Today we made some noise about a crazy ambitious, completely awesome slate of animated shows we’re bringing you in 2018, all of which will premiere exclusively for FIRST members and then become free for everyone to watch and enjoy. As we start to give you a taste of what’s to come in 2018, I wanted to give you insight into how this plan came about. What you’ll read in this post are the same points and data we’ve been discussing in meetings since September. While we won’t discuss specific numbers, this will dive into the trends that inform us.
First of all, THANK YOU for an incredible 2017, which by our measures was the most-watched year in in Rooster Teeth’s history. (Not bad for a company that will turn 15 years old this year!) We ended up producing far more content in 2017 than initially projected, mostly due to extensive use of live streams (especially from channels like GameAttack). Best of all, the additional content we produced was almost all free-to-watch. Even as we increased the total number of minutes we produced exclusively for FIRST members, our number of free-to-watch minutes skyrocketed:
A lot of content also means a lot of data. We probably learned more in 2017 than ever before about what you guys like to watch, and I was able to use that data to recommend a strategy for 2018 that does a better job of accomplishing my department’s ultimate goal: making the right content in the right place at the right time.
Below are three key things we learned in 2017 that inform the plan for 2018 and beyond.
You love it when we launch new FIRST exclusives.
Fresh content available for FIRST Members was the biggest reason people became members in 2017. Some of you like to sign up right when a new show is available; others like to jump in once a few episodes are available; and still others prefer to wait until the entire series is out so you can binge through the whole thing. Regardless, we can tell that our programming needs to continually and regularly provide new ideas.
This might seem simple enough. But for us, it dictates a way to allocate our budget that’s slightly different than what we tried in the last few years. It means we need to develop and try new ideas constantly. It means we need to expand our live action production team to be able to handle even more projects simultaneously. And it means we likely won’t earmark a large portion of our budget for a single project; instead, we can increase our spend on many projects throughout the year, increasing the total number of new FIRST exclusives, and also increasing run times and production values for all FIRST exclusives.
If you watch Let’s Play videos, you come back almost every day, or at least once per week.
Viewers of Let’s Play (the series) are a minority of our unique viewers on the whole, but these unique viewers drive a disproportionately large amount of our day-to-day traffic. That made Let’s Play our most watched series almost every month of the year. To see why, check out this sample from January – April 2017 comparing sessions from RWBY viewers and sessions from Let’s Play viewers. While RWBY is posting new episodes it’s clearly quite popular (no surprise there), but Let’s Play viewers visit RoosterTeeth.com so consistently that their total viewership in 2017 ends up being larger. This everyday habit is incredibly important to us. Our programming can help existing FIRST members come back even more often and also bring new people into the habit in 2018 and beyond.
Another data point that stood out on this subject: of the top 10 individual videos that caused people to sign up for FIRST, the majority were unscripted videos featuring talent from the Let’s Play family. This makes sense, because if you’re a fan of the Rooster Teeth brand, you’ve had almost 15 years to sign up for FIRST. Cow Chop and Sugar Pine 7 are still brand new by comparison, so their communities are filled with people who might not even be familiar with FIRST at all.
Said a different way, we’re increasingly focused on making sure when you sign up for FIRST and every time you visit RoosterTeeth.com, you’re getting something that only Rooster Teeth can give you. That includes hit shows, and we’ll continue to make those and find more. But clearly another thing to focus on is premium series featuring our awesome, ridiculous, and growing family of Let’s Play partners. We’re going to make more of those, and continue to weave a common thread between all of it.
You want us to keep experimenting.
On free-to-watch platforms in 2017, our biggest audience growth was on Facebook and Twitter, both of which reached over 1MM followers, and on Instagram, which is our second-fastest growing free-to-watch platform. Our channels on YouTube are about flat year-over-year in views, but watch time exploded: we served 2.6 BILLION more minutes in 2017 than in 2016. Chalk this up, in part, to us successfully leaning into all the changes in YouTube’s platform, the goal of which were to increase watch time across the platform. Watch time and views are generally inversely related, because the more time you spend watching a video the less time you have to click on a new one (and everyone only has 24 hours in their day).
Besides overall changes in all of these platforms in 2017, the way we used non-YouTube platforms in 2017 has another thing in common: the content we posted there was much more experimental.
If you’ve been watching Rooster Teeth consistently for the last few years, you’ve likely noticed we make a lot more high-quality series across all our platforms, but less of the standalone shorts that might have made you discover us in the first place. In 2017 we tried to address this by expanding RT Life into two or three days per week, and launching Burnie’s vlog. It worked alright, but we found the creative constraints of RT Life to be pretty limiting, and not conducive to our general goal of just making a cool video when we thought of it. The one time we really did follow our gut and make something we just thought was funny, Blaine ended up on the front page of Reddit in a video I still can't watch all the way through.
It’s clear we need to return to our roots. To do this, we created a space on RoosterTeeth.com to try new, standalone videos: The Lab. Think of it like the Achievement Hunter series inside the Achievement Hunter channel; it’s a place where we’ll post just about anything that doesn’t fit somewhere else. We might end up making multiple episodes of the types of videos that work, but these probably won’t air in consecutive weeks or days. If something from The Lab really works, we might develop it into a bigger series. Everything from The Lab will premiere on RoosterTeeth.com for FIRST members, become free to watch on RoosterTeeth.com after 24 hours, and then make its way to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or some combination of all of those. Just to be clear, we might not post these videos on all of those platforms (besides RoosterTeeth.com), might not post everywhere all at the same time, or even all in the same form. Every platform has its own best practices, and the idea here after all is to experiment. We’re also building a new team that focuses only on this, and we’ll have more to share about that in the coming months.
Thank you again for an incredible 2017. I am so energized by this community every day, and honestly, I get more excited about 2018 with every passing day – not just the programming, but our brand new platform, even bigger events, you name it! As always, I’ll be in the comments answering questions.