On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, tech reviewer Marques Brownlee talks about his YouTube channel, MKBHD. He started making videos for fun in 2009 when he was 15, but today he’s doing well enough to have three full-time employees working for him.
Below, you’ll also find a lightly edited transcript of the full episode.
Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media, with Peter Kafka. That is me, I am part of the Vox Media podcast network. I am at Vox Media headquarters in to New York City, we have a very special guest. Before we get to talk to that guest I want to ask you briefly to tell a friend about this podcast. You are smart, you are listening to Recode podcasts so you know how to tell a friend about the Recode Media podcast. Thank you in advance for your help. How’s that plug, Marques?
Marques Brownlee: It’s pretty good, I enjoyed it.
My guest here is Marques Brownlee. Better known to many people as ...
MKBHD. And this is an interesting litmus test for sort of your cultural technology/pop culture literacy. You either know who Marques/MKBHD is and you think he’s a giant effing deal or you’re just hearing about him right now for the first time.
Is that fair?
That’s fair. So you’re a giant star that many people have not heard of.
Yeah. So there’s a lot of people who are fully aware of who I am or via someone else. I get that a lot where people will say, “Hey my kid knows you,” or, “My brother knows your videos,” or something like that.
You know who said that to me today?
CEO of Vox Media, Jim Bankoff.
He’s gonna bust down the door here for a selfie in a minute so he can impress his 12-year-old kid.
For the folks who are listening to this podcast who have not heard of you before, what’s the best way to describe you?
So I would be a YouTuber in the tech space. A lot of people say a reviewer, that’s a big part of what I do is review gadgets and devices, and talk about what you should versus shouldn’t buy. But then another big part of it is just talking tech and highlighting and showcasing it and just having fun with it. So it’s videos.
Your bona fides are, I’m saying you’re a big deal, but if you don’t believe me you could go to your YouTube page. How many subscribers do you have there?
It should be six million tomorrow.
Six million people are getting weekly updates from you?
Yeah, something like that.
Your Twitter, what, three million?
Twitters I think is 2.7 million.
I was rounding up for you.
Oh thanks. Yeah, Instagram is 1.X million. That’s about it.
But YouTube is your thing.
That’s where you make your money, it’s where you do what you do.
You’ve been doing it for how long?
So first video was 2009, January 2009. So it’ll be about 10 years in a half a year from now.
And I don’t know if you could tell, even if you see Marques you get a sense of how old he is, but he’s not an old person.
How old are you marques?
I’m 24 now.
Oh, you’ve been doing it for nine years?
So you started when you were, I can do the math ...
Yeah, when I was just a high schooler.
I want to talk about that. And I still want to sort of establish how big a deal you are in this world, because I think people are more familiar with the idea that gadgets and technology are a big deal in pop culture, a big deal on the internet. In the old days there were blogs like Engadget and Gizmodo, they’re still a big deal today. Obviously The Verge, our sister site over at Vox Media, is a big deal. But there’s this burgeoning crop of people like yourself, and I think you’re the most prominent who’ve become sort of the modern-day Walt Mossberg in a lot places — I say that as someone who worked with Walt Mossberg for a decade-plus.
One good way of sussing that out is, I’m trying to remember, was it an Apple ad or Samsung ad, but I saw it last fall and he was showing off the new phone and they were highlighting positive remarks from agist people, so-and-so from The Verge, so-and-so from the Wall Street Journal, and there was a quote from Marques Brownlee.
It was on a national TV ad. Was that iPhone?
There was a Samsung ad and more recently a Google Pixel ad that both the ...
So this is also a flaw with TV advertising if I remember a portion of the ad but not what the product was for.
Yeah, he probably didn’t do his job.
Sounds like it. But I thought, “Who is Marques Brownlee?”
Samsung thinks I should know who he is, because they are putting his name in front of a national TV ad. When did you reach the “national TV ad, Marques Brownlee, no other identification required,” stage?
That, I’d say, is pretty recent.
That happened last year for the first time?
That’s within the last year. That hadn’t happened in any way at all until 2017.
Are you walk-down-the-street famous?
So that’s the beauty of the internet, is a lot of people who are on the internet most of the time aren’t in the street most of the time. So I can just walk down the street and no one knows.
So you’re big with basement dwellers?
People in the dorms, people who don’t get out.
That’s not true.
I mean, so it gets ... I’d say people ask usually, “How often do people recognize you?” It’s usually at tech-dense things, events, CES-like conferences, things like that.
You’re nerd famous.
Yeah. Then you know it takes three seconds before I’m walking, bumping into the next person, but nobody on the way here and nobody on the way home.
Not until you stepped into Vox Media were you recognized.
Something like that, yeah.
This is a job for you, this is full-time, you make a living, seems like a decent living.
Yeah, we’ll talk about that in a minute. You started doing this in high school? Junior high?
In high school, yeah.
In high school. Went to college, kept doing it?
And then went pro immediately after college?
But you were doing it ... When did you start making money making YouTube videos?
It was back in the days of what was called the YouTube Partner Program. I know a couple people who were around YouTube before that program existed, but it was introduced and basically let people apply to become a YouTube Partner and split revenue with YouTube and put ads on the videos.
“Hey, we notice your making a lot of videos on YouTube, we haven’t been giving you any of the money we’re making from ads.”
“We’re gonna change that. We’re gonna give you 45 percent.”
Right. And actually, there were no ads on new videos if you weren’t a member of the program. So you become a member, that was maybe two to three years after I started making videos. So still pretty young.
So you’re doing it for fun, for giggles.
What was your first video?
So there’s a couple of answers to that. My first video ever was before I did anything tech related, and I just uploaded a video of my golf swing just to see if anyone would critique it. You know, I was 14, looking for some feedback, just uploaded that. That was the first two videos. My first tech video was the one I give credit to in 2009, which is when I unboxed this laptop, and the first video I did was just a video about the little remote that came in the PCI slot of that laptop. That’s the first video of many that I made about that machine.
I hate to ask: What’s a PCI slot?
Oh yeah, it’s this little credit-card-size slot in the corner of a big laptop, back in the day.
I’m not familiar with it.
I’ve got to look it up.
But I actually saw it. It’s astonishing when you see this video because you’re not an old person today, but you were really a kid when you were making this video. Did your parents say, “Hey, we’re not super comfortable with the idea of our kid uploading videos to the internet?” Or did they figure that’s what kids do in 2009?
So there was a little stunt before where I uploaded videos on some other channel under a fake name, and they did give me that talk. They were like, “Hey, be safe on the internet, don’t identify yourself” or whatever. That all got deleted and then I later made my own name as my channel and just did the opposite of what they suggested in that. So there was a period where I didn’t tell them about it and nobody really knew about it, people at school didn’t know about it, I was just making videos for fun. But then they did eventually find that, and it turned out not to be that bad, I guess.
When did you realize that people were paying attention to what you were doing?
Not necessarily what I was doing, but there was something that came to mind where Safari, the browser for Windows, came out. The day that got available I made a video about it and overnight like 6,000 views or something. It blew my mind that people cared about software that much, the way I did.
So you’re putting it up because you just thought it was a fun thing to do?
And it didn’t occur to you this would be something else someone would want to watch?
Right, so it was just a fun one of many videos I was making that day. And it happened to pop.
And so do you remember that was your breakthrough that sort of like got you a little bit above the noise, or no?
That was more of an eye opener for me that there was an audience outside of the hundred subscribers I had that cared about timely information, so that was sort of something that sorta steered me, in a way. But I think there were a couple later little points that were more obviously you call bursting onto the scene.
Or like more visible than that.
There was the iPhone. I’m gonna remember wrong, but I think it’s the iPhone 6 screen test before the iPhone 6 came out. That one was ...
And that was basically you saying, “I have the glass here that I think they’re gonna make the iPhone out of.”
Not confirmed, but, “This is what I believe is gonna work. Let’s see if I can scratch it.”
And that went super viral.
That was when I had, I would say, more than a million subscribers, and it immediately passed that in views. Anytime you get more views on the video in a day than you have subscribers to the channel, that’s a pretty good sign that people outside of the channel are seeing it and sharing it and it’s kinda growing in that way, organically.
And that was still — you can tell me if you think this is still happening, but it seems to that the huge appetite people had to learn about each new phone has maybe diminished over the last few years as they’ve gotten sort of more and more similar. And people ... you know, no one’s really having their mind blown with the iPhone X versus the iPhone 8.
Maybe you think differently, but it seemed like for a while each new iPhone, everyone paid an enormous amount of attention to.
Yeah, as far as scale goes it kinda seems like they’re paying more attention now than they did before.
At least what I see in comments and there’s an entire community that’s really enthusiastic about every single phone that comes out.
And so of course, when the new iPhone comes out they’ll watch it. So, year after year that’s the ...
So your numbers keep ticking up with each new phone?
They do, yeah. And so I can say that’s cause my audience is bigger, but a lot of the views on my videos are search, and those numbers keep growing as well every year. So it seems to me like the appetite is actually still growing, even if it’s not as one-by-one groundbreaking as this new iPhone.
Right, so jaded technology journals like myself might say, “I was on the phone ...”
Maybe, yeah, just a little bit.
“Saw it before, talking with emoji, fine.”
Did you do a separate thing with emoji?
It was in the review ...
In the review?
It wasn’t really separate, yeah.
But your audience is growing, either because there is an audience of people who are more and more interested in the phones, or the people who are interested in phones are finding you?
Either way it works for you.
That’s great. I want to talk about your business and how you built it, but first I want to get to my business, which involves hearing an ad from an advertiser. Be right back.
I’m back here with Marques Brownlee, also known as MKBHD, which stands for?
My initials, MKB, and HD is high definition.
Did you have that at the beginning?
No, so that came from me wanting to find a way to more quickly identify myself at the beginning of videos. Basically I would start with this whole spiel, “Hey, what’s up guys, it’s Marques Brownlee here back with another high-definition video tutorial, and today were talking about blank.” And that was a little too much.
Let’s speed it up.
I wanted some way to say like, “Hey welcome back, I’ve made other videos if you want to watch them, let’s talk about the new thing.” And so I eventually had to make a Twitter username, and Marques Brownlee is really long and hard to spell for a lot of people, so I just made MKBHD, this name that you can find across social channels.
Did you want to be someone who was famous on YouTube, or did you want to be someone who was well-known for talking about technology, or are you just someone who likes technology and was playing around with YouTube and now you’re MKBHD?
I’d say it’s mostly the last. I was making videos basically for fun until the end of college.
What was your ambition in high school and college?
I wanted to be in marketing, just because that little bit of video that I started to make opened my eyes to the fact that there was relationships between companies and that weird influencer word, but like that sort of relationship was interesting to me.
So you had a sense there was a business here?
Yeah. I kinda wanted to be that marketing guy at that company that helped talk to YouTubers.
You wanted to be the guy at Samsung who was reaching out to partners.
That weird reverse role, I wanted to be that guy. So that was for a while, that was like high school. I went to business school, again studied marketing and information systems, sort of a mix of things. Didn’t necessarily have a specific goal, because at that point I kind of already knew I wouldn’t need to do that. But then it just got pretty obvious that I could do videos full time.
And so as you’re building this up and you’re saying, “All right, I’m gonna start reviewing tech, I’m gonna start showing people how this stuff works,” and you say you’re not just strictly a reviewer, you think it’s information generally, right?
Who were you thinking about emulating, who were you looking at or reading or thinking about as you were building this up?
That’s a good question. It’s a lot of different things. There’s a lot of other YouTubers specifically that I watch, because I didn’t watch that much TV or that many movies. But as far as video style, I’d watched a lot of YouTube and got ideas from there. And then as ...
Which is a pretty straight ahead, right?
It’s usually, you joke about a kid in a basement, right, but it’s not much more involved than that generally when someone is looking dead into the camera.
Often on their laptop.
Holding the thing up.
Yeah. Pretty straightforward. It feels like I’m more personal, me-talking-to-you thing, which is the idea, and then the actual content itself was just born from stuff I look around and find interesting. Which is really fortunate for me, I think, because a lot of YouTubers in the long run struggle with keeping their channel interesting, where I don’t have that problem. I just, tech keeps itself interesting.
You don’t need to come up with a new sketch.
Or a new bit.
Yeah, so the extent of that would be me finding new interesting, relevant things to explain or to dive deep into, but for the most part if it’s gadget focused, those gadgets just keep coming and I just show ’em to the camera and talk about it.
So how does that work with the gadgets keep coming? Or the theoretical guy at Samsung is trying to reach you? He knows where to find you? He sets you up with — he or she — with the new gear on a continual basis? Do you need to ask for it?
A little bit of both. So often I think the channel is visible enough, and we’re at a point in 2018 pretty much every company recognizes, there’s eyeballs on YouTube if you want to reach them.
You gotta have some sort of relationship and work with the creators. So that happens where they reach out to me, they’ll say, “We have something that we want to share,” and it goes back and forth from there. But a lot of other times I’ll reach out to a company that I wanna possibly work with and maybe do a behind-the-scenes of what they’re doing, or a deeper dive into their process, and they eventually come around and see the eyeballs the way the other companies do.
It sounds like in some cases you needed to spend some time convincing people that just because you’re on YouTube doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Who is hardest to persuade?
I don’t have any recent stories, it’s more of the companies that are like, “How do we do this? How do we work with you?” Because there’s the really tried and true ones who have done this over and over, and if I’ve ever reached out for something that’s not on their grid of projects, then they know exactly how to handle it.
But something like what we did recently, when they were super easy to work with, but Motorized Precision, which is a robot company that does these cinema robots, they’ve never worked with a YouTuber before, never showed their behind-the-scenes, never showed their process, their software.
Is this the video that’s up right now?
This is the latest video, about five days old, yeah. And so we came in and we worked with them and the whole process, they made it easy because they were open to finally showing what they do. But I think it worked out well because they’re so open to it.
So the traditional gadget reviewer, right, from Walt Mossberg, you have your Times, now Verge, there’s sort of an established way that these things are done. X number of weeks or months, sometimes, before a product comes out. If it’s a significant enough product, they give it to them in advance. There’s some kind of NDA, either sign or not sign. You can’t talk about this until day X?
But then you get to say whatever you want, and also we’re not paying you, right, there’s no ...
There’s no quid pro quo. Works the same way for you? Or is any part of that different?
Yep, they’ve been lately including more YouTubers as part of that press. It’s a little different because a lot of it is written, so they kind of have to accommodate new things when people are bringing cameras in.
Oh, you mean how the embargo part works?
Yeah, so you know, they’ll have, I guess, Samsung for example, you know they’re coming out with a new phone. They invite a bunch of press, they include YouTubers along with the rest of press. This happened with Tesla also, most of press is writing things down.
So it can kinda be hard to also accommodate a video production just popping up and happening on the spot.
Because you want to get in the Tesla and show people what it looks like.
Yeah. So that’s something I think more companies are working on now than they ever did. That’s something they had no focus on before YouTubers were doing this, but now that we are I’ve seen some companies dive head on into it and do really well. Samsung had video lights and little mini sets in their little place in New York.
So they built that for you? Do they treat you as press? Do they treat you as an influencer? Is there a difference?
I’d say they treat us as press. Might say because of my place where I was one of the first YouTubers to get invited and just kinda looped in along with the rest of press at a lot of these things, I got to observe how they work with press. And they basically have just opened the door a little more and brought a couple more YouTubers, a couple more and treated us the same way. Which I think is good.
Anyone offer to pay you either directly or pay you to fly somewhere?
Usually not, I think they’re pretty good about, “Hey, we’ll cover your flight and hotel if we need to bring you to some remote place.”
And you’re okay with that?
And I’m cool with that, that’s great, but if it’s some sort of a device review or analysis then that has to stop there.
And is that something you knew from the get-go, or you came around to that idea, or they’re trained on that idea?
It felt right in the beginning, I wasn’t necessarily doing any of it for the paid part. It was to get the device. The device is the most exciting part.
So if they could offer the device that was more than enough for me.
So you’re the true geek fan boy.
You wanna touch the stuff.
And that is a long-running tradition that goes back many decades of people saying, “I just want to touch it!”
Yeah, so even if they did offer to pay I would say no, because that’s not what I’m doing this for. I think access is often just as valuable as any of that.
Spoken like a true media criticism professional. We wrote about a version of this last fall when the iPhone X came out.
Because we noticed that there were a bunch of people who were doing official reviews, including my colleagues over at The Verge, and they were gonna come out on I don’t know Wednesday or Thursday.
And the day before — not you I don’t think, but maybe I’ve got it wrong.
A bunch of other YouTube video people said, “Hey, we got the new iPhone X!”
“Here’s our first, our hands-on, we’re playing with it, here’s what it looks like.” And there was an interesting discussion about that.
Why would Apple do that? Why are they are courting these people? What was your take on that?
That was an interesting ... I had a lot of thoughts about that. About why, because I watched all the videos when they came out and I sort of observed, you know, things that stayed the same between all the videos, and then you know they all had their different voices.
It looks like they’ve been taken out to the building in SoHo.
Yeah, they all were in the same ...
Yeah, all the same location.
All the same talking points, all the same omissions, so you kinda get the idea that this is a genre video, that Apple is curating in a small scale, and it feels like an experiment because it’s so new to them. But then they obviously have ready in the next wave all the press and things they’re used to working with. But they’re kind of tweaking and playing with, working with YouTubers and what they want to do with that. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it again, or do something a little different this year.
Do you think someone who’s watching you and other people doing technology stuff on YouTube is new, that’s a new consumer of technology? This is someone who is always interested in the new iPhone, the new Samsung, just before they were looking about, they were looking it up on Engadget and prior to iPhones they were looking at it on Popular Science.
Yeah. I’d say it’s two. It’s both. I often separate my audience into two categories as far as when they watch the videos. So people on Day One who are subscribed, who are into tech, who read other reviews and watch other reviews, that watch it early. And then after the half-life of that video, it’s people in search who are more casual, just kinda generally looking to get a new device.
“I know I’m interested in an iPhone. I’m probably gonna go to the mall and get one.”
“But I’m gonna Google before I go.”
“But I’ll just look at it so I know what to expect.” That’s the second half.
The first half is growing, because the subscriber rate is growing and people are interested now more than ever and just being into tech, so that’s really cool. But I think the second half, the search more casual half, as the platform grows is also growing, too.
One of the takeaways I got from Apple pushing this stuff out via sort of unconventional means last year was — I’m sure I’m stealing this idea from someone, probably John Gruber — was that basically everyone who’s gonna buy an iPhone, who knows about iPhones, is gonna buy the iPhone, and they’re at the stage where to move the needle they’ve got to reach a bigger audience. It’s only sort of ambiently aware that there’s an iPhone out there. And going to YouTube personalities is part of that push.
Does that make sense to you?
Yeah, it’s kind of the way all brands have to work with creators. If you made a Venn diagram of the overlap of people who have heard of the brand and people who have heard of the YouTuber, it would overlap in the middle. And you’re trying to reach the half of people that you know have heard of the YouTuber, trust them, are interested in what they have to say, but haven’t heard of your brand. But also a big enough overlap that it’s not totally foreign, that they be comfortable talking about it. So you know what I mean, it’s kinda like you’re reaching an extra little bit of people who are almost connected to you, but not yet.
Right. And I guess if you were cynical about it, it’s a fairly cheap way for them to do it, right?
I’d say so.
Maybe they’re covering airfare and hotel for the folks their bringing to New York?
If they can afford it. Probably not paying them much beyond that.
And they’re making free contact for them.
Close to free. All right so I’m getting a good marketing lesson here from Marques.
You got a degree in this?
I have a marketing degree, yeah, business.
That’s about it.
In actual school of life as well. Marques, were gonna take a quick commercial break.
To hear from a finance sponsor, who may be one of your sponsors as well. Who knows? Let’s find out.
And now we’re back. I’m also speaking closer to the microphone, per my instructions.
From my producer, Gold.
Am I good still? I’m good?
Gold is giving her thumbs-up.
All right, I can’t hear them, so ...
How does the business part of your business work?
Who pays you? How do you get paid?
Yeah, the main way is through YouTube Ad Revenue Split. So the ads that appear on the videos, those are being paid for by companies who want to target and put ads on YouTube. So if you’re a company who wants to sell a tech product, you put in all your Google Adwords you want to key in on certain people. They watch a YouTube video, the ad pops up. It’s paid for, split by YouTube, in the upload of the video.
The advertiser gives YouTube a dollar, YouTube keeps 55 cents, you get 45 cents.
Yeah, so that’s the main way. A lot of times, more targeted ads pay more, so bigger companies that know that there’s an exact audience they want to tunnel in on, they’ll pay more for, you know, makeup products, for example, or tech products, or whatever genre they know they can get to. But that fluctuates wildly, as I’m sure you’ve heard, between times of year and days of the week and hours of the day and all kinds of stuff like that. So that’s just kinda the main way.
And do you have any control over what’s coming in or what’s going up on the page? Or you make a video, they put ads against it, you’re kinda done.
Basically, yeah, there’s a couple different minor tweaks where if you have a video, it’s basically on or off, my control. But if you have a video over 10 minutes long you can enable mid-roll ads, for example.
If you wanna have one in the middle of the video. I can turn on or off pre-rolls, I can allow certain types of click-through pre-rolls, but as far as who’s advertising or what ad it is, I have no control.
And are you doing any branded stuff within the videos? Anyone paying you to hold up a can of Pepsi or whatever?
Yeah, that’s the second part, where it’s like you have to go out as a YouTuber or creator and work on your own connections, and your own second more diversified income stream. So I have worked with companies that want to do either product placement or showcasing their product in a video where it wouldn’t’ve ordinarily appeared, which is pretty cool if they’re willing to do that.
Do you tell the viewer?
“Hey, this is sponsored by Lenovo.”
“And here’s the new Lenovo whatever.”
Yeah. And even when it’s just the device is provided by the company, I still disclose that, even though it shouldn’t really have an effect. But yeah, any time there’s a paid promotion, that’s always disclosed.
And so if you’re doing Lenovo or HP or whomever, is that a standalone video or is that an ad within the video?
It depends. It’s been both.
I’ve worked with a couple companies that have done, I think, twice ever an entire video just about one thing. And a couple other times it’s been one of five things in like a Dope Tech video or a Top Five or something like that where it’s showed up as paid promotion. But for the most it’s product placement.
So close to three million YouTube viewers, you’re making a YouTube video a week?
It’s probably two a week.
Generates how many views on average?
It’s about a million every video.
A million every time you do a video, and all that translates into what to you in terms of actual revenue to you?
That would be, like, where is it coming from?
How much you make in each year?
Oh man, I don’t want to say that, but ...
Give me a ballpark.
Let me see, it’s six figures.
Yeah, I read a Ringer profile a couple years ago.
It estimated you at half a million dollars.
Oh yeah, so estimates are weird cause they’re like, I don’t know if it’s a statistical net they’re casting, but it’s somewhere between 10 percent and a 1000 percent of what I make, so they kind of just ...
It’s in the ballpark.
Yeah, that’s the ballpark, for sure.
But it’s a living for you, it’s what you do full time. You have employees now as well?
Yeah. It’s been a couple years since I’ve had to separate the personal side of it and the business side of it just for logistcal business and tax reasons. So I pay myself a small amount from the business, but almost all of it goes back into the business, whether its paying employees, or equipment. You should’ve seen the boxes I took out that I got from FedEx today. That’s a pretty constant evolution, the studio space, etc.
How many employees do you have?
It’s three now.
Three full-time employees?
That is a cool small business.
Making YouTube videos.
I used to write about YouTube videos a lot and the common theme was people who are making the videos or people who are employing the people to make the videos were unhappy with the money they were getting from YouTube.
Constant back and forth about whether the split should be different, whether YouTube should do a better job of selling. Seems like we don’t hear that much about that these days, I think partly because Facebook pays zero.
For the most part, and also maybe the people who are making YouTube videos are sort of more comfortable with what the deal is?
I think we’ve gotten use to it, and also the idea that you have to take some sort of control over it. So there’s other ways to do that now, whether it’s diversifying in video promotion or with merch or with — I was gonna say something else that I forgot — or sponsorships. People do that all the time in videos or ... PayTran, that’s what I was going to say. There’s other ways to have the audience directly support you, even if it’s not through YouTube.
And this what ... By the way, Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, or Robert Kyncl, any of those people would say as well, which is, “We’re gonna do our best to make money for you, but we will also want you to go find other opportunities.”
“And we’re fine with that, and we’re not gonna try to take a piece of that ourselves.”
Yeah. So they encourage that and I think a lot of people are smart about that now that we’ve been doing it for a while. We’ve had time to build that up, so there’s less of an excuse to rely entirely on what YouTube provides.
It would still be nice for that to be consistent for people.
And then there was a story at the beginning of the year, it was just unfortunately echoed because of the shooting at YouTube, about demonetization and small creators being upset that they were cut out. Obviously doesn’t apply to you, because you’re a giant YouTube star. Do you have any empathy, sympathy for people who thought they were gonna make a lot of money from YouTube and can’t now?
Yeah. I have had almost no problem with demonetization, I say almost no because I had one video, my iPhone X review. That for some reason there was a bug on YouTube where every video with iPhone 10 or the X in the title got demonetized for a couple hours. Not a big deal.
But it’s still brutal for ...
For a couple hours right?
Yeah, I mean, the thing is it was like a week after I uploaded it, so it almost didn’t matter at all.
Okay, because all the viewing happens in the first week.
Yeah. Most of the views had happened already, but it was just a random bug I noticed. But my videos are PG, they’re tech videos, no one has any problem with them, so I haven’t had that problem. But I do, yeah, feel sympathy for people who had been making x amount and now make 40 percent of x amount suddenly. And don’t have that diversity of income to fall back on.
We were ticking off the other platforms you’re on — Twitter, Instagram, you didn’t say Facebook. There was a period where everyone was really fascinated with how Facebook was gonna increase their business. Did you spend any time with them?
Yeah, I’ve worked with Facebook a little bit. Experimented here and there, different ways of doing it. I kinda just exist there now, I don’t really focus on it.
I would think if I was Facebook, or any platform, I’d say, “Oh, Marques is exactly the kind of person I would want to come work with me.”
You would think.
“I’m gonna try and pay him to come away from YouTube or create content for me.” Snapchat, same thing. Seems like that didn’t happen?
No, and I have heard actually that that’s what they’re doing with some creators where they are, you know, trying to bring them into that platform and they’re trying to bolster up Facebook Video. But Facebook Video also kinda has a reputation already.
As sort of a second-rate ... 99 percent of what shows up on my Facebook feed that’s video is stolen from YouTube, which is pretty rough already, and that last 1 percent is just like random videos from my friends. Which is probably what you want to see as far as video. But what Facebook wants is probably much more than that. So it’s gonna be tough for them to curate original content. If anyone wants to put their original content on any platform it would be the biggest platform, and that’s not Facebook. So it’s gonna be hard for them.
It’s really interesting because even last year, I think, 12 months ago, people said, “Well, obviously Facebook is gonna dominate this, its just a matter of time.”
You’re coming up very quickly and they could sort of hear the screeching brakes on that business.
Yeah, people ask all the time about, you know, “What do you do when YouTube’s gone?” And I’d say, the question I always ask is if I wanna go watch iPhone reviews or whatever tech video, where am I gonna go? I’m gonna go to YouTube, that’s the answer in 2018. And it’s been the answer every year for the last x years and probably will be in the foreseeable future. If I ever see that answer start to change, like, “I wanna go see a video, I’m gonna go to this site,” then it gets interesting. But I think it’s a long way off.
What do you consume when you’re not watching videos of yourself or other tech YouTube folks?
I watch a lot of YouTube.
Is YouTube your main screen?
Yeah, more than movies, more than TV?
For sure. Only movies I watch are on the plane. And only TV I watch is some sports TV, and I watch like real-time TV. But that’s not really very consistent.
So you are either making a good portion of this audience listening to this just cringe.
Or they’re cheering because that’s the audience they want to reach.
Yeah, I was never really a cord cutter, because I never really had a cord to cut in first place. So yeah, it’s definitely a lot of YouTube, there’s a lot of shows on YouTube now that I watch.
Do you think you’re an outlier, that you have almost an entirely YouTube sort of media consumption?
I think so.
Even a lot of my friends that are my age are watching Netflix shows, for example, or Hulu shows or things ...
So you’re hardcore, you don’t even have room from Netflix in your life.
I have an account, and I don’t use it.
There’s the “Game of Thrones” people and all these shows that I just know about but I’ve never watched.
But yeah, that’s about it. I’m mostly a YouTube person.
And also, you have a second life.
That is true.
You’re a professional Ultimate Frisbee player, I’ve read that a couple times down there.
Just because you recently entered as, doesn’t mean it’s true.
Professional meaning you get paid to play Ultimate Frisbee?
But it’s true. Yeah.
Who pays you?
There’s the league, you’ve probably heard of the NBA, the basketball association, the NHL, the MLS.
Familiar with it.
So there’s something called the AUDL, the American Ultimate Disc League. And big time, like there’s five divisions I think, I might be wrong on that but there’s a whole east division with Toronto, New York, Philadelphia, Montreal and D.C. We play up and down this road trip. Our home opener is April 14th, if anyone wants to know.
Where would they see you play?
So I’m playing for New York Empire this season, and our stadium is in New Rochelle, New York. So that’s pretty awesome, it used to be further down in Ramas Island, New York, but that’s where we’re at now. That’s where our home opener is, it’ll be against Toronto, but it’ll be like every weekend for the next like four months you’ll be able to see AUDL.
Does your Ultimate Frisbee — it sounds like I’m laughing at you but I’m just laughing because I think it’s funny — does your ultimate Frisbee career cut into video making? Will you reduce your output for those four or five months?
Yes, I would say, but it’s good that it does. I think if I spent seven days a week on video like I want to, I would probably go insane after a while.
So this forces you to go outdoors.
Yes, this is my unplug, this is my mental break from all the focus. I mean, I still look at YouTube, obviously, but this is my break from that. After the pro season ends there’s a club season, there’s winter training, it’s kind of an every-weekend thing. But yeah, definitely takes away a little bit from the full-time YouTube grind.
That sounds great and also healthy. My brother managed to break a good portion of his back playing Ultimate once, and they said it’s impossible to break your back this way unless you’re in a motorcycle accident is the only thing that should do it.
So be careful.
Let’s end this on an up note.
Offer some advice to people who would like to become giant YouTube stars. You started when you were 15, you’re 24, you’re a giant YouTube star.
Can’t be that hard, right?
Oh my God. So I find myself in this position all the time where I’m asked to give advice on doing what I’ve done, but the barrier to entry to doing what I do now is huge compared to what it was 10 years ago when I started.
Because there are so many of you.
There’s a massive volume of it, even the production level of like a basic tech YouTube video, if you watch a tech video from like a teenage kid in his bedroom now, it’s amazing compared to what I made nine years ago.
Because he’s got better equipment, he actually knows how to use it.
Just because the camera in your phone is incredible.
And just the little bit of knowledge about iMovie and lighting, and you can make something insanely great. So the barrier to entry is mainly in your own head. I get a lot of questions like, “What camera should I buy to start making YouTube, what this, what that should I buy so that I can make YouTube videos?” Because that’s what they see is this production. So my answer to that is just take what you have and just start now, because if you don’t enjoy just making videos with what you have, you’re not gonna enjoy the process of trying to build something up in five-six years.
This sounds like exactly the same advice you give to someone who’s going into writing.
Or acting, which is, “Do it.”
Yeah, just get into it, get your feet wet, get your hands dirty.
Okay, so I come back to you I say, “Marques, I’ve been doing it.”
“I’ve been making videos in my Mom’s basement.”
Here it comes.
Yeah, usually you do that and you just make what you’re passionate about and hope that someone eventually watches. But that’s not guaranteed to happen. And you just kinda have to keep going. Like a lot of times you can focus on, you know, marketing, you can learn about SEO, and you can build up title optimization and thumbnails and things like that. And there are tips to try to get more people.
I’m looking at Zach, our marketing guy. Are you taking notes?
There’s little things you can do to get people to watch your videos more, but none of it will make as drastic of a difference as the video itself. The video itself has to be what makes people watch it and share it and watch it again.
Do you think there are people making amazing videos that are just languishing in the billions of hours of YouTube video uploaded each day?
Yeah, absolutely, and I love finding that and sharing it.
So you think it’s not just make it and you can make something that’s truly great and someone may never see it.
Just because there’s that much volume out in YouTube.
That’s what YouTube in 2018 is right now. There’s so many hours and so many eyeballs, but still the amount of how many hundreds of hours uploaded every minute to YouTube, it could be incredible and never be seen.
There was a company I was working with recently that did car videos. They happened to work at a dealership that had McLarens, Maseratis, Porches at their disposal. Probably a 100 million dollars of cars in a garage the size of, like, the ground floor of this building, and they made incredible videos with them. Passion projects, you know, really well-lit, top-notch gear, and you could tell they really loved and enjoyed what they were doing. And I came across this channel, hundreds of videos later, and it’s, you know, 1,000 subscribers, and I was like, “There’s no way only 1,000 people should be watching these.” And so I started working with them and sharing their stuff. I love finding that and sharing it.
So you can now become a distributor/curator of other people’s stuff.
In a way, yeah.
Is that a business for you? Or is it just a thing you like to do?
Well, it’s part of it. I think my personality has become its own brand in a weird way, so the type of stuff I’m interested in — I love high-quality video, I love good production, I love electric cars. You’ll see me sharing things about that all the time, so if I come across something in that genre that’s really cool, I’m gonna share that.
I mean, is someone paying you to promote their stuff?
No, not yet.
You are a ... You have three other employees, but you’re a one-man company right?
You are the brand, you’re the face.
So you’ve got a lot of time to think about this, but what happens when you decide you don’t want to be on camera every day, or maybe you don’t look as good?
And you’re a fine-looking man now.
But maybe you won’t be down the line, how do you think about aging out? Or moving away from you being the solo face of this?
Yeah, so that’s something I haven’t really thought about. Up until recently, even my furthest foresight — and I’ve been interviewed before by people asking where do you see yourself in five, eight, twelve years?
That’s a dumb question, where do you see yourself in five years?
I have no answer to that.
All I think about is a next video and making it as good as possible and then the next video. So until recently that’s all it was, and now I’m kinda more thinking about like one or two years from now as this team grows, and how this team dynamic works, and I’ve never been a boss before. So it’s kind of a new position to find myself in.
Because you’re 24.
So I’m trying to get better at that, trying to be more efficient, trying to make more better, but I still don’t have a 30-years-from-now plan necessarily. My goal is just kinda to make this as good as possible.
All right, don’t wait 30 years. Can we check back in a while?
See how it’s going?
Yeah, hopefully better than it is now. Yeah.
It’s going great now, what are you talking about?
It is going pretty well.
Glad to hear.
But if you saw the behind the scenes.
Oh no, looks fine to me.
You might make a few suggestions.
Marques Brownlee, MKBHD, you are great. Thank you for coming.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.