Strike this: Video sites you can make money from (or not)

picketWhile the strike by Hollywood writers is dragging on long enough to threaten the hallowed Oscars, video-viewing on the web is expanding as fast as ever. As a result, writers, directors and actors are considering splitting from the studios for good, creating their own videos that they can distribute across the web.

But what are the options, really, if you want to make a career as a screenwriter in the 21st century? Studios and broadcasters are balking at giving writers a share of online revenues, and if the length of this strike is any indication, writers are going to be hard-pressed to get a good deal even if the studio execs change their minds. Meanwhile, market-leading online video site YouTube has a veiled and some say unprofitable revenue-sharing arrangement. To a creative type exploring options, this all looks pretty grim.

Yet there’s a whole range of new efforts to produce quality video content, from new studios founded by top directors and backed by hedge funds, to scrappy online video startups run by handfuls of web developers. Most of these sites hope to make money for content creators through advertising of some form, whether the usual banner and text-link ads, or various types of ads embedded before, within or after videos.

Notes: See Comscore table beneath the list for US and world traffic data. With an exception or two, we look at companies through an online video creator’s lens. We’re not counting video ad networks that don’t have their own video site or don’t otherwise produce or compensate content creation. We’re also not counting lifecasting sites, which are more for people who blog their lives, as well as for covering live news events (if you want to see what your options are in livestreaming, check out our review, here).

If there’s a site you like, that you don’t see here, tell us about it in the comment. Thanks!

The sites:

blipBlip.tv:
Blip.tv is relatively small, at one and a quarter million unique visitors worldwide in December, but it has grown more than 125 percent in the past six months, according to Comscore. It offers revenue arrangements and help with distribution that are especially favorable to content creators. Revenue is shared 50/50, and the company also assists creators with PR, ad sales and syndication of their videos on other sites. Another plus is the option of embedding your own advertisements on your Blip.tv page. They warn that these DIY ads should not be sponsored advertisements, but rather CPM or CPC ads through AdSense or the like. Read more about it on their TOS page.

blowtourchBlowtorch (our coverage):
A new, unlaunched $50 million effort that will show its own feature films and clips at hundreds of movie theaters across the country, starting later this year. It wants to be a movie studio of sorts, and a distribution network (DVDs), and an online community. The company tells us it is still working out deals for how it will reward aspiring writers, directors and actors. Blowtorch is producing its own feature-length movies, and has already bought the rights to “You Are Here,” a feature film that will be released in spring, 2008. It says it plans to buy the rights to more films that it finds to be a good fit with its target demographic of 18-24 year old college students.

breakBreak.com:
These guys offer a pretty straight-forward way of making money, but it won’t necessarily be easy to do so. They will pay you up to $2,000 if your original video hits the homepage of the site – the keywords there being “up to” and “if”. Still, Break.com has been around for a while (since 1998) and claims 18,000,000 unique views a month, with 4.4 million unique visitors in, according to Comscore. Also, movie studio Lionsgate holds a 40 percent stake in the company. Also, Break has tried to lure striking writers across the picket line, offering $5,000 to the highest-rated video from a striker (more on that here). It had 4.3 unique visitors worldwide in December, according to Comscore.

broadbandBroadband Enterprises (our coverage):
This company isn’t a video site, instead it does everything else. It helps syndicate a creator’s content to web publishers, it inserts ads into the videos, and also finances its own videos, that it then syndicates and monetizes through ad sponsorships. It caters to a groundswell of writers, actors and directors interested in making careers online. It works out case-by-case revenue-sharing deals with content creators. We’re including it because the company makes case-by-case deals with creators to syndicate their content.

101Channel101.com:
“The unavoidable future of entertainment,” is one of the older breeding grounds for video content creators, but expect no coddling. Viewers vote on which shows should return, and which should leave the site. Creators of selected shows produce a new episode for the next round. Don’t even think about profit-sharing. According to the site: “For the creatives that participate, Channel 101 is where the rubber meets the road. The deadlines are unreasonable, the time limit is impossible, the pay is non existent and the judgment is blunt.” Traffic is minimal but the concept remains unique.

crackleCrackle (our coverage):
This company has gone from being a startup that featured user-created videos to a Sony-owned incubator for Hollywood talent. When it made the switch last year, it began signing deals with content creators, paying them to produce quality shows, and negotiated distribution rights. The company says its traffic is growing, with advertisers lining up because they are newly confident in the quality and taste of the content. Since the switch in July, US traffic has doubled, by Comscore’s measure, and it had more than 5.1 million unique visitors in December. That trend may have stayed strong through December because people who stopped watching TV due to the writers’ strike have spent more time on Crackle (our coverage).

dailymDailyMotion (our coverage):
The Paris-based company is big in the francophone world, and made a push into the US starting last year. It promises a revenue-sharing solution for top content producers, but details are still scant at the moment. Separately, it raised $34 million earlier this year. It grew to 32 million unique viewers worldwide in December, according to Comscore.

decaDECA.tv (our coverage):
Perhaps best known as the studio behind Boing Boing TV, DECA.tv scouts out video ideas, finances and produces shows, then helps distribute them. There’s no public information on how the company pays or shares revenue with creators, although this New York Times article says Boing Boing retains control and ownership.

fodFunny or Die (our coverage):
This comedy-clip site has an uniquely-titled voting system and the branding of comedian Will Ferrell, but it’s not clear how revenue-sharing works for other content creators. It had 2.5 million unique visitors in December, according to Comscore, worldwide.

metacafeMetacafe (our coverage):
It offer a very straight-forward content producer payout plan via its Producer Rewards program — 1,000 views equals $5 and payments start after 20,000 view ($100). The sites top earner has banked over $89,000, but the rest of the top 10 are significantly lower (most in the $10K – $20K range). It had 27.5 million unique visitors in December worldwide, with a 12 percent growth rate in the last six months, according to Comscore

bananaNational Banana (our coverage):
The site doesn’t say anything about paying anyone, but there’s a curious message on the front page that reads: “New Site Coming 2008: Until then, please enjoy our viruses and spyware.”

nonNext New Networks (our coverage):
The New York company is creating videos focused on niche audiences of users, that it hopes to distribute across blogs, social networks, and other sites. It shares revenue on a case-by-case basis.

ONON Networks (our coverage):
This startup wants to work with people who have “a proven track record in professional high definition production” and who have an “episodic story you want to tell,” as an application form on its site says. But there’s no more information available.

r3Revision3 (our coverage):
Original programming: Prominent shows (mostly aimed at tech geeks) include Diggnation (featuring one of Revision3’s founders, Kevin Rose) and The GigaOm Show.

revverRevver (our coverage):
Revver allows your content to be embedded with both CPM (impression-based) and CPC (click-based) advertisements and will split all advertising revenueS 50/50 with you. They have a break-down of all revenue-related questions here.

veohVeoh (our coverage):
Veoh allows video makers the option of attaching a pay-to-own or pay-to-rent system to their content. This could be a place to turn if you are not interested in an advertising-based model to make money.

vimeoVimeo:
While Vimeo recently started offering content producers the option of uploading their videos in HD, they do not yet have a revenue-sharing model available.

youtubeYouTube (our coverage):
The largest, most obvious video content option, YouTube serves up millions of views everyday across its wide spectrum of videos. The chances of making any meaningful money off of your videos on YouTube are unfortunately pretty grim at the moment. Unless you are accepted into their revenue sharing program as a “Partner” – which currently only the most popular video content producers are – you’re not going to see a dime from Google. They welcome anyone to apply here. In the words of celebrity blogger/vlogger Perez Hilton, who said he made a meagre $5,000 as a partner: “[N]ot to overestimate my own worth, but I probably have sent more traffic to YouTube than anyone else on the Internet.” Hilton has since quit using YouTube.

[UPDATE]:

magnifMagnify.net, a site which allows users to collect and share videos from many of the sites you see below as well as upload and host your own, passed along some pertinent information to us. Apparently since the writer’s strike began they are seeing a 70% increase in weekly site visits, a number that no doubt bodes well for any content creator. Magnify is another company that allows users to publish AdSense or other advertising platform ads on their Magnify pages and collect the revenue from that.

Data:

tablewrite

[UPDATE]: Revision3 CEO Jim Louderback let us know in a comment below that he views the Comscore data as inaccurate for non top-100 sites (not the first such claim). According to his data, the number above for Revision3 is a mere 5% of the information they are getting from Google Analytics in terms of unique visitors. It should also be noted that a large percentage of their viewers download their shows directly to programs such as iTunes and do not need to visit the site. They also allow their content to be distributed through YouTube, Stage6, and others.

Conclusion:

These are some of the better-known options and there are even more out there. Some may be better equipped to propel already-popular actors/writers/directors (like Funny or Die), but many are open enough that simply a good or at least creative idea can lead to great exposure and potentially some substantial revenue. Many of these video sites syndicate creator’s content with each other’s sites, because they all want to grow the overall exposure that online video gets to people (more on that here).

Online video is still a very young industry and as it matures — even making its way into the living room on a large scale via technologies such as IPTV — the potential can be even greater. Video creators and the web have long flirted with one another in a rather rigid sense, online video should take that relationship to the next level.

MG Siegler blogs on technology and new media at ParisLemon.com.

[Julie Ruvolo and Eric Eldon contributed to this article.]

[photo: flickr/John Edwards 2008]