Profitable YouTube Juggernaut WatchMojo Reaches a Quarter Billion Unique Viewers per Quarter

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One of the largest YouTube channels of all time with 32 million subscribers, 15 billion views and 80 billion minutes of watch time adds advertising clients, expands internationally and sets its sight on even greater diversification play.

We didn’t invent top 10 lists: Dave Letterman, Wayne’s World and Moses’ Ten Commandments demonstrated that human beings have short attention spans, like the payoff of the countdown format but yearn for the unknown. What we nailed was the style and tone.

WatchMojo’s global reach during the first quarter of 2019 surpassed 250 million unique viewers.

“In Q1, our 30 owned-and-operated YouTube channels reached 257 million unique viewers. Being conservative, we discounted the number to reflect possible duplication, but after reflecting on our reach on Snapchat and Facebook, effectively we reached over a quarter billion people,” explains WatchMojo’s data scientist Eromonsele Oboh.

YouTube as Global Stage: Creativity Travels

Half of WatchMojo’s audience is in the US, the rest are global - by design. That strategy confounds most because international audiences are not as lucrative as American ones.

“When we launched in 2006, our strategy didn’t make sense to most, either,” continues Ashkan Karbasfrooshan, WatchMojo’s founder and CEO who started the company with his wife Christine, recruited three young graduates as co-founders and then bootstrapped the privately-held company to break even in 2011, before it took off like a rocketship in 2013 - remaining profitable ever since.

Warren Buffett argued that “you don’t know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes down,” YouTube proved that “if the audience is real, the economics will follow.” As it replaces television as the leading consumption platform, it’s emerged as ground zero for the $75 billion video advertising market.

Prescient or Lucky?

WatchMojo’s demonstrated an uncanny ability to skate to where the puck is headed. It commands colossal reach that few content producers (traditional or new) offer, and one that even aggregators would envy (unfair comparable perhaps, but for purposes of illustration WatchMojo reaches more unique viewers than Netflix has paid subscribers).

When Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.6 billion, it was the largest video platform and second largest search engine, but the deal was widely ridiculed. WatchMojo had just published a piece suggesting YouTube was profitable if it wanted to be (it wasn’t, but could have been by running display ads), arguing it represented the future of media.

Platform/Format Fit

WatchMojo recognized early on that i) storytelling was moving to video; ii) YouTube was emerging as the leading video consumption platform; iii) mobile engagement would explode off 5-10 minute videos; and iv) “platform/format” fit would prove crucial.

“We didn’t invent top 10 lists: Dave Letterman, Wayne’s World and Moses’ Ten Commandments demonstrated that human beings have short attention spans, like the payoff of the countdown format but yearn for the unknown. What we nailed was the style and tone. We leveraged our relationships with rights holders and understanding of copyright law to rely on fair use and create the most engaging catalog of video, with a video on every topic,” continues Karbasfrooshan, who chalks up the company’s success to ambition, vision, execution, persistence, luck, timing, and, eventually, focus. But beyond luck, there are a series of prescient bets.

Geek Culture, Fandom vs Service Journalism, and the Impact of UGC

WatchMojo foresaw the emergence of geek culture being cool, and dove into fandom before these terms were popular. It also recognized that audiences were far more likely to engage deeply with entertainment franchises they were nostalgic or passionate about than they were with so-called service journalism, which was disrupted by user-generated content (UGC), where advances in technology, proliferation of production equipment and democratization of publishing platforms made producers vulnerable and obsolete through an influx of prosumers who increased the supply of content.

“Publishers were drawn to service journalism because CPG marketers spend a lot of money, but building an editorial strategy around marketers isn’t a strategy that works in the 21st century. Today you have to start with your interests as a story-teller, then serve your audience… and then marketers will come. UGC has changed the dynamics by dramatically increasing supply of content and plummeting ad rates, meaning you can only succeed if you have the interest and ability to sustain over time.”

YouTube: Ground Zero

Netflix has been evolutionary in that it’s taken shows audiences saw on TV and in theaters and brought them inside their houses, at their convenience. YouTube, meanwhile, has proven to be revolutionary because it’s changed the definition of quality and who is a celebrity, defined what audiences will sit through, and, thanks to skippable ads (TruView), what marketing messages they will tolerate. While many analysts offer binary, winner-take-all visions in digital video, Karbasfrooshan sees more than enough room for both subscription (SVOD) and advertising (AVOD) on-demand models, which are now entering a new mature phase, as cord-cutting and over-the-top (OTT) services take off: “2019 is in some ways where 2006 was: people seeking to compete via aggregation and creation of super premium originals, which can become popular but not necessarily profitable; while the lion’s share of audience engagement will come from ad-supported premium content, basically: YouTube, or what that evolves into.”

With over 2 billion monthly users today, WatchMojo’s staggering reach means it is serving up videos to over 10% of the total audience on the platform. Given the platform’s international disposition, WatchMojo is betting that its collection of localized channels and vertical brands will propel its total audience to a billion-plus people by 2025. Karbasfrooshan concludes: “You want to engage any global CEO or CMO and discuss strategy. That’s what our strategy allows us to do. YouTube is part of that, but only a part of it. We’re leveraging that audience into other areas, including events, a record label, and much much more.”

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