Written by Liz Gannes
BlogTV is the closest thing to broadcast television on the web. Each day, the site has prime-time viewing hours — evenings, East Coast time — when its traffic balloons from 2,000 concurrent users to tens of thousands. And its live shows are produced by a network of stars who have established audiences that follow them where we go.
But here’s where it gets webby. BlogTV’s content creators are YouTube stars (read: not actually that big), which helps to keep costs associated with bandwidth spikes and international streaming — common assets of other live streamers that emphasize event streaming (e.g. Ustream) and sports (e.g. Justin.tv) — down. The site has a network of vigilant moderators it uses to keep the content advertiser-friendly and clean of copyright and other concerns. And of course, BlogTV is unlike any traditional broadcaster in that it doesn’t have anything to do with producing its content; everything is made by users.
BlogTV is based in Israel, though it’s focused on the U.S. market and fully 80 percent of its viewers are North American. The site originally went live in July 2007 and for a time was yet another video + social network + live broadcasting + mobile + kitchen sink provider. But since May, BlogTV has defined itself as the live-streaming provider of choice for YouTube stars; it has nearly every YouTube top 100 most-subscribed user who’s not a company. How? By paying them.
It’s not much, says BlogTV CEO Guy Eliav, but the promise of revenue-sharing got these stars through the door and then promoting the site to other users. “A good broadcaster can make a few thousands dollars per month…It will not make them rich.” The strategy seems to be working, if on a small scale; the site hit 25,000 unique broadcasters in November, according to Eliav.
YouTube is a great place to build an audience, but it’s hard to use the site’s existing tools to connect with your loyal fans in a way that’s more meaningful than you give to the random passerbys and the haters in the comments. Michael Buckley of What the Buck, who broadcasts twice weekly on BlogTV, told us it’s “the highlight of my week.” He joined BlogTV this spring “because they made me the best offer of any of the live-streaming sites and my viewers really enjoy it over there.” He said now many of his viewers have their own shows, too. Other big BlogTV users include CharlieIsSoCoolLike (an 18-year-old British videoblogger who is actually the site’s most popular star of all time), Obama Girl and HappySlip.
Because BlogTV is part of a publicly traded company, Israeli web portal Tapuz, its financials are public. Tech blogger Kfir Pravda recently translated Tapuz’s latest earnings report from Hebrew; according to him, Tapuz reported that BlogTV lost $1.4 million in the first three quarters of 2008. Pravda goes on to quote a Tapuz exec as saying the company is pulling back financial support for the site in order to bring losses from the beginning of the year into check.
Eliav confirmed the raw numbers, but maintained that another factor in Tapuz and BlogTV’s improved financials is that the live video site “started kicking in revenues a few months ago.” He maintained that $155,000 is an extremely low monthly burn rate for a live-streaming startup, which is undoubtedly true. But he also said that next month the site will extend its revenue-sharing program to all its users, which will take a chunk out of any potential profits going forward.
So can a network of YouTube stars live-broadcasting to their most dedicated fans be a successful business? I doubt it. The only advantage BlogTV really has over its competitors is if it can stay in business longer by saving on expenses and using its moderation system to not get tainted by tragic events like the Justin.tv live-streamed suicide. But I think rewarding loyal fans is one of the Internet’s biggest opportunities. BlogTV is pioneering something that will soon be commonplace.