? Okay, find someone who’s really popular in country x and have them work with someone popular in country y and voila. It’s that why don’t more people do this, like it’s ... I feel like it can’t be this easy.
It’s easy when you’re working with logical, smart people. Right? Like it just takes one. Anitta and I were going on, messaging on WhatsApp today. She had a couple of ideas about different things and I educated her on what I thought on the ideas and why I thought that. And the response was, “Oh, okay, I didn’t see it like that, cool.” I think if you don’t explain properly to a logical person — which she’s very logical, very smart, Alesso’s very logical, very smart — but they’re also caught on the side on the brain that’s focused on creative.
Which is, one side of the brain is the creative, imaginative side and then the other side of the brain is the logical, more mathematical, putting pieces together side.
So when they’re so focused on an idea on this side, and I’m sittin’ in the office on the other side, I could explain to them clearly, and they’re smart where their brain meets in the middle, says it’s a good idea or it’s a bad idea. It will work or it won’t work.
And for me, it’s really easy for me and my brothers, really easy because they’re very smart people with zero ego. I mean, we’re talking about Anitta.
I was just gonna say, long story short, they’re not high maintenance, they’re happy to collaborate and they don’t have massive egos.
Anitta has over 31 million followers on Instagram. I forgot her YouTube number, it’s over 10 million on YouTube, maybe even closer to 15 million on YouTube. She can’t walk two feet in Brazil. She has her own show on Netflix that’s doing very well and more than just Brazil — in Colombia, Mexico, Spain and even the U.S. Would say even 80 percent Portuguese. She has a hit Netflix show, she has hit music out, she’s a judge on “The Voice Mexico” which is the No. 1 show. All this, and she still is humble.
You know, and that’s the things we look at, at first with anyone we work with is where’s the ego, is there an ego coming with them? And that’s when we say no to most people. That’s when ... A lot — believe it or not, Kurt — once a day someone will reach out. It could be an up-and-coming artist that’s talented or someone that’s extremely established. We say no. We say no because it makes it so much easier to do this entire thing when there’s no ego.
And they’re like, “We’ll work together with you.”
So, explain the distribution strategy, because the Netflix thing is one of the first examples I can think of that feels ... something that you’re doing that’s kind of traditional media. Obviously Netflix is new but the idea of a series, documentary kind of TV show is more traditional. Most of what you do, it shows up on YouTube, it showed up on Vine back before Vine wasn’t around anymore. So are you, I mean, these are kind of ... This is a very digital strategy. I imagine that’s by design. Do you want to stay in that realm or do you want to ...
Well, we wanna be where our audience is.
You know? So if our audience is on Netflix, which we could tell if they are or not, then we’ll create something for Netflix, you know? But our thing is we want to be everywhere. The best way I like to explain our company is — and that’s why, going back to what I said at first, there’s no app, right? Although I can think of ideas for not building anything is I like to kind of ...
So there’s like a giant war going on within all these platforms. No one really talks about it, but it’s a fact.
I talk about it! I feel like it’s all I talk about these days.
Okay so there’s a war, there’s a war between Instagram and YouTube. There’s a war between YouTube and Spotify. There’s a war between Spotify and Amazon. There’s a war between Amazon and Hulu. There’s a war between Hulu and Netflix. There’s a war going on, which kind of reminds me of the world.
What we want to be is that one company which, we don’t know the name of the company, but you know, there’s few, you know ... We might know the name of the company, but we wanna be the company that are supplying these platforms with the missiles and tanks and armory, you know?
You’re an arms dealer now.
Yeah! But that’s what we wanna be, we’re arms dealers!
All right! Be careful how you, ya know.
Well, you know, we’re not creating arms.
But content is ... I mean, what’s the point? What’s the point of going to battle against everyone else when you don’t have premium content?
And that’s what we’re creating as a company. So, what we wanna do is supply, you know? Like, “Hey, Netflix, do you need something?” Well, guess what? Guess who’s got the best mobile creators? And we all know Netflix, that your mobile growth is growing.
It’s no secret. Tablet, smartphone, anything mobile is growing. Which is what the 13- or 24-year-old is using to consume content. 13- or 24-year-old is not buying a $3,500 TV.
You know? They may even have one, they probably don’t even turn it on.
They’re watching their $3,500 phone, or whatever.
Yeah. Or $330 phone.
Or whatever it is. And we look at that.
Anitta’s show, when we were ... Bud who’s in the room here, he was even part of this as like, when we were reviewing the video, the editing and everything post production, the Anitta show, we weren’t watching it on a TV. We were watching it on phones. And not only that, Sam went on eBay and bought some of the most popular phones in Brazil, which is not the iPhone.
Different Samsung phones are the most popular phones down there, and we would test these and we would zoom in on the faces and we would change the coloring based on those devices that are popular in Brazil.
So you’re editing for a mobile Netflix viewer?
Yeah. We didn’t have a big screen, even though we got this room here for that, we never, like I was telling you, we never set it up for that. There was supposed to be a screen on here and everything for us to watch the Anitta show. We just ended up watching it through Vimeo links on our phones and editing it through there and giving feedback, “Hey, it should be zoomed in here, this and that, that seems a little too dark. Boost the color.” So Netflix is in that business, YouTube is that, Instagram is almost all that.
Twitter video, Facebook video.
You said you basically want to provide content to every platform out there: Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, Twitter. What works best for you right now? I think it’s YouTube, actually.
Is YouTube still your biggest thing? It was the last time we spoke.
YouTube is, and especially now that we’ve gotten into music. A music video is like YouTube video.
So YouTube for a few reasons. One is because music. Although Spotify has video, great video, Apple’s got ... Spotify’s got the vertical videos that we love creating for. Apple’s...God, you know. You’d could consume...Lele has her own video playlist on Apple right now.
They just launched that Apple.co/Lelepons. If you go there you’ll just see her music and visually ...
But YouTube, for a few reasons. One is, when we started this, one of the reasons why when we started seeing her content being consumed outside of the Shots app, was we were monetizing for the first time.
Yeah. You can actually make money from YouTube.
Yeah. You can make money from day one.
Yeah. You just click a button.
Yeah, yeah. So, now you have revenue from there. You get discoverability because, don’t forget, it’s Google, right?
So they have the best ways to ... Whether it’s searching or serve you based off what you searched. So, I knew that that was another one of our reasons, was YouTube and Google will, if you are looking for it, they’ll figure out how to get it over to you.
Then there’s the music element, right?
But then, one of the things that we really care about is the people that work there or ...
So you have a good business relationship with YouTube.
Just everyone, all departments, from their music department to the YouTube music team, to their creators team, to the originals team, and now we meet ... Because in the next year, we’ll be getting more into science and education, so their STEM team, just the most incredible people who understand us and appreciate the work that we put in, because our content’s a little bit more produced than other creators.
They love the fact that we’re taking someone that’s labeled as a YouTuber, say, like Lele or Rudy, and actually develop them into international stars. Lele just performed at the Latin AMAs, second-to-last slot, right before Maluma. That’s massive, never been done, never been done.
That’s good for YouTube because she built her following on YouTube.
All the headlines are, “YouTube star steals the show at the Latin AMAs.” Yeah.
Okay. I’m gonna list off these others platforms. Give me your quick gut reaction thoughts on them. Facebook.
Yeah, as a platform, Facebook proper, the blue app.
I like where they’re going with originals. We’re actually building some shows.
For Facebook Watch?
For Facebook Watch, yeah. They are giving us, so far, full freedom. They’re like, “Hey, we love what you guys are doing. You have any ideas, spit it out.” I had, I think, about eight different ideas. They loved everything. They’re very open-minded to make Facebook Watch happen. So, Facebook Watch, I believe it ...
Could work for you guys.
You don’t post to Facebook Pages, though?
We do and we don’t. We don’t really have a strategy. Honestly, it’s when we remember to.
I hate saying it like that, but it’s ... Because we also ... Even though you can monetize now on Facebook, it’s important also from a perspective angle to have as many views on a YouTube video. Right?
I would rather a Rudy video have 10 million views on YouTube than, let’s say, seven million on YouTube and three million on Facebook, because that 10 million just makes a big difference when it becomes ...
Well, you can’t make money, at least not much, from the Facebook stuff, or what?
I don’t know if we’re part of this program, but there is a ...
You probably would know if you were part of it because you’d be making money.
No, because we didn’t really follow up. So, there was a program ...
You should probably do that.
Maybe. Maybe, or we’ll just focus on the original stuff.
Instead of taking ... We also don’t really like to recycle content, even though a lot of people do it. They create something, and I’ve even said we should be everywhere, but when I say everywhere, we should create for everywhere. So, Spotify, for instance, if it’s time for music, we don’t Spotify because Spotify is vertical videos. We’re not gonna chop up a landscape video and just zoom in on the middle, which is what a lot of musicians do. It’s a really awful experience.
We have a whole team that just literally shoots vertically. It turns the camera 90 degrees and it shoots vertically, and it creates something specifically, because a vertical video’s gotta be tall. So, we’ll put palm trees, bunk beds. We’ve even joked about getting a giraffe and putting a giraffe. You have to put tall items in it. So it’s shot completely different than a wide video. Those are the things that we like to do. Right now, we don’t have the bandwidth to create something original, specifically for Facebook, unless now the original team’s called, because now there’s budgets.
Because yeah, they’re paying you for it.
Yeah, there’s budgets.
They’re giving us some serious budgets, and that’s where now Facebook’s exciting. It’s like, okay, they get it.
That’s one of the most powerful platforms.
That’s both ... I know Lele, for example, was early with IGTV. What do you guys think of IGTV? I feel like from the outside it feels ... I’ve clicked in it a few times, doesn’t ... I mean, I’m probably not the target demo, but not a lot for me there.
Yeah. I’m a believer in IGTV. I think the idea is great. I think it has a product issue right now, which they’re working on. Right now, I’ve noticed in the discover section when I click on a video, it’s bringing me an IGTV video. So, I think they have this product issue right now on how do you separate this original full-screen vertical video from everything else and not ruining that experience of the square photos and videos?
Yeah. Basically, discoverability, like how do I actually discover ...
It just has a product issue, but you know what? That’s one app update. Someone could just walk in and be like, “Hey, I figured it out,” push one update, IGTV’s a thing.
Yeah. So, Instagram is a valuable platform and audience for you and the folks that you work with?
Yeah. I mean, Instagram’s our secret weapon. That’s where all our fans are. I know they’re on YouTube, too, but they’re also there. It’s a lead generator for anything with a link, whether it’s the Anitta show, which has a Netflix link, so we could put the link in the bio, swipe up on the Instagram Story is very valuable.
All right, and Snapchat.
You look like you don’t want to answer this one.
Yeah. I mean, listen. This is the thing with Snapchat. There’s still people who use it. The product’s always been a great product. I don’t think they ... There’s some things Snapchat can do to make a comeback, but the few times we’ve tried to explain that, it’s really gone nowhere, so it’s kind of not ...
With the executives at the company?
Certain people, and we’re now at a place where, “Okay. Let’s just focus on the people who understand us.” That’s where we’re at, and I’m meeting with Snapchat next week, I think, but it’s just being ...
The reputation is they haven’t prioritized creators. It sounds like based on your ... I’m looking at ... The people can’t really necessarily see you, but you’re clearly hesitant to maybe say what’s truly on your mind, but it sounds like at the very least, they’re not treating creators the way that you think they should be treated.
Yeah. Well, there’s people who treat them better, and we also, right now, we’re doing a lot with five things, that platforms. We’re huge on YouTube. We’re huge on Instagram. We’re huge on Apple Music. We’re huge on Spotify. Actually, I’m a believer in Twitter Video.
What’s your pitch for Twitter Video, because I … you could convince me.
Well, you know I’ve always been a Twitter fan. I’ve always been a Twitter ...
I know you’re a Twitter fan. We didn’t even talk about ... I’ll do a quick aside, but back in the day, and I wrote about this, I’m not the only one, about being “Shahidi’d.”
You were the first to write about it —no, no.
Yeah, he was. I’m sorry, Dan.
If you mentioned someone on Twitter, which you have mentioned me on Twitter, I would spend two weeks of nonstop Twitter notifications from mostly Justin Bieber fans.
That doesn’t happen as much anymore. Do you think it was a lot of bots and stuff? It didn’t feel like bots at the time.
No. I think I had started posting not what they wanted to see. Right?
I think they loved me and Justin always being together, which we were before this, during the app days, during when he was in his creative zone. I think he really leaned on me and my brother a lot to just be around with him, but then now, he’s a married man. He’s taking a little break. Hopefully he makes a comeback soon, but taking a little break from work. I’ve been focused on building the company, moving ...
So, you’re not giving Beliebers the Belieber content that they necessarily want. Yeah.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, there’s still some, and they consume ... I read the comments on our videos, and they all talk about ... I love seeing the, “I love what Shots has become,” and they love the evolution of the company and all that, but it’s not like what it used to be, but that’s fine. I’m also older. I don’t need ...
You don’t need the Beliebers as much. Yeah, that’s fair.
Yeah, yeah. No, it’s not only that. It’s just, I want to use Twitter like you use Twitter. I go there for news and information, and I can’t ...
You don’t want to be bombarded.
I don’t want to miss that @reply about you because someone wants to meet Justin.
Yeah. Okay. So, give me your quick pitch. Give me your 30-second pitch on why Twitter Video is still relevant.
Well, there’s still a lot of users on Twitter, and the product actually is pretty decent when it comes to landscape videos. I think the vertical videos need a little bit of work, which is something I think they should prioritize because most of their users are mobile users, but the product is actually there, which is something that most platforms, it’s the other way around. Right? They have the content and the creators, but they don’t have the product. The product is there, so now all they need is the content.
And we already have a following on there. Lele’s got, I don’t know, close to two million. Rudy’s got over a million. Anitta’s got I don’t know how many millions. Alesso’s got a couple million. So, we have a following there. There’s the retweeting, right? So, when you go back to what we were talking about, collaborations, there’s the collaborations with the one-click ...
There’s more of a viral network effect on Twitter, yeah.
Yes. Yeah. So, it just needs the right content. That’s why if you see the tweets with the most retweets and likes, they’re memes, which memes are original content, too, meaning someone created that for us to laugh. So, it wasn’t anything personal. They were trying to entertain John and Kurt. So, when you look at those, I see memes with 80,000 retweets. So, people want original content on YouTube, and I think that’s just a matter of us hiring a team.
I’m sorry. On Twitter.
On Twitter. Yeah, yeah.
Yeah, and it’s just a matter of us staffing up and saying ...
So, I feel like social media a couple years ago was more of almost like a science, trying to figure out what would work and what wouldn’t. Obviously, the algorithms were a little maybe newer, and people were still experimenting. What have you learned? I’m sure you’ve learned a lot of things, but if you could maybe boil it down, as someone who has groomed and helped build Vine stars, social media stars into much larger than that, what’s one or two things that you’ve learned throughout that?
Well, one is to always be relatable. Understand who your audience is and create content for that audience. So, you gotta be relatable. That’s what makes Lele so big. Yeah.
More so than maybe traditional TV or something like that, just because social feels intimate, or what?
Yes, yes. It’s gotta be ... Lele’s best-performing videos are videos where she’s just herself, and we’ve noticed that anytime we’ve upped the productions on some of our YouTube videos, the engagement’s gone down because we don’t connect as much because of what you just said, and then also, there’s gotta be proper evolution.
When we first started with the Shots family, they were on Vine. They were creating six-second videos. We didn’t jump from six-second videos to a Netflix show, which is 30 minutes an episode. We went from six-second Vine videos to then we moved everyone to the Shots app, which Shots app was 15 to 30 seconds. That was a quick ... We X’d that only because all the reasons that I said before.
So, then we actually, before we went to YouTube, we went to Instagram. Instagram at the time was 30-second videos, so it was before they changed it to one minute. So, now we went from six seconds to 15 seconds to 30 seconds, figuring out how to be able to keep your attention, beginning, middle and end, tell us a story in the short amount of time.
Then after 30 seconds, Instagram opened up to one minute, and now it’s one-minute videos. So, we started creating one-minute videos. Then when we got the hang of that, anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute, most of them were around 45 seconds, we launched our YouTube channels. Our first YouTube videos were 90 seconds, two minutes.
So, there’s really a total evolution, step by step.
Three minutes, four minutes, five-minute music videos. Rudy’s released a couple 12-to-16-minute sketches on his channel. Then we did the Anitta show on Netflix, which is, I think, 28 minutes an episode.
All right. Last thing. The next logical step after a 28-minute episode is a movie or a documentary or something that’s an hour or more.
Well, I really enjoyed creating the Anitta show. It was so beautiful.
The Netflix show. Yeah.
The Netflix show of Vai Anitta. That one was like taking a team that we brought onboard with two of our team members, Alicia and Charlie, who collectively have ... They worked for NFL Films. They did all the Hard Knocks. They did Mayweather’s All Access. That’s how I met them, through Mayweather.
So, bringing them, who collectively, Charlie and Alicia, have 22 Emmys, and then teaming them up with our Mobile First guys, Bud Calvin, Wes, just our existing team that focuses on YouTube videos, and then having these two worlds meet is what delivered the Anitta show. So, I think more shows like that is gonna be really interesting for us, and then we want to try our first film.
Do you want to do a movie?
Yeah. We want to do ... I think next year, we’ll probably try our first, maybe even two movies in 2019.
Really? Two movies in the same year?
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Rudy’s got an itch. He’s got a really, really amazing idea for a movie.
Are these documentary-style or like sitcoms?
No, these will be scripted. Yeah. No, those will be scripted film.
It will be a scripted comedy, on the comedy side, with a touch of music, because this company is about music. So, it’ll be a comedy with music.
The comedy musical from Shots Studios.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. “Comedy musical.” I don’t know why Sam doesn’t want me to say musical comedy.
You can say whatever you want. I don’t see Sam around here, so ...
Yeah, I know, but he’s going to listen to this, and he’s gonna listen to the whole thing just to make sure I didn’t say anything inappropriate.
Even if you buried it at the very end here?
Yeah. John, this was awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.