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YidLife Crisis is a unique online series. In this case study, Eli Batalion describes its origins and how it has evolved over the past few years. Topics include: understanding (niche) audiences through platform analytics, going after different sets of audiences and the interplay between bridging these audiences digitally and in-person, the growth of a creative process as the series receives more audience feedback, and what it means to use a web series as the flagship content of a homegrown brand. Do vampires get their periods? Toronto-based production company Shaftesbury/Smokebomb and brand agency shift2 teamed up, with feminine care brand U by Kotex, to answer that question in their hit YouTube series Carmilla. The award-winning digital series puts a modern spin on the classic cult vampire novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and has generated 50 million views and counting. In this case study, Jay Bennett explores how to build an audience from the ground up, the rules of brand engagement, and the power of branded entertainment.
With the successes of YidLIfe Crisis and U by Kotex accomplished, their creators explain how it was done. Combining compelling branded entertainment and audience analytics, they built web series that worked brilliantly for their niche-market demographics. Starting with unconventional channels and using social media, the producers of YidLife Crisis and U by Kotex demonstrated that they could enlarge their fan base exponentially from something like five thousand to 4.3 million viewers. Both YidLife Crisis and U by Kotex have achieved their success in character and story, which capture their audiences through a serialized vlog format of branded entertainment. They show that in the nebulous area between the for-profit and not-for-profit cultural and educational worlds, there’s room for content creators and producers to develop pure Canadian content and export it internationally.
“The mission [is] to build the digital media industry in Canada.”
“Broadcasting is changing…Discovery can require unconventional channels…The thing about YidLife Crisis is it’s somewhere in this nebulous world between for profit and not-for-profit cultural and educational…There’s a whole world of influences out there that are not traditional broadcasters or publishers, and probably could give a greater audience than a traditional broadcaster…it’s more about the particular niche that we’re getting into.”
“Web series can be cultural brands: …we’re going to build a web series concept. We’re going to use social media and possibly some earned media as an opportunity to build an audience.”
“Branded entertainment: …The first maverick company and individual we encountered was U by Kotex here in Canada. ..[We said] ‘Let’s make scripted storytelling about your product.’ So how do brands get people to talk about their products? You do that through story and character.”
Eli Batalion: Thank you very much. I have…
Anne-Marie: Okay, you’re micced…
Eli Batalion: That’s all… You can keep that.
Anne-Marie: You want me to mic drop?
Eli Batalion: You can be like my hype man. Nice.
All right, I’m actually going to start with a clip from the web series just to give you a sense of the rules of engagement for how it works, because it’s a little bit weird. Also weird, this clicker.
Am I going? There’s no sound. We’re going to pause for station identification, and identify the issue. It’s one of those situations we’re you like just push it in a little further.
Anne-Marie: Blow on it.
Eli Batalion: Blow on it. Take the cartridge out.
Eli Batalion (Translator): (We’re at a conference where the technology is state-of-the-art and it works.
So here we go.)
Video: [Video in foreign language]
Eli Batalion: All right, so that gives you a little bit of a sense of things for how this web series works. Also, I wanted to, end on La banquise, and start this morning off with poutine, which I thought was very authentic. Now, we’re going to roll out the poutine, just kidding, unfortunately. Should of thought of that, actually. Sorry about that guys. All right.
Translator: (This Yidlife Crisis or Yiddish is a case study in Englishish language. It’s a mix of Yiddish and English. We are from Montreal and so we mix English, French and Yiddish, the objective language of course, between the two in this Internet or Web series. So I’ll give you a few words but all of this contextualizes for someone who spends so much time on such a bizarre project. This is how you can reach me, you see, there are lots of ways to reach me if you have any complaints. As a whole, my life has been a weird fusion and, around midlife, I started asking myself if this was an identity crisis.)
Eli Batalion: Has ever gone to a fringe play here in Toronto and elsewhere, but that’s what I did for many, many years. Then I imported that into the music industry and did some really weird stuff in the music industry, and then tried to do it in film with musical horror comedies. I was down that path, but my analytical mind could not stop, and so I also at the same time got an MBA, and I worked for a variety of startups, and then also for some media companies here that are well-known here in Canada.
At a certain point I said I cannot reconcile this no longer, this is getting annoying, what should I do, and so I created my own little production company, eMerge Enterprises Ltd. to merge these two sides together. The idea behind it is to do creative and collaborative stuff with really true and authentic creative, but at the same time having a strategic approach. The reality is I’m certainly not the only one doing this. There are many people that are doing this. I actually feel like to be competitive nowadays, it’s not a luxury, you need to have both. You really do need to have both as a content creator to even get into the marketplace.
eMerge is also about merging with other influencers, with other partners as well. This entire project could not be possible if it were not for a certain beautiful man by the name of Jamie Elman. He’s really beautiful. He’s nice to look at at 9:15 in the morning. He’s a very accomplished actor, and musician, and writer, and director. I encourage you … He’s even on Wikipedia, so go Wiki him right now, actually, for those of you that have your devices on. This is basically the story about how this web series was not like a lot of other web series. It ended up taking us all over the world, and this is literally us on the beach in Tel Aviv. This is a true argument that we were actually having. That’s not true, but that really was us in Tel Aviv, and we’ve been in multiple continents now over the course of the last year and a half as a result of this web series.
Basically, I don’t have too much time, but it is possible that you might find all of this material very boring, and if that’s the case, I wanted to make sure – Well, some people might – If that’s the case, I want to make sure that you had certain takeaways. Although, I hope that you don’t find it boring, and I hope that you find something relatable in something that I’m saying, because I truly think there’s something for everyone here. By the way, just out of curiosity, how many people here are content creators would you say? Okay, so nice mix. Broadcasters? Interesting. Brands or advertisers or third-parties? Okay, very interesting. Hopefully, there will be some takeaway for all of you here.
The main points I want to get at with this very DIY fringe-ish web series project is number one: discovery can require unconventional channels, at least it did in our case. Everything that we did was very scrappy. I relied on what we in the Jewish persuasion call “chutzpah” or brazen behavior, to entrepreneurially push things through. A large part of what we did was somewhat unconventional for web series. We did live presentations, we literally went around the world. We created partnerships with other influencers, and tried to work off of their followings, as well as they did with ours through Yiddish fiction, which is pretty rare. We worked with traditional media angles, and tried to find specific release schedules and strategies for each one of the things we were putting out, which is a little bit rare for some web series. In general, just had the approach of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what stuck. I think if there’s any success of this project, it can be attributed to having that esprit.
Second of all, web series can be cultural brands. Now, I’ll be quite honest with you, when we started, we did this for a bunch of reasons. Strategically, we wanted to create something that could be a television series, or an OTT series, or build this into something with a proof of concept in and around characters in the story. What ended up happening, which I’ll show you later is, in doing this and building the promotions around that idea, we started to do all sorts of ancillary stuff that was different kinds of video, or not necessarily video at all. We ended up realizing what we were doing is building a name, and a brand, that can do a lot more than just be video, or evolve into a television show, or a larger digital series. That would be the crown jewel, but that would be the crown jewel within a larger circle of all sorts of content. It really changed our thinking around that.
The last thing is don’t be surprised by surprises, go with the flow. Sound will never work. Things basically generally don’t work the way you want them to. Nothing about this series, and the course we’ve been on in the last year and a half was at all planned in any way. If I can give us credit for anything, it’s having a nimble mindset to see what was happening, particularly looking at analytics, and getting anecdotal feedback, and then just acting on it, because we really didn’t plan it. I think that was particularly appropriate for this project.
Let’s start off in a little pocket where I’m from, straight out of Côte-Saint-Luc. I don’t know if any of you are familiar with this. Hell yeah. This is an interesting pocket in Montreal. It is one of the most dense Jewish pockets in the entire world, and that’s true, because it’s on Wikipedia, so please also look that up. This is both where Jaime and I were born, and we grew up. It really helped us solidify our identity, because the thing about Côte-Saint-Luc is we were Russian dolls of minority. Okay? We were progressive artists as a minority in a traditional Jewish community, as a minority in the Anglophone pocket of Montreal, as a minority of the grander Québécois French-Canadian society, as a minority of English speaking Canada, as a minority of the world. We knew a lot about the idea of being objective, and there’s something about that minority perspective that gives you also a sense of calm.
The thing is, growing up in this suburban wasteland, I’ll call it a wasteland. We had a bit of a nostalgic desire to go back to our roots of the prior generations. That area, which hopefully many of you are familiar with, is called the Mile End. In the Mile End you would have Schwartz and St-Viateur Bagel… Sorry for making you so hungry, by the way. We have all this. Also, it’s an amazing cultural hodgepodge, where you have extraordinarily progressive artists walking side by side with ultra Orthodox Hasidic Jews. It all just seems to work in this incredible way. A big part of our motivation for Yidlife Crisis was to nostalgically revisit this old time, this area where our parents and grandparents lived as immigrants when they came here.
The whole irony behind it was that they thought we got to get the Hell out of here, and move to the suburbs. Then we were born, and we said we got to get the Hell out of here, and go right back to the Mile End. Of course, the grass is indeed always greener. What’s interesting is … Oh yeah, please.
Anne-Marie: Also the map is being projected on your forehead.
Eli Batalion: Oh really? That’s like a target to shoot at. Don’t shoot at Côte-Saint-Luc.
Anne-Marie: It says Sainte-Catherine.
Eli Batalion: Oh really? That’s cool. Well, I wasn’t going to get a tattoo, but that’s pretty cool. Projectable tattoos. Run with that. Right, so yes. The idea was basically we want to go back to the Mile End, and sort of revisit things, like our grandparents had experienced then, particularly through the Yiddish language that they spoke, which was once, believe it or not, the third most spoken language in Montreal. That’s how many Jewish immigrants had moved to Montreal at a certain time. Then they all moved here.
My life, I’ve told you before, has a bunch of different elements, but nothing here’s really explicitly Jewish. I got to say, after leaving Côte-Saint-Luc, there was really nothing that I did that had really anything to do with the Jewish community at all. For Jaime, he’s pretty much in the same situation, but he had a bit of a different trajectory, because Jaime was actually Cody on Student Bodies on YTV. I don’t know if you guys remember that, but he had many swooning fans, and that led him to move to Los Angeles, where he played roles on House M.D., and Mad Men, and CSI, and many, many different hair styles. Really, the most important thing for him and for me was the fact that he had the chance to play alongside Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm in The Freak Book episode, which is like the coolest thing ever, because this man is our rabbi. He represents for us a Jewish comedic legacy that we felt we weren’t getting in the suburbs. Basically, through the Yiddish language, and the whole Jewish experience in Eastern Europe, there was a comedy that was developed that we think really pervades a lot of North American entertainment and stand-up. We wanted to take that spirit, and put it into the modern medium of YouTube. That’s basically our motivations for the project.
Now, we had a good idea, but what we needed was a functional clicker and a proverbial kick in “tuchus”, “tuchus” being Yiddish for buttocks, because we didn’t have any of the startup capital to actually shoot something. Not that it would be that expensive, but we weren’t going to stop our day-to-day lives and our jobs to start doing this. What we did was, and this is an interesting sort of alternative model, was we wrote cultural grants, and we applied to grants that existed within the Jewish community. Which probably would be like the equivalent of Canada Council grants, but within the community, set up for creating innovative projects that brought the Jewish community and the grander Québécois community together, and allowed us to express our Judaism creatively. That provided us with the funds to shoot something relatively inexpensive.
We worked with Philip Kalin-Hajdu, who’s also from Côte-Saint-Luc, and grew up at the same high school with us. He came from a more traditional media background, so we teamed up, and basically made four episodes in a two-day period. Cost about $10,000 to be able to do it. We had had no idea what the reaction was. For us, it was good enough that Jaime and I had the chance to work together, that someone was effectively paying for it, and that we would have an experiment to see what like what it would be like to put something out that was fresh on YouTube. The results of that, I mean you saw a bit of the first episode, the results of that surprised us. It was not what we were planning, because there really was a reaction, at least in this niche Jewish ethnic community, which I’d like to analytically analyze with my left brain right now.
Here, you could see this is basically we started the channel August 17th, but we launched about September 10th. This is about three months worth of viewership data from YouTube. The first thing that was surprising to us was the geographic breadth, because honestly like I guess we should know this, but we really didn’t think about it. We thought maybe Canada and the US there might be some viewership. Israel, it was logical, but France? At this time we didn’t have French translations. Australia, United Kingdom, Germany. We were like, “Who are these… These aren’t our friends.” Like we only thought our friends were going to watch this, so who are these people? What kind of a joke is YouTube playing on us? The other thing is we didn’t expect, like we got nearly, I mean it’s a longer tail you don’t see here, but we got nearly a hundred thousand views in that period, and I thought maybe we’d get that in like two years. Already, that was good sign that we were on to something.
The other thing that’s interesting is also the demographics in terms of gender, because it was leaning much more male than female, which sort of could be understood. This is the thing that really surprised us a lot was the age demographic issues. Here, I reference the idea, there’s an old Jewish joke about a king in a medieval kingdom who wants to find the best archer in the land, and he sends his henchmen out to go find him, and bring him back. After months of searching, they come back with a 97-year-old legally blind old Jewish man. They asked him, “I don’t understand. How is it possible that you can be the best archer in the land?” He says, “Well, listen. First, I shoot the arrow. Then I paint the bull’s eye.” For us, it was the same approach. We didn’t know that it was going to be this demographic, but because it was this demographic, we ran with it. Right?
Look at this, 65+, this is like ZoomerMedia types of numbers here. Okay? From 45 and up was virtually 50% in Canada and the United States. In Israel, it was little bit younger. This is also very interesting, which we totally didn’t expect, German and Switzerland, not only that they were watching it, but that it was all in the 25 to 34 bracket, and not at all here. To that we attribute the fact that Yiddish is 80% German. Actually, non-Jewish Germans can understand this show better than most Jews that live in North America, because they get the German from it. This is all just an exercise, again, in finding you have audiences you didn’t even realize you have.
We were, at this point, we said, “Are we going to go back to our regular lives?” For either stupidity reasons, or bravery reasons, or intelligence reasons, we decided no. We’re going to leverage this. We’re going to keep going. The first thing that we did was seeing that there was an audience, we said we’re going to do live shows, because we see that there are people that are interested in this, we’re going to engage them in person. We started doing shows where we do screenings with skits, and also Q and A sessions with local people. That’s a rabbi, that’s a French-Canadian intellectual, and in the middle is Léane Labrèche Dor who’s a fantastic actor, who actually, in the note of collaboration, translated our entire first season into Québécois French, which by the way is not the same, I mean there’s various different dialects of French, but she did a particularly Québécois version. That was very, very interesting for us to reach out to a larger audience.
Then we started going around the world. We started to be in demand for this thing, and we were in Jerusalem doing a comedy conference. We were in Los Angeles, and we were in New York. At this point, we started to pivot into a bit of another idea that led to this cultural brand thing, which was, we said, “Listen, we’re in all these different places. We’re having these very weird and funny adventures just naturally. Why don’t we just get a camera on us and start to capture some of this stuff.” Basically, we started enlisting videographers to capture our stuff. This video in particular was very interesting, we were at a Jewish Food Fair in New York, and this is actually our first foray into branded content. This Workmen’s Circle is not Nestle. Workmen’s Circle is actually a not-for-profit Yiddish Preservation and Social Justice Group. It’s not your typical branded content video, but in principle this sort of was, because they were funding us to be able to create a video that was valuable for them, because we were giving them access to a younger Jewish demographic, and trust me, even with those numbers it’s still, we were reaching a much more young audience than they normally do. We would have access as well to their general base, and we had the opportunity to put out our own content.
It was these types of partnerships that we started thinking about, and also realizing we don’t just have to do the Yiddish web series, we could also do a documentary thing, and that’s also Yidlife Crisis, and that grows our brand. Now, after this we came back to Montreal, and got involved with Just for Laughs/Juste pour rire. There we worked in the ethnic show, quite naturally. One of the things that we did, in terms of collaborating, was work with Just for Laughs to create teasers for both the ethnic show and the Nasty show. We wanted to start working with other influencers that had large followings. We had an opportunity to work with two guys, Mike Ward, and Rachid Badouri. I don’t know how well these guys are known in the rest of Canada, although I think that they will be known very well, and are both headed towards English careers, but they have huge followings in the Francophonie in general, particularly in Quebec. We did a bunch of teaser stuff that was more in English, but more opening up to other ethnicities, which was part of how we were trying to broaden our brand. I’ll show you one of the teasers we did. Eventually. There we go.
Man on Video 1: [Foreign language 00:23:34]
Man on Video 2: [Foreign language 00:23:35]
Man on Video 3: [Foreign language 00:23:37]
Man on Video 2: [Foreign language 00:23:39]
Man on Video 1: [Foreign language 00:23:44]
Man on Video 2: [Foreign language 00:23:45]
Man on Video 4: Guys, guys, guys, guys. I thought we were going to try to get along.
Man on Video 2: We’re not fighting, Mike, we’re just teaching each other’s insults.
Man on Video 4: [Foreign language 00:23:55]
Man on Video 1: Wow. Nice one. That’s fantastic. What are you teaching us?
Man on Video 4: I wasn’t teaching you. Ah fuck off. Dave, yeah come get me. Ah fucking dicks.
Eli Batalion: That is a real challenge. That was great, and we showed our videos in the ethnic show, and it was a good way to work with the Just for Laughs brand, which is interesting because it’s both very for profit, but also has its not-for-profit cultural sides as well, and give us a bit more access into the Québécois world.
While at Just for Laughs, we also got the chance to shoot a video with this Mr. Howard Mandel, who’s pretty much in the bull’s eye that we ourselves have painted, because he is a Jewish Canadian comedian who really got what we were doing. Had no idea what to do with it, but said, “I’ll help you guys out in no matter what you want.” So we said, “Well, if you’re doing a show at Just for Laughs, let’s do a skit with you.” I’m not going to show it to you, but you can see it on our website. This is basically us, and our little cue cards for what he had to learn, and I also wanted to present this just in case you wanted to take a picture or something, just so you would know you can go back to your workplaces, and impress the token Jew in your workplaces with these words: schmendrick, shvantz, shlimeil, shlimazel, shmeggegee, tippish, [Foreign language 00:25:18], all of which are great insults. If you are Jewish, definitely tell this to your mother, she will love you for it. Unfortunately, we’re beyond Mother’s Day, but it can be like a supplement.
Really, the most watershed event for us was Mayim Bialik, working with her, because she has a huge following. She’s on the Big Bang Theory, which really now is like the largest comedy in the world. She is someone who is unabashedly Jewish, who writes about that to her following, and so she was very down with this project. We did a dating-based sketch with her, that sort of captured her as a similar to character to Mayim Bialik. The story is that I’m going on a blind date, I bring Jaime with me to be able to extricate me, because I think it’s going to go poorly, but it’s going well, and he begins to sabotage it, because he becomes interested in her. Let’s see what happens.
Mayim on Video: How do you feel about eating Kosher in, out of the house?
Jaime on Video: Well, you see the Bible was written by Kabbalah sages, let’s them call them, who used a story, a narrative based in Bronze age polytheism, mythology …
Eli Batalion on Video: I’m so sorry my mother is calling. I’d better get this. Hello, Ma? [Foreign language 00:26:31]
Jaime on Video: Sorry. My mother, too, I got to. Yo Mommy. [Foreign language 00:26:49]
Mayim on Video: [Foreign language 00:27:01]
Eli Batalion on Video: I’ll call you back.
Eli Batalion: This was also the beginning of us exploring a more organic use of the Yiddish, because we used it more absurdly, like no one would speak Yiddish in La banquise in Montreal. No one would do that, but here we start to use Yiddish as the code language. Of course, here she’s deciphering it, because she herself can speak it, which we didn’t realize. Going forward, this was the new rules of engagement. It was like retroactive continuity, we were creating rules about our web series, as we were going along and improvising it that worked overall for the project.
Now the results of this one, boom, were the best thing that really happened to us as far as visibility and following. She used to write for a Jewish parenting blog called Kveller, which has a very large following. They picked up on this story, and we got a lot, almost 30,000 shares off of this particular story, and it was a very popular article. A lot of the Jewish press did cover it, particularly because we decided the strategy was, let’s not … There’s a lot around Jewish holidays, there’s a lot of Jewish content and like bad satire videos. We said let’s target non-Jewish holidays, and provide something for the Jewish community at that time when there’s a gap of content. I think that that strategy paid off.
What ended up happening, going back to the YouTube stuff, and this basically our stats up until a couple days ago, a few things. One, I think her following is more female centric, and I think that it played such a large role that it ended up balancing the genders a bit. Two, you see that now we finally broke into the US in our small little say, these are small numbers in the grander scheme of YouTube, but we had a lot more US viewership from this point. Some of these things shifted as well. What’s also interesting is the earlier demographic trends are saying we’re only reinforced. As a matter of fact, 23% of the Americans that watched it, in terms of the viewership minutes, were 65+ people. That’s a very interesting fan club, but we’re down with it. We’re down with it. It definitely changed the way that our fan base was made up. Now we’re sort of improvising with that particular fan base.
The other thing that we did with our second season was that we tried to, along the lines of trying to build something more into a show like the original idea, was to try to improve the production values as well, which was more expensive. Still relatively quite cheap compared to most things in the system, but more expensive, and required more scenes, more character developments as well. This is me, he’s trying to coax me into smoking a joint on Rosh Hashanah. This is a circumcision scene. We’re trying to build not just two man dialogues anymore, but a true development of what we’re doing … These are reactions to a live circumcision. I’m eating. True story. Some romantic interests as well starting to build in. Now, we’ve developed more confidence, so we want to build more characters, and we have the platform for doing it. More Montreal-centric views, slightly more filmic views as well. Going around Montreal, showing Chinatown, for example, and this is actually shot at Dawson College, I’m not sure if there’s any alumni here.
This was the last thing that we did, which was actually a Passover episode, and we shot it probably like three or four weeks ago, and released it a couple weeks ago. That basically takes us to the present day. I know I’m probably running out of time-ish, around now. Basically, it’s been a wild ride for about eighteen months now, ever since we launched. We’ve gone to a lot of different places, probably about fifteen different cities, doing our show, and filming stuff as well. It’s been, I don’t know, it’s been really refreshing on a personal professional level. That having been said, there is the continuous voice in my head from the nagging Jewish mother, that says, “No, what are you doing now?”
That being the case, I thought I would share that with you, as far as what the future could consist of, and to do that, explain it in sort of a more strategic way. I concocted very poor slides, I’m not a designer. Basically, the original idea, like I was saying, was okay, we’re going to build a web series concept. We’re going to use social media, and possibly some earned media as an opportunity to build an audience. Then, what we need to do to take it to the next level is get to the decision makers that can trigger the funding at the next level, and any other distribution decisions, by showing them that the web series works as a concept, and that there is the audience naturally there for it.
What we ended up doing with all the different things, and all these weird fringe-y strategies that we had, was building a much wider audience base and approach, so that now, what we really want to do is all this stuff. Really, it’s a lot more about being a brand than it is about just being, hoping, for that TV show, because we realize there’s certain things that we were doing on our own entrepreneurially that can go their own way. For example, we’re working on a book right now. We have a literary agent, and we’re working on a book. The live touring, we are expanding. We’re going into merchandising. Merchandising, like Mel Brooks says in Space Balls. Co-branded video sub-series, we’ve already started with that, and now we’re also looking into for profit brands of that as well. The TV show is definitely the crown jewel, but it’s not everything. That also means that we’re not as reliant on other … I mean, we’re reliant on different people, and all these different media opportunities, but it’s not always the same people. When it comes to actually broadcasting out to our audience, we’re not really reliant on a traditional broadcaster in any way, shape, or form, which I find very interesting.
Now, part of the reason why we did this was through earned media, that gave us this opportunity to reach out to a larger audience. You’ll see there’s obviously a lot of Jewish sources here. You’ll see some Hebrew and Yiddish here, but you’ll also some recognizable Canadian ones as well. I would say a large part of how we were able to do this, in a super low budget way, was being very strategic about the release strategies and creating events out of things. Most web series, I don’t think, have live shows. The beauty of the live shows was that’s an event, that’s a story, and that’s a coverable event, and we got a lot of press out of that. The beauty of the internet now is, if you get local press, it’s not local anymore, because then we run with it, and then we put it out, and then they’re reading it in South Africa. That’s one of the ways in which we’re able to build this audience.
Another way was actually taking part in traditional media. We actually do a monthly column in the Canadian-Jewish news. We said, “Why don’t we work with them.” We worked out a partnership, we’ll write some stuff for them, they’ll have access to our audience, and we’ll have access to their audience as well. It’s worked out very well for the time being. We’re going to keep doing it. I’ve also written also in non-profit blogs as well, and educational blogs as well, because the thing about Yidlife Crisis is it’s somewhere in this nebulous world between for profit and not-for-profit cultural and educational.
The other thing that we’ve doing is also going into more pictorial content. We realized there’s a lot of engagement that can happen, even outside of videos. For this, we did a particular stunt. It was just Passover, which in Hebrew is Pesach, we were complaining about the fact that it always autocorrects to Peach. What if we could create a MoveOn.org campaign to get Tim Cook to stop this autocorrect madness. We called it Impeach Pesach, and basically I mean, it’s this kind of thing that gets a really large reaction. I don’t know if you guys are subscribed to, I mean, he just happens to be Jewish, but the fat Jewish, the fat Jew, he has a huge following, and it’s all based – I mean, he doesn’t generate most of the stuff, he’s curating it – but it’s all based on this type of content. It’s partially promotional for the videos, but it also, when it’s creative, it’s content in and of itself that’s valuable.
In the grander entrepreneurial scheme, what I dream about is the possibility to take something like a Yidlife Crisis as one type of cultural brand, and a following that’s built off of that, let’s say on YouTube for example, and then try to replicate that in a bunch of different other areas as well. There’s a project I’m working on called Dealers, and it’s about car dealers, and car dealerships, and other forms of dealers as well. The point is that basically I can tap into the automotive world with something like that. That’s definitely more of a for-profit type of world, but at the same time there are reviewers, there are car aficionados, there’s a whole world of influences out there that are not traditional broadcasters or publishers, and probably could give a greater audience than a traditional broadcaster.
Takeaways, as there’s very little time remaining, for the content creators, and the producers in the audience, every product is different, and this is just me, but I really, I’ve worked on a lot of different projects, and the more fringe-y you can be with it, the more entrepreneurial, the more you can literally and figuratively own it, I think the better. The more heart you put into it, and effort you put into it the better. I also think specifically this project would not really have been able to do what it did without our personal presence. It was very important … I mean Jaime is, he has a certain cachet for himself. I don’t, but it was very important that we had our own personal presence to go out and literally go to these places and meet people. I think that whole personal, literally physical handshake side was very important to have digital success.
For the broadcasters of the system overall, I think the message that I’m getting across is just that there’s a certain unconventionality to modern broadcasting. I’m sure this has been discussed for the last five or ten years at conferences like this, so this is nothing new. I think that as Canadians, we should be very proud of the fact that we have programs like the IPF, and Story Hive, and what the CMF has done for digital, which is very competitive, certainly for North America, where America really does not have the equivalent. At the same time, also recognize that the meaning of broadcasting is changing. I think in our case, we’re like a mini mini broadcaster, because the second that we hit publish, it goes out to, I mean, we have a small-ish … We have about ten thousand subscribers, but the extended reach of all that can end up being quite large, and the second we hit publish it’s going to all those international places immediately. The audience is less about the actual, national boundaries of Canada, and it’s more about the particular niche that we’re getting into, and even drilling down within that niche so that it goes there.
Broadcasting is changing. The other thing I wanted to point out is, you take a Ford 00:37:40, or you take even an individual like Mayim, she has one point five million Instagram followers. Ford, just as example, they’re probably not even the best at this, have three point four million Facebook likes. I’m willing to bet that these followings are larger, certainly from a digital side than most Canadian broadcasters, and possibly some Americans. This changes the game. This is the type of thing that needs to be accounted for, and particularly as far as calling things the system or not, we were very fringe-y, I think that there could be a role for fringe-y things more in the traditional Canadian system. Especially, because we were creating pure Canadian content and exporting it internationally, but it was not a traditional system project.
Last thing I’m going to leave with you a Yiddish aphorism. It’s called [foreign language 00:38:25]. Man plans, and God laughs. It’s been the common theme here. We didn’t plan on any of this, but we were nimble, we went with it, and I would recommend you guys do the same. In closing, in honor of your baseball season, which unfortunately we no longer have baseball. We came in from left field, but we improvised, and now we get to stay on the field, and we will continue to play ball on the field mostly against Americans. Yanks, if you will. That’s basically it. Thank you very, very much for your time. Oh, and I already went through all the contact information, and lost it, so you’ll just have to find it, but look for Yidlife Crisis online. Certainly the YouTube page, but also look on Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter, as we’re trying to do other content as well. I believe my information is out, you can find me all over around the world. Thank you very, very much. I don’t know how we’re doing on time.
Jay Bennett: Hey, everybody. I’m going to do a walkthrough case presentation of a project called Carmilla. I’ll say two things before I start. One, because I knew time was short anyways, I’ve sort of cut down a longer sort of walkthrough, I think it was about forty slides into about ten. Somethings may seem a bit disjointed as I go, that’s on purpose, but I’ve been trying to sort of capture a few different buckets, things like … Because this is about discoverability, to me, that’s a few things. That’s about making content, so that’s about funding content, which is sort of the first part of discoverability. Actually, not it is the second part of discoverability. The first part is knowing your audience, and I think we’ve just seen that in this previous presentation. I think that is something that is way, way, way too often not discussed about in media. Certainly, I think if you look at feature films in Canada, that’s something that doesn’t really exist. I think you sort of make a project, and you try and find an audience.
Television, for the most part, I think we still see broadcasters trying to find an audience. I think where digital is getting ahead of it, although we don’t have these giant numbers, and I would argue numbers are not just part of it, actually engagement is much more important than numbers, thinking about your audience well in advance of before you even write a script or develop a story is the key to the whole operation. Which led us to this little project here called Carmilla, which we started two and a half years ago. The other thing I should always put up of this thing is like a warning sign, and really the reason that is is everything I’m about to say really is just my opinion, and the opinion of Smokebomb and my colleagues. There are still many ways you can sort of crack these eggs. By no means, when I sort of say things that sound quite just like blatantly rules or thoughts, there are many ways. We’re still all learning how to crack this system, but these are some of the things that we have found that not only have worked, but in both our trial and error of fails and wins, and fails has been as important as wins, and we have, I certainly have enough of those in my wake, that you’ve learned things from that, you sort of apply it to the next thing.
Carmilla, who are these people? This is just to give you a snapshot of sort of who I’m standing up here representing. Shaftesbury, if you know of Shaftesbury, it’s a television company that actually started in feature films. They’ve been around for about twenty-seven years now. They still make big one-hour dramas around the world. Murdoch Mysteries, Houdini Doyle is out right now on Fox and Global. Life with Derek, they had a big kids business. About eight years ago, they brought in us, Smokebomb Entertainment, as I’m sure a lot of you know at that time it was sort of convergent entertainment, which was the sort of the buzz word and the drive in Canada, extending television series online into interactive website experiences. That was sort of our first mandate.
Sort of over the years, as I was lucky enough to rise up through that company, and assume the lead of it, really sort of tried to push us more into social media. Again, conversation, thinking audience first, I think is really where content needs to be born. Out of that experience, it sort of has driven us, Smokebomb, into more original digital entertainment and branded entertainment. That brings us to shift2. Shift2 was another big sort of milestone in the conglomeration, in the sense of for years, and still, I think one of the major challenges we have in Canada is making content. I think yes, there are great funds. Every time we stand on stage, I take a moment to acknowledge CMF, Bell Fund, IPF, OMDC, tax credits, I’m sure I’m forgetting some. I think, we also have to realize is these things are not really connected or necessarily meant to work together. We have created a highway in this country from which there is no exit off the highway.
We are essentially … The mission was, and as I understand it, to build the digital media industry in Canada, and that’s sort of where these things were born from. I sort of always say, it worked, like congratulations that worked. The problem is is everyone was so busy, I think, trying to construct the machine, we didn’t really figure out, and think about how we go and set up the next evolution of that. We as a company of Smokebomb who have greatly benefited from the funds in Canada, are now trying to, and have been trying to get off that system. It is very hard. There really isn’t a broadcasting system you can turn to in Canada where you have been lucky enough to go and make a project with them, a convergent project, a digital project, using a fund, and have that work out, and then come back to them season two, or again, and say, “Hey, that worked. Let’s do it again. Don’t need the fund.” That conversation has never happened, and I don’t really think it’s setup to happen. That sent us off working with shift2 to turn to brands.
I think that is the big exciting one. Brands have a role in entertainment, and for us specifically focusing on millennials, which is a buzz term, but also is a major target demographic of advertisers, and a new consumer of media. We went off and started to create some mantras, and really think about what millennials want. Well, what do we know? These are real stats, not made up. Eighty percent of millennials want brands to entertain them. I think that’s sort of self-explanatory, but if you think about it, if you look at what is a brand. Everything’s actually a brand, but we want brands we simply don’t want to be, and I’ll say we, I miss millennials by that much, but I’ll use that term we, we as millennials want brands, you were all millennials as we say this, to go and tell us a story, and we don’t, as millennials, simply just want to be served a thirty second spot, and told this one drives faster, or this one cleans with twice the power. We want to be engaged in some form of story.
In doing that, millennials are turning to new platforms. Again, that is a thing, and you’ll actually see in the content we make, we’re really trying to think about relatability in content. I think simply going and telling a story is only half the battle. I think especially on YouTube, millennials, or let’s just say consumers of YouTube content, are turning there for a very personal experience. If they want to watch television, stuff with coverage, they have many platforms to do that on. I think for YouTube, they’re looking for something where they can personally connect with characters in the story.
Then, we all know that this is happening, I think it’s only going to get worse. More and more ad blocking is seeping into the world. You can skip the pre-roll ad in front of your YouTube ad. You can push your banner ads away. As I understand it, Apple is about to put into their next IOS system the ability through your Apple phone just to start blocking all ads. This is about to be the big battle. This is sort of the phrase I have come up with. Look I’ve stolen it, and you think about the music industry. When it comes to millennials and asking for their money, I’m speaking through the brands’ perspective, first you have to give them something of value. Think of music, music did that when they really went and embraced let’s give away music. Let’s worry about selling them t-shirts and concert tickets.
I think that’s with all entertainment, is: you can’t just go to me, and ask me to pay to come into the tent. You have to let me into the tent, get me totally fricking excited about what’s going on in here, and then say: “Do you want to come back tomorrow, or do you want the VIP pass?” Then I’m willing to pay, but I think there’s way, way, way too many options these days to go and do something for free. If you sort of stand there and say: “Hey, do you want to watch this show?” I think Games of Thrones is a great example. I don’t know who’s paying for HBO, I don’t know who is not paying for HBO and just watching it. HBO has put up this interesting block of sort of saying you must come and pay to watch it. Then everyone sort of goes and, not everyone, but I’ve certainly encountered enough people who go and say: “I can’t do it without paying for it,” or “Even if I want to pay for it, I have these blocks to do it. I can’t do it on iTunes, so I go and search it out for free.” Give your audience something of value.
With all these mantras in mind, and we shift to by our side, we went out and started trying to create a serialized scripted branded entertainment for YouTube. These first maverick company and individual we encountered was U by Kotex here in Canada. U by Kotex is a division of Kimberly-Clark. They obviously sell tampons, pads, and the like, women’s feminine care products. When we encountered them, they were already doing pretty sort of irreverent stuff in their commercials. They weren’t pouring blue dye onto pads. They were sort of having women throw underwear out of apartment buildings. They were sort of already there. I use that term maverick when it comes to brands. I think it’s incredibly important. You cannot go out right now in Canada, and really in the US, and just go to any brand and say: “Let’s make scripted storytelling about your product.” You really have to go and find mavericks, individuals within companies. Not always necessarily the COO, or the CCO, or whatever we’re going to be the main creative guy to go and be your champion. Sometimes, you got to find just that person who’s going to run through the company, and say: “Guys, you’re missing the point, we need to do this.”
With U by Kotex, they said to us, and this is sort of, like this is actually reduced brand speak. Brand speak is always something sort of … It doesn’t actually make much sense, so they want to organically connect with a millennial audience, transforming them into brand advocates. By the way, when I show this stuff, this is all fan art from our story worlds. Some cool stuff that fans create. What does that actually mean? Number one thing, no one ever tweets about a commercial. Like in the history of time, no one has said: “Oh, I can’t wait for the next Tide commercial to come out. Oh, it’s going to be so awesome.” “Did you see that Ford commercial?” And like write about that on their Twitter, or their Facebook, or their Instagram. That just does not happen. So how do brands get people to talk about their products? You do that through story and character.
That is not us saying that. That’s just what people want to talk about. People want to talk about adventure, romance, character, intrigue, thrillers, posters, what’s happening in the next episode? And brands can have the ability to be the people who have that conversation. For us, female millennials, that’s our focus, not just with Carmilla, but with everything we do. I think we need to be aware that they are by far the most savvy generation like ever. They smell a commercial coming in like two seconds, so you can’t go and sort of try and sneak it in. The moment you go and put your product as the first shot, and then pull back and start telling a story, people know it’s a commercial instantly, like, and they’re out. We really try and hold to this mantra. We do not actually tell our audience that a brand is involved in a show until about half way through a season. That’s usually about seventeen to twenty episodes. It just seems like a story.
Think brand attributes not brand messaging. Again, that comes back to it is, don’t go necessarily and take … Well, let’s take U by K as an example. The brand attributes, it’s not like we should make a show that’s more absorbent or extra protective. Actually, wait, we should. Extra protective, that’s a great example. Brand attributes. Don’t go and try and sell, I always use the Tide example, which is better, is like fifty percent more cleaning power. That’s the role of a thirty second spot. And in no way do I think the thirty second spot has disappeared in this. I think that thirty second spots and branded entertainment coexist. The difference is the thirty second spot is there to go and say, this is what the product looks, this is what the product does. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.
The difference being, is you think about anyone, especially a millennial, and let’s think of Tide, walking into Shoppers Drug Mart to buy laundry detergent, no one really goes, some do, maybe their mother always used Tide, so they always use Tide, but I’ll use me as an example. You walk in the line, you go: “Oh, this one’s for sale,” and you take it away. Right? You don’t go and say: “Oh, that thirty second spot…” They’re all fifty percent more cleaning power. They’re all new and improved. So what’s going to be that difference maker? The fact that someone goes and says: “Oh, they tell that show I really like. They’re executive producers. They make that really cool show. I love that character. My friend told me about this. My friend was talking about this on Facebook.” That is the difference of branded entertainment.
When you think about attributes, you want to go and think about what the essence of the brand is. For Carmilla, the brand attributes of U by K were empowered women, strong women, diversity, adventure, being oneself. That led us to go and create a series about lesbian killing vampires that had incredibly diverse characters. We had gay, straight, non-binary. They went and kicked ass every day. They were in a world where they didn’t really need men. Men were in their lives, but they didn’t need them. We were creating a show for women who don’t need boyfriends. That was sort of the mantra of that.
This, I’m going to show you like a two minute and thirty second thing. This sort of sums up the whole wackamaroo.
W on Video 1: Are you guys watching this commercial?
W on Video 2: We’re not.
W on Video 3: We never watch commercials. Why would they think we watch commercials?
W on Video 2: I have no idea.
W on Video 4: With so many brands vying for women’s attention, how can branded content stand out? Smokebomb, Shift2 and U by Kotex teamed up and found an answer: Carmilla. Carmilla is a story for the digital generation. For young women thirteen to twenty-four who don’t watch TV live. Nicknamed Buffy 2015, Carmilla is a seventy-two episode retelling of one of literature’s oldest female vampires. Told in vlog format, the show uses the YouTube aesthetic to tell a serialized story. The narrative expands beyond the series via in world character feeds on multiple social platforms, allowing the audience to connect to, and interact with the characters they’ve come to love. The first season of Carmilla tells the story of Laura Hollis, a freshman at Silas University investigating missing girls on campus, while dealing with her less than agreeable, and less than human vampire roommate. Now in its second season, the series continues to follow Laura Hollis and the gang as the stakes are raised and they must save the university itself.
The series struck a chord with the queer community, due to its representation of strong diverse characters not seen in mainstream media.
W on Video 5: I think that it’s been a really inspiring show for the LGBT community, including myself.
W on Video 6: It’s comforting to see these characters who don’t have to label their identities.
W on Video 7: It’s the first show that I have seen that has like lesbian characters that it’s not all about them being gay and coming out.
W on Video 4: Carmilla also garnered media coverage and accolades from many influential media outlets, blogs, and news sites from around the world. U by Kotex products was integrated into the storyline in an authentic way. Through product placement in the series, and five branded spots delivered by the cast of the show, we asked the hard questions: Do vampires get their periods?
W on Video 8: Vampires get their periods.
W on Video 4: By forging an authentic connection with our audience, and through the power of strong storytelling, we amassed over thirty million views in just over a year, and built a vibrant community who call themselves the Cream Puffs. Fans are encourage to interact with the series through creation, which has led to countless pieces of art, comics, music videos, gifts, and fan fiction continually pouring in. Fans have met all over the world from UK to Chicago to the 2015 Comedian Fan expo. Following the season one finale of Carmilla, the Cream Puffs demonstrated their love for the series, and U by Kotex, by igniting a Save Carmilla campaign in an attempt to secure a second season. With zero paid media, Save Carmilla was tweeted eleven point six times per minute and generated seven point seven million timeline deliveries in less than twenty-four hours.
With the second season of Carmilla coming to a close, we’re excited to see what the Cream Puffs will do next. With an overwhelming amount of audience interaction and engagement with U by Kotex, Carmilla has demonstrated the power of branded storytelling.
Jay Bennett: I think that’s a [inaudible 00:56:55] that I forgot to mention. I think, and that was the thing. We told the audience in season one of Carmilla, at episode seventeen, that U by Kotex was the brand sponsor behind it. Instead of that natural sort of thing of “oh, it’s a commercial.” I can point to an exact example of us doing that in season two of a show with Tetley Tea and MsLabelled, where they starting putting the boxes in, the audience conversation turned to, “Oh, you’re trying to sell me something,” and we lost the audience. In this case, once we’d hooked the audience into what it was, they then turned to Kotex, and started rallying them for a season two. Kotex, up to that point, I swear to God, when it put out something on Instagram it got like three hearts, three likes. Like it was just putting out classic Google photos of like “this is what’s in my purse,” and that’s what engaged them.
Once they had Carmilla, once they had a story engine and characters to engage that audience, they were getting thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of likes, comments, pieces of engagement across their social platforms, because now they actually had a story to use. They actually had something that people could give a crap about beyond an inanimate box.
Some of the rules: know your audience, be authentic, think two thousand, not two million. That’s a big one for me. I think out of the gate, think about the two thousand people you’re going to make a show for in the world. I think the natural sort of instinct as we get a lot of people, and we do it ourselves at times, to say, “We’re going to make, it’s Broad City meets Girls. It’s for eighteen to forty-nine year old women who like comedy.” That in the YouTube world where there are hundreds of millions of minutes of content uploaded every day, or in the billion channel universe, means nothing to nobody.
I’ll use the example, I always like to say if I was going tell this room that I’m going to make a show about fashion. I think all of you might be just a bit lukewarm about that whole idea in general. It’s like, okay, well that means something to each one of you individually. If I said I was going to make a show about yellow high heel shoes, I promise you, nine out of ten of you would say that’s not for me, but one out of ten of you would go: “Holy crap, I can’t wait to see it.” And that’s always where we want to start with a show is a very laser, laser focused dedicated fandom who’s going to be a champion of something. If you start at two thousand, it will turn into two million. Those numbers are out of date with Carmilla, we’re at forty-three million and climbing. Again, we started … We went and identified sort of some groups that existed, social media groups. We had targeted I think about five thousand hard core fans when we started Carmilla. For the first seventeen episodes, actually, we averaged about three thousand views an episode. Now a lot of our episodes have like one point something million views, because we started like this and let it grow, as opposed to trying to start like this.
Keep brand out of the story world, put it around it. Again, you sort of saw that. Sure, a couple times the brand will insist, “put my box in the background,” that’s fine. But do not go and turn it into product placement. It just diminishes the whole point of doing it out of the gate. I think Tetley and MsLabelled is a great example of that. I think the fear that once a brand was in it, “oh we got to have our product there in every second shot.” The audience turned instantly. They’re not dumb, they get it. All you have to do is just drink tea, they know it’s an ad for Tetley Tea, you don’t have to show them the box.
Oh, and then that final one. Make content for the specific platform you’re on. That’s a big one for us. I do not believe necessarily in trying to make low quality television for YouTube. We’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. Everything we try and do season one, we try and do about thirty-six episode plus arcs. We’re about to launch a forty-four episode first season. We use vlog format storytelling not just because it allows us to produce thirty-six episodes in like three days, but also because it’s very important to the audience. We have tried coverage. We find that audiences do not engage much in coverage. We’ve put up three episodes exact same show shot three different ways. Something like forty-five percent increase on views and engagement on the episode that had the character talking directly to camera and emoting. That is what the audience is looking for on YouTube, so make the content for the platform that you’re on.
Now what? Carmilla is in pre-production on season three, the penultimate season. We, like The Office, and I’m happy we did it, decided when we started this that it was going to be a three episode run. We’re going to hold to that. We wrote a three episode arc when we created it, and this sucker’s going to end in its current format at the end of season three. However, we are trying to, we are in the process of developing it for some other screens. I argue, and sometimes do you actually need to or want to do that? I do not think … I think now television is still where the money is. I think that is diminishing, and there are now so many gate keepers to get to the television screen, and they give you so little a shot, and they put you through so much, and I think at times, dilute the voice of the content so greatly that you do not necessarily want to do that, I think, with every show.
If you took Yidlife, which right now is so sharp to that audience, I guarantee you, you’d take that through two broadcasters, they’re going to pull all the sharpness out of it. You’re going to have sort of this just puddle of mud, unless you’re Larry David, and can say, “I made Seinfield.” It’s going this way. We’re continuing to try and take this model and evolve it across other brands. I’m trying to tweet more, so that’s my Twitter. Thank you.
I have two minutes left. We can take any questions, either of us. If there aren’t any questions, otherwise, enjoy your day. Yes.
Jay Bennett: Local as in Canadian? Or local as in laser cast audience focused?
Jay Bennett: My quick answer would be I think the dangerous to sort of assume more than you have. I think the moment you move away and stop being authentic to your show and your audience, everyone’s out. We hold, and I think sometimes that’s a challenge, but we hold to the authenticity of what it is.
Eli Batalion: Yeah, I think you guys have a stricter guideline, which I actually respect and appreciate. We’re not as strict, probably to our detriment. In some ways we’ve found that … What we try to do is we balance the inside jokes for the Montreal community, it’s like again with Russian dolls. The bulls eye is someone that like grew up in Côte-Saint-Luc, and we made the show for the two K, the two thousand people, and it’s those people, but at the same time, there are other aspects that we think could be more universal. Sometimes, we will take Montreal specific references out, or not make it the majority of what we’re talking about, because we realize now there’s more of an American audience, or now there’s more of a global audience. We try to think about those audiences as well. I honestly think it’s attention, because your audience … With us, see the difference is, the spirit of my talk was, we were very improvisational. We did not do the strategic work that these guys did. I think it works with that particular approach for our particular project, but this is much more crafted, and I’ll just say much more intelligent in the way that it’s done, because it was meant for a particular audience, and so those guidelines were there in advance. For us, they’re more fluid.
Jay Bennett: To be fair, I think, again, in the wake of it, I’ve done my Yidlife. This took doing to understand, you just start to figure out, it’s like baking a cake six times without a recipe, and you start to learn, oh way too much flour, so you add less flour next… It’s been an evolution for us, and I think it’s an evolution for you and you’re ahead. I think making these talks, you’re hoping… I am trying to, I think, get the industry, and again it’s just my belief, but I think I see, and I think I say this with great respect to things like the IPF, we continue I think to be making somewhat sort of the same mistakes of we’re just making all this different content. I think, especially in Canada, I would say if there’s one thing to say at this Summit about discoverability, our greatest problems are lack of platforms, and lack of marketing. It’s not a lack of content. We have tons of that, but where are people supposed to put content, and how are we supposed to go and find audiences?
If the belief still is by the traditional industry that you just put something up on YouTube, and there’s lucky stories, actually very strategic, strategic luck, but that’s measured in like one in a thousand. I believe that we’re wasting resources if we’re right now aiming for one in a thousand to break through. We should be trying to get to like one in ten, two in ten. I think if we’re more strategic about the direction of the platforms we’re using in this country, if we start to think more globally, and less Canadian, I think that’s a thing we’re afraid to talk about, but those are the rules. Your audience is mainly American, seventy percent of our audience is American. The next biggest country is Britain, then it’s Canada, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Our audience goes and says, “Only in Canada could you make this.” We couldn’t make this in America. If we want to talk about what is important for cultural exports, that’s what’s important. Not us trying to go and say we must go and make this for a Canadian audience, and put up a Canadian flag. That’s my …
Eli Batalion: One hundred percent agreed. A hundred and ten percent agree.
Jay Bennett: Cool. Bye.