MF 362 : Reaction videos and a huge missed opportunity for streaming platforms
Updated: Jun 16, 2022
Reaction videos on YouTube are driving views and repeat views of shows, and fueling a new wave of content creators. Today, I talk about this phenomenon and why this is a missed opportunity for streaming platforms. More at www.bemovingforward.com.
One of the most effective forms of organic marketing (that streaming platforms are missing out on)
A few weeks ago, I talked about the Squid Game phenomenon and what it meant for Netflix. By devoting a podcast and blog to it, which I also pushed on social media, I was promoting the show to my followers. If you watched the show as a result of listening to episode 358 or reading the accompanying blog, this contributed to keeping it within the top 10 on Netflix. Shows like Squid Game that don't have a lot of traditional marketing behind it end up going viral when people talk about it with their friends, relatives, colleagues, and of course, on social media. Streaming companies know this and when a show can generate that kind of word-of-mouth, it becomes the best kind of marketing for a show and its accompanying platform. We call this "organic" because it's doesn't feel like an advertisement or a slogan put together by a marketing team. Moreover, because viewers aren't working for the platform, it feels all the more credible. Most people would rather take the word of a friend or even an enthusiastic person on IG or Twitter that they don't know than from a showrunner or the network it came from.
Beyond this, there is an even more powerful outlet for fans to voice their opinions on a show or movie: YouTube.
If you're not aware, YouTube isn't simply for cat videos. There has been a boom in recent years of content creators ranging in age, socio-economic, and racial and cultural backgrounds. We've witnessed an explosion of channels that have birthed influencers and micro-influencers with loyal fanbases. Many have crossed a certain threshold in subscriber numbers and viewed minutes such that they can monetize their channels with ad placements. Others have utilized paid subscription outlets on platforms like Patreon, using YouTube as a free "appetizer" to entice viewers to pay for more robust and exclusive content. While commentators, taste and product testers, and travel vloggers have been tried and true YouTube staples, in recent years there has a growing segment of so-called "reaction channels." Their content is based primarily on live reactions to watching shows, movies, and trailers.
I first stumbled onto these around 2014, a year before the first of the new Star Wars movies under the Disney umbrella came out. Like millions of others, I watched the trailer several times and soon after, YouTube's algorithm started suggesting "reaction videos" of other fans watching and reacting to the trailer on camera. If you've never watched one before, it may sound a bit odd but trust me, you'll get sucked into a rabbit hole once you check them out. Watching reaction videos for programming you love generates a similar excitement that you may feel if you were introducing a friend to it for the first time. It's akin to watching a movie in a theater with a great crowd that cheers in all the right places.
Reaction videos aren't new but over the past several years, there has been a rise in new channels based solely around this theme. Squid Game, in particular seems to have inspired new ones which are popping up daily, if not hourly.
So what's the big deal? Reaction videos are influencing viewer and consumer behavior, that's the big deal. Many of these channels command hundreds of thousands of subscribers. A positive reaction from a prolific YouTuber or even the mere mention of a new show brings an awareness to it that a studio doesn't have to pay a cent for. Moreover, a good or insightful reaction video can enhance a viewer's appreciation for that content. Often, reactions include commentary, analyses, and speculation; drawing connections you may have missed. This in turn can cause people to go back and rewatch a show or movie. I firmly believe reaction videos are a big reason why Squid Game remained in the number 1 spot for so long and is still holding strong in the top 5 after nearly a month on Netflix. Regardless of whether a YouTuber has millions of subscribers or a few dozen, each view represents a new or repeat watch of a show. Additionally, reaction videos bring potential new subscribers to the platform the content is housed under. It's an extremely powerful form of organic marketing that can keep a program in the top ten, which keeps a streaming platform relevant.
Since watching Squid Game, I've enhanced my own appreciation by watching several reaction videos. Sometimes, I'll take a break during the day to check out a new video or reaction channel. After consuming several of these, I've developed an appreciation for the talented YouTubers who showcase their personalities, all while putting their personal spin on the show and what resonates with them.
Why let YouTube have all the fun (and reward?)
The phenomenon is powerful but I can’t help but feel that something is missing. The idea that I watch a show on Netflix, HBO Max, or Prime then go to YouTube to watch a reaction video feels a little “janky” for lack of a better word. Moreover, as I've learned, creating reaction content on YouTube comes with a host of issues. YouTubers regularly have to navigate the tricky minefield of copyright strikes, time limits, and other obstacles to create their content, which is ironic considering that it proactively promotes the product of the copyright holder. It's also a disconnected experience if one wants to view a reaction simultaneously with the content. This begs the question, is there a better way to do this that can be a win-win for the intrepid YouTuber and the streaming platforms? From an industry standpoint, platforms like Netflix, Prime and Hulu are potentially missing out on a growth opportunity by ceding all of the creator content to YouTube and Patreon.
The curious case of Cobra Kai
Cobra Kai is a prime example of how powerful fan-driven content can be. Long before it became a Netflix staple, Cobra Kai was the golden egg produced by the failed goose of an experiment called YouTube Premium (originally called YouTube Red). In the mid-to-late 2010s, YouTube started branching out into scripted content with a subscription platform to capitalize on YouTube‘s popularity and compete with the likes of Netflix. When Cobra Kai debuted on the service in 2018, many questioned the choice to go with YouTube Premium and whether people would sign up for yet another streaming platform. That is until fans started talking about how good Cobra Kai was. Reaction videos started popping up everywhere, which drove people to sign up for YouTube Premium's free trial and binge Cobra Kai. As I wrote in 2018, YouTube Premium had a powerful marketing tool within its parent YouTube: original content creators that could comment, promote, and react to episodes of Cobra Kai. It was the equivalent of having glowing customer testimonials for a product or service.
That YouTube Premium didn't really catch on doesn't diminish the net effect that reaction videos had on Cobra Kai. Quite the opposite, as it was this organic fan movement that pushed it into the zeitgeist. No doubt, this is why Netflix acquired the show once YouTube announced it was moving away from scripted content. Oddly, this detached relationship between streaming platforms and reaction videos on YouTube continues to exist. As Cobra Kai season 3 debuted on Netflix, bringing it to a global audience, fans were still creating reaction videos on YouTube with legacy fans reacting to season 3 as new fans posted their reactions to seasons 1 and 2. While Cobra Kai found a new home, reaction videos stayed on YouTube.
With the growth and effect that reaction-based content creators have on a show or movie's success, I'm surprised that streaming platforms haven't connected the dots. With this powerful, budget-friendly form of organic marketing why let YouTube reap all the rewards? As content is one of the biggest overhead costs for a streaming platform, it would make sense for a Netflix or a Prime to devote some server space for fan-subscribers to create original content that promote the platform's offerings. Imagine if a prolific YouTuber could have the option of creating content for Netflix but without the limitations that YouTube presents. If fans are driving people to watch shows, then inevitably they are also bringing new subscribers or at the very least sustaining current subscriber confidence. There‘s no reason why platforms couldn’t monetize fan-produced content while supporting the creator economy through affiliate revenue opportunities or other means. Moreover, this would generate additional content for the platform itself with little to no overhead costs.
I think Netflix, Prime, Hulu, etc. are missing out by not harnessing this incredible phenomenon. A streamer that closes the gap with prolific creator-subscribers, will create yet another point of differentiation. This in turn will encourage existing fans to re-up next month while driving new subscribers to punch in those credit card numbers for the first time.
Today, being an enthusiastic fan isn't just a passive viewing experience. Increasingly, we‘re witnessing a creator renaissance of individuals that are using their fandom to create their own content while gaining their own loyal fan base. This has real-world implications, both economic and cultural for the platforms that are competing for people’s time and wallets. I think it’s time for streaming platforms to find ways to work with these creative individuals and provide them with greater opportunities and incentives for their efforts. It’s not simply good marketing, it’s good business.
If you have never watched a reaction video before, hop onto YouTube and search for your favorite show and add the word “reaction” to the search. Check out a few reaction videos.
Check out some of my favorite reaction videos to Squid Game (note: these reactions contain spoilers so it is recommended you watch after viewing the show or simultaneously alongside)
AutoSave: This couple's channel is filled with genuine heartfelt reactions to each episode and thoughtful analysis of characters and plot points. They're also pretty spot on in many of their theories as to what happens in subsequent episodes.
Coverage: Full series.
Format: Each episode with full reactions and extensive commentary before and after.
Highlights: They take you on an emotional roller coaster and really connect with the characters. Also, watch for brief cameos of their cat on some of the episodes.
StruggleNation: This duo mixes up comedy with insightful reactions and raw emotions to some of the more intense episodes. The two creators have an incredible on-screen presence and it's no wonder they're crushing it with huge numbers.
Coverage: Currently through episode 6.
Format: Each episode with punchy commentary throughout.
Highlights: The frenemy schtick between the two creators is comedic gold.
Dos Cavazos: Another great couple-creator whose reactions are genuine and heartfelt. They also give insights into each episode with theories and speculation as to what will happen next.
Coverage: Full series.
Format: Each episode with commentary before, throughout, and a short conclusion of post-episode thoughts.
Highlights: Animated and emotional reactions that hit all the right notes.
Nikki & Steven React: Another highly recommended couple-creator whose reactions are a mix of emotional highs and lows, shock and awe, and insightful theories.
Coverage: Current through episode 5.
Format: Each episode contains an introduction, recap to date and extensive theories on what will happen next.
Highlights: The couple have great chemistry which comes through in their reactions.
The Normies: A group channel with a diverse cast of reactors that have great chemistry. Their reactions collectively and individually are fun, insightful, and amp up the suspense of the show.
Coverage: Full series.
Format: The channel reacts to each episode providing thoughtful commentary on some of the larger issues contained within.
Highlights: Their enthusiasm will keep you rooting for the main characters.
ur internet mom ash: A hilarious channel, in which Ash splices in memes and sound effects with the episodes. Ash's commentary is sharp, funny, and her acerbic wit take watching Squid Game to a whole new level.
Coverage: Full series.
Format: Ash groups her reactions into three episodes per video with three total. Each one is filled with quick cuts to memes and sound effects that punctuate her commentary.
Highlights: Her picture-in-picture expressions are hilarious.
Reaction Dragonz: A great duo that mixes up genuine reactions with commentary and theories on characters and plot. They keep their videos to the point and dive right into the lore.
Coverage: Current through episode 6.
Format: A commentarywith a brief intro before diving into the episodes.
Highlights: Their reactions to some of the tense and shocking moments of the show are as suspenseful as the show itself.
Check out the Moving Forward mini-series collection
Get your news with Morning Brew (free)
Morning Brew (affiliate link): a fantastic free newsletter that's a quick read and a great way to get your morning briefing on what's happening in the market, the economy, and the larger world.
What I’m reading / read
Before the Coffee Gets Cold (audiobook) by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (***)
Books by John
Check out my Amazon author profile.
Audiobook narrated by John
Get a free trial to Audible and I Am a Professional Metalhead (Audible affiliate).
Support the Podcast
The Corporate Cliches Adult Coloring Book: makes the perfect stocking stuffer or white elephant gift.
Try out Audible (affiliate link).
Try out Amazon Prime (affiliate link).