Learning From John Green at Brandcast 2015

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m what some people would call a Nerdfighter. And one of the guys (John Green) that “founded” the vlog that created the community now known as Nerdfighteria recently spoke to an audience of advertisers at Brandcast 2015 (an event held by Google to celebrate YouTube’s 10th birthaversary).

Being a fan of John and a student of marketing, I found this presentation fantastic.

There are some really good insights in his words:

– John and Hank (the Vlogbrothers) make less than 20% of revenue from ads, and it lessens significantly every year

– Creators are finding ways to support their channels outside of advertising, like going on tours, selling merchandise, and crowd funding through sites like Patreon

– He is in the community business building a legion of raving fans, not the eyeballs business (impressions and views), and I know this has been a hot topic for a while now so much that “raving fans” has become buzzword worthy, but the Vlogbrothers actually built the legion of raving fans before talking about it as the model, rather than selling an unexecuted idea

– He doesn’t care how many people see his work, he cares how many people LOVE his work — people who love his work engaged with it, mimic it, use it to create new and inspired things, not just use it as a distraction

I will also add that his last paragraph seems like an appeasement to Google, telling advertisers they can help keep creators funded and viewers will support those business that do. However, I think John knows that that isn’t necessarily true. At least, not as long as they try to approach creators with tradition advertising messages.

What do you think? Do advertisers need YouTubers more? Or vice versa?

Here’s the audio of John’s presentation: https://soundcloud.com/sethmsparks/brandcast-2015-john-green-audio-only

And the transcript: https://medium.com/@johngreen/john-green-s-brandcast-speech-d5b7564773c


Snapchat and MeerKat have (sort of) changed my opinion of vertical video.

This is not a post about MeerKat per se. And it’s not a post about Snapchat per se. But IT IS a post about how both of these apps are influencing a change in perspective on something that has been culturally defined for almost a century.

I have a tiny bit of experience in video production. Like, enough to understand a little bit about how frame composition, tracking, angles, and color impact mood and convey unspoken messages to an audience. Now, albeit I’m not an expert, but I have an immense appreciation not only for what a scene says explicitly, but also for how a shot can compliment or contradict what is being said implicitly.

But something I’ve been adamant about (along with many others) is complaining how stupid people are for shooting vertical video. Our phones don’t capture square video, so orientation matters. There are websites, countless videos, and memes all dedicated to pointing out how flawed vertical video is.

But that hasn’t stopped it’s pervasiveness.

See Snapchat and now MeerKat. Both are functionally built to be used vertically. You can of course turn your phone horizontally, but on the receiving end of one of those snaps, it’s just a bit awkward because you often end up rotating your phone back and forth, vertical>horizontal>vertical and so on.

And as much as I hate vertical video as an abomination to everything holy and professional about film and video in general… I’m trying to find a way to convince myself that it may be ok.

So I started with examining our current environment.

What’s the same?
– TVs are all basically 16×9 aspect ratio based, while some 4:3 sets exist
– Movie theater screens are built to handle 2.33:1 aspect ratio (20.97×9)
– Computer monitors are increasingly 16×9 though some still rock a 4:3 as well

And what’s different?
– Smart phones… gobs of them… on our person at all times of the day. But smartphones typically have the same (or very close to) 16×9 aspect ratio, based again off of legacy HD standards media fitting that.

However… and this is one of those BIG howevers… like, cultural shift however (which others have pointed out well before me)… our human hand is best suited to hold phones vertically. That magical thumb of ours has enough movement to operate the “buttons” of a touchscreen with ease.

“But it’s still not that freaking difficult to turn the phone if you’re taking a photo or shooting video Seth.” I agree, and just because our human physiology says it’s more comfortable, I’m not giving in that easy.

So where next? Well, based on legacy media’s drive to get everything into a 16:9 aspect ratio, I figured that might be a good starting point. Why 16:9?

Turns out there is a long and (if you’re not a weirdo like me) quite boring story of how we got to 16:9. If you want to know all the details, this video is actually a really awesome explanation. But it basically boils down to this. 16:9 was decided on when Kerns H Powers proposed it in the 1980s when HD Standards were being drawn up. You see, 16:9 was a geometic mean between the two most common aspect ratios around at the time: TV (which had an aspect ratio of 4:3) and film (which had an aspect ratio of 2.33). Video of both aspect ratios could fit within a 16×9 frame by either adding letterboxing or zooming fit the screen.

“That’s nice Seth, but regardless, it still seems like video has pretty much always had a horizontal format.” Again, you’re right. But looking back at how the original aspect ratio standard was set in 1909 when William Kennedy Dixon, a staff photographer at Thomas Edison’s lab, was working on a Kinetiscope prototype. Dixon was using Eastman Kodak film with perforations along the sides trying to decide how much of the film would be exposed. He settled on an image that was four perforations high, which led to an image with an aspect ratio of 4×3 (in this case the four perforations are actually the 3 in the ratio, so 5.32 perfs wide and 4 perfs high) or 1.33:1. And we don’t actually know why he chose this aspect ratio, but he did, and it became the standard for all video produced from that point forward.

“But how’d we get from 4:3 to 2.33 or whatever?” Ah, well that one’s simple. It’s for the same reason we keep trying to get 3D and other film gimmicks to work. Theaters and movie studios wanted to create something new and different that would get more butts in seats (I’m sure film makers and cinematographers liked the idea of having more space to play with in the frame and tell a story, but I’m guessing that came second to making more money). So basically, they developed new techniques and eventually new film to shoot movies in the 2.33 format.

“Okay, so some dude’s arbitrary decision to make a video a few perforation high set the standard for us having video that is wider than taller? And we only have extra wide screens because studios wanted to make more money?” I know right? But it sort of seems that way…

And I know that was a long way of getting there, but knowing that a landscape format was a seemingly arbitrary decision, and widescreen was just your average money grab, giving vertical video a second chance seems a little easier. Based on the fact that our hands are better suited for holding smartphones vertically, and the fact that our human heads are more elongated and thus fit a vertical screen more fully than horizontal (even for fat faced folks like me), when video is primarily isolated to hosting and viewing from mobile devices I now think that I might be in favor of it. Or at least, I’m not vehemently against it. So in the cases of Snapchat and MeerKat, go ahead with your vertical video, I promise not to complain.

However, if you’re making something for TV, theater, youtube, or similarly landscape based orientation displays, let’s try to keep it wide, mmkay?

Who knows, at some point in the future TVs may look nothing like they do now, and may be built to handle video of any aspect ratio or orientation. Or holographs. Because science. And because money.

So what do you think? Have your thoughts on vertical video changed if you were a stringent landscape advocate? Still hate it? Let me know below!

Passing Time

It’s interesting to me the difference exposures my wife and I have had to funerals. While she’s only ever been to a couple, I feel like my childhood was full of them. I suppose growing up in a small town, and intrinsically caring for neighbors and classmates as family led me to more funerals than I can begin to remember.

Today we experienced another. A dark sky set a fitting somber mood, and we collected to send off Grandpa Orange Slice. And as I experienced the day, I was reminded of a few things about funerals.

People in rural Iowa respect funeral processions. As we slalomed through the city of Ottumwa and Iowa back roads, people not only yielded, but came to a complete stop to pay respect to a man they didn’t know. Put simply, it’s not something you experience in the city. 

I can make it to the sixth note of taps without tearing up. The sadness of the day compounds it, but there’s so much historical weight that accompanies the notes that it’s overpowers me. Every. Single. Time.

Funerals unequivocally force contemplation of mortality and all that accompanies it. And while I’m comfortable with my own eventual demise (having a parent die when you’re young cements this for you in a way I haven’t seen elsewhere), I’m not immune to that physchilogical law, and thus I think about my own funeral. Rather morbidly I guess, I’ve kept a playlist since high school of songs I want played at my own service. That’s probably weird, but like I said, as a kid, trying to pick the perfect song for your dads funeral does things to you.

Finally, above all, another unexpected loss serves as the foreboding reminder that death can come quickly. Without regard for plans or final words, it steals from us the breathe of life that’s impossible to restore. So for now, and hopefully for some time before my fickle human brain moves on and I need to be reminded again, I’ll be mindful of my interactions and always intend to leave friends and strangers alike with good “bye”s.

Crashing Hangouts

This morning I stumbled my way into a Google Hangout with none other than Joseph Jaffe. You know, the author of two of the best marketing books you’ll find, host of the Across the Sound Podcast, and founder of Evol8tion LLC. I noticed a tweet from him this morning inviting folks to join his Madison to Mountain View hangout. Madison to Mountain View is an Evlo8tion project to bridge the creativity of Mad Men and hyper technosphere of Mountain View California.

I joined the call late, due to a couple hiccups getting the link from twitter to work (it kept taking me to the app store to download Hangouts, which I already had downloaded), and not having setup hangouts on my new phone yet. Once I joined, I found a handful of other participants who were talking about tech innovation and how marketers perceive Millennials. The most poignant thought in the couple minutes of conversation I heard was that we tend to forever see Millenials as they were when they were defined as Millenials. Even as they grow up, marketers tend to first think of them first as college kids before we can accurately reimagine them as leaders of households with kids and pets and discretionary spending. It’s definitely something to be cognizant of the next time you picture Boomers as empty-nesting globe-trotters… they’re older than you imagine them too.

After the Hangout, Jaffe was cool enough to hang around for a minute and explained that they were in the early phases of developing this live water cooler approach where they convened weekly on Tuesday mornings. He said that they were going to start taking it more public in the future, which makes sense in a content saturated world where we all need to find new ways to connect more intimately with others. So, if you’re into marketing and technology, and want to listen to smart folks conversation, watch for Jaffe’s Twitter feed next Tuesday morning for the link.

My 2015 Personal Balanced Scorecard

Every year I try to assess my lifestyle, and determine the specific actions I want to take to improve certain elements of my life. Those assessments lead to my annual personal balanced scorecard. This is my third year completing a personal balanced scorecard, and I feel like each year I design something a little better. And each year, I hold myself to my goals a little more tightly.

I’m hoping this year I’ll be able to actually reach the health goals I’ve been working towards for too long now. Weigh is a piece of that, but not the entire focus.

Alright, here goes:

– read – 1 book per month :: (can coincide with prof/relationships)
– blogs – write 2x monthly personally :: #
– meditate – for 15 min daily :: #
– Rss – marketing gold cleared out daily

– weight – 2/1:275, 4/1:250, 6/1:235
– fitness – 30 min active p/ day #
– fitness – 10k steps p/ day
– therapy – stretch/exercise back 20 min p/ day #

– prayer – morning and night
– meditation – 15 min daily ::
– fun – video games or movie once a week

– wife – dedicate 15 min to talking every night
– son – play with for 15 min every night
– son – email monthly update
– daughter – read with/talk to for 20 min every night
– daughter – email monthly update
– empathy – read 1 non-fiction book quarterly ::

1 – pay off cc debt
2 – emergency fund reach $15k
3 – save $3k for Disney trip

– blog – write 2x professional monthly :: #
– read – marketing gold blog roll daily ::
– read – 1 business book per quarter ::
– vlog – record 2 blogs per month #
– gamecast (video game podcast) – record 4 gamecasts per month #

:: same action covers multiple facets
# action can be scheduled for habit/tracking

I’ll likely edit these through the year based on changes in my environment, and potential other factors that could limit or open up opportunities. I’ll be checking in monthly to determine how I’m tracking related to these goals as well. This year I plan to hold myself publicly accountable on here as well, posting my progress along the way. Hoping that turns into a motivator for me.

So that’s what’s new. Do you do anything like this? What of my list do you like or dislike? Let me know in the comments!

Goings On

Hey friends! I was just taking inventory of some of the stuff I’ve been working on over the last few months, and decided to capture it all here, with links and stuff!

I’ve been all over the place, but I’ll try to give a little context as to what I’ve been spending time on, and how I ended up spending time there.

More Videos
First of all, as you probably know by now, I’ve been enamored by the vlogbrothers for the last few months, and in subscribing to and viewing many of their different channels, I felt like that was a model that I could copy. (I do not expect similar results.)

Historically, I’ve published all videos to my standard Seth M. Sparks profile channel, but I’ve now added two new channels for host the most common two types of videos I’ll be sharing…

1) vlogwithseth – A channel dedicated to my video blogs, mostly me talking about something going on in my life, whether it be work related or just something I found genuinely educational and wanted to share.

2) gamewithseth – A channel dedicated to me playing video games. Because I know you want to watch me play video games. Right now the only one of my systems that uploads to YouTube however is Wii, but as soon as PS4 enables this I’ll be using it more frequently. As an interim fix for sharing PS4 gaming (and a permanent solution for live game sharing), I’ve created a ustream channel too, under the username sethgames (which ill likely change to match the youtube channel too).

I usually go live with the Ustream channel around 9pm Central, and although I’ve not had viewers, I’d be willing to answer questions, let you pick the plays I run, or give my impression on a topic of your choosing. Just trying to find a way to make it interactive.

Marketing Side Project
Outside of playing around with video channels, I’ve also been making slow progress on my other site, http://www.marketrathbun.com. A page here, and blog post there. One of these days it will be completed enough that I’ll start sharing it for others to actually use. I’d love your thoughts on what I’ve built so far.

Hometown Festival Volunteering
In August/September I again helped out my old hometown with communicating the details around our town festival via Facebook. But this year, I decided to take it up a notch and secured http://www.moraviafallfestival.org as another outlet for sharing the details of the event. The content was fairly sparse this year, as the communications lines aren’t as tidy around digital as they are elsewhere, but next year should be cleaner. Give it a look.

A Novel Approach
I’ve also started to layout the storyline(s) for some type of book I think I might write. Not exactly sure what the opportunity is here, but once I have the plot figured out I’ll decide how I want to do it. Stay tuned on that.

And finally, in all of my geekdom, had still never watched Dr. Who. That was a terrible mistake. I’m working my way though the new seasons on Netflix, and am a few episodes into the eleventh doctor. I’ll say two things about this, 1) the show is really great and I hate that I’ve waited so long to watch, and 2) so many memes make sense now! I won’t go into thoughts about characters/plot/etc., because as Doctor Pond would say, “No spoilers!”

And that’s all folks. I haven’t been terrible busy, but I’ve managed to make progress on some things that really interest me. What about you? What have you all been working on?

My Submission to the FCC on Net Neutrality


Text Entry:

Thank you for accepting my opinion. I would like to urge the FCC to reclassify all access to the internet as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act, and to regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) accordingly. While the center of the debate is about delivering content to users without speed influence from ISPs, most of the focus has been on entertainment. A more pressing concern for me is based on the original creation of the internet.

Access to information, and the ability of the internet to bring it to me without bias, is what’s at stake. We’ve become a society, especially younger Americans, that aren’t scared to try to learn new things, just by reading a few articles and watching a few YouTube videos. Our willingness to learn, coupled with unbiased access to sites that deliver education, is something we should have fair access to. Regardless whether that information be from someone’s personal blog, a non-profit, a start-up, or a major conglomerate. Access to that information shouldn’t be allowed to be influenced in any way by a highest bidder or paying a premium for faster distribution (see Comcast/Netflix speed changes 2013 vs 2014 after paying their fee). Even more, in many cases, the highest bidder will likely spend money on winning distribution priority and less on providing valuable content.

As a customer of ISPs, I pay for access to THE internet (at higher costs and slower speeds here in the U.S. compared to so many other countries [Where’s all that innovation and infrastructure ISPs keep talking about building?]), not for my ISPs version of it.

I understand this is a complex issue around one of the biggest economic forces our planet has seen, but we need to leave the economics to the businesses on the street, where true competition resides, and not allow the street to littered with road-blocks and fast lanes to junkyards.

Thank you for your time.


If YOU want to leave a note for the FCC on Net Neutrality (even if it’s different than mine), do so by going to http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/upload/display?z=kgxq.