If we’re not friends on Twitter, you probably haven’t heard from me in awhile (since December to be exact, so happy new year?) With COVID-19 dominating the first half of 2020, wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t miss me that much.
To my new subscribers, I use this newsletter to explore the worlds of new media, content-driven commerce, the creator economy, & various other rabbit holes related to consumer & internet culture.
Every few months or so, I like to reset my approach to writing to keep things fun. And the quarantine presents an opportunity to hopefully get back into a rhythm.
If you have a strong point of view on anything I share, definitely reach out! Instead of a “request for startups”, I prefer to view this as a “request for conversation.”
This edition covers:
why there is no black Barstool
why I’m revisiting the cyberpunk era
Why There is No Black Barstool
Fresh off a ~$100M revenue year & major investment from Penn National Gaming (which valued the company at $450M), Barstool Sports is proving what a success story could look like for modern media brands.
Yes Coronavirus is taking a major toll on them. However, Barstool’s personality-driven, comedic nature should help at least maintain audience engagement online while everyone waits in quarantine for sports to be back.
Stoolies might come for the sports, but they stay for the personalities.
So if Barstool is actually a comedy brand disguised as a sports & pop culture commentary company, why isn’t there a comparable for fans of black culture?
There are TONS of hilarious black internet personalities with followings. It seems like after witnessing Barstool’s success, a few would come together and attempt to replicate the model with their own twist.
After reflecting on this for months, my main observation comes down to a difference in the core of their content & commentary styles - sketches vs. unscripted.
Sketches vs. Unscripted
Barstool personalities are unmatched at creating relatable content & moments in real time. Their core has evolved into multiple talk shows per week with daily blogs, tweets, & short form videos from their 69 personalities. And their network of 50+ branded, college, & city related Instagram accounts is nothing to sneeze at.
They’re always on, unscripted, unfiltered. You quickly get to know their opinions about basically EVERYTHING because they never stop talking. Their entire brand feels like a group chat of ongoing dialogue that happens to be funny. Then they create IP & merchandise inspired by their conversations (i.e. #saturdaysarefortheboys, Zillion Beers, etc)
One recent example of their real-time nature is hiring a “meme lord” to attack public opposers of Barstool with a barrage of targeted, live action” memes on Twitter.
Deke Zucker @Barstool_Quotes"@Vindog56 has home made memes. They're incredible." -- Dave Portnoy on @PicksCentral "They're not memes!" -- @BarstoolBigCat "Maybe some people will start using them. Memes have to start somewhere!" -- Dave
In contrast, many of the most popular black internet personalities & comedians built their followings by focusing on creating funny relatable sketches that while low budget, can be more challenging to maintain & monetize at scale.
However, the closest example of a grassroots, sketch-driven comedy group that could build Barstool for black culture is the YouTube collective RDCWorld.
RDCWorld, which stands for Real Dreamers Change the World, was founded by Mark Phillips & Affiong Harris in 2012. The original goal was to create Japanese-style comics & eventually their own anime shows. After struggling to break into the industry and gain traction, they decided to begin creating anime-inspired sketches instead on YouTube. They’ve since grown to 6 members + one person that runs operations.
If you’re unfamiliar, I suggest watching their Before They Were Famous video linked above. But to summarize, they’re probably the first & biggest YouTube group to create content for fans interested in anime, hip hop, sports, & gaming.
Black Culture & Anime
Black culture’s affinity for Japanese anime & streetwear is well documented by a number of today’s biggest rappers. But excluding The Boondocks, there really hasn’t been a strong media brand to authentically speak to this growing audience.
Kanye tweeting about anime back in 2011
From personal experience, anime was always a secret interest for many black kids growing up in the 2000s. Most wouldn’t display their interest publicly because it was considered childish & nerdy.
The emergence of RDCWorld’s community of 3.3M+ subscribers is proving that it isn’t such an obscure interest after all.
Comparing Barstool & RDCWorld
Here are all the ways their origins remind me of Barstool:
Founded in a city not known for entertainment. RDCWorld started in Waco, TX. Barstool was started in Milton, MA.
Took years to build. RDCWorld’s original idea (creating mangas) didn’t work and it took 5 years to reach 1M subscribers. Barstool evolved from a sports betting newspaper to an online blog & took 13 years to hit $5M in annual revenue.
They’re both satirical brand builders, just different formats. RDCWorld started hitting their stride with videos like NBA Finals Lockeroom & When People Take Anime Too Far and have since become known for their multi-part series like Anime House, Black Avengers, Video Game House, & The Last Hoodbender. Nearly every Barstool sub-brand and merch design is a parody or satire.
Major sports identity. Even if you’ve never heard of RDCWorld, you’ve most likely come across their NBA Finals sketches or more recently this one. Last year they signed a deal with sports media company House of Highlights to produce The Supreme Dreams Sketch Comedy Show on YouTube.
Can draw large crowds in real life too. RDCWorld started an anime convention called Dream Con in 2018. In their first year, they got 1K+ people to show up to Waco. Barstool built a large college presence by throwing a mini concert tour in the northeast (3K tickets per event) & eventually the Blackout Tour in 2011.
As far as differences - because they’re sketch-driven, RDCWorld publishes at a much lower volume than Barstool. Each member has a following, but Mark is really the only individual within the group that creates content consistently beyond their YouTube skits. Barstool bloggers on the other hand, tweet daily between their podcast shows & always have the camera rolling.
RDC’s content definitely leans on the anime side, which limits opportunity to publish real-time commentary like in live sports.
And finally, Barstool has an uncanny ability of identifying new personalities to bring on to their platform. RDCWorld has collaborated with names like Caleb City & Berleezy, but have been hesitant to add more members to the brand.
Sketch Comedy Economics
I reviewed all of RDCWorld’s publicly available sponsorship activity and estimate that they probably generated between $1-2M last year:
70% Brand Sponsorships & YouTube Ads
30% Events (Dream Con), Merchandise, & Appearances
They usually post about 3-4 YouTube videos on a good month. Usually one of these videos is sponsored, which I’d assume is worth ~$40K considering mobile gaming companies tend to pay higher CPMs.
RDCWorld is currently in the hits-driven business, but they don’t have a consistent way to capture the value of going viral. The longtail of their videos tend to be less than 3 minutes, which limits the potential for ad monetization.
And their most in demand, 10min+ sketches & short films consistently perform well but require more time & work to make. This extra effort doesn’t necessarily equate to that much more revenue.
They might get a bump in YouTube Adsense, but this seems risky considering it doesn’t take much for YouTube to demonetize a video.
The only direct monetization RDCWorld’s funnel really leads to is merch, which was only promoted a few times last year.
Barstool Podcast Economics
Now let’s assume the costs to produce a short-form skit & a long-form podcast are comparable, and the CPM is $25.
If Barstool’s top podcast Pardon My Take (1-2hrs) generates around 1 million downloads per episode, gets published 3 times per week, and they read 4 ads per show, that’s $15M+ alone annually, not even including merchandise sales driven from it.
These are estimates and I could be way off. But generally speaking, podcast & talk show formats seem to present more lucrative economics for monetization.
It seems to me that RDCWorld could at minimum double their business by expanding into a podcast next, considering they already publish a debate series on YouTube called Back & Forth - which gets over 300K views per episode.
This is just one example, but I’m sure there are reasons why RDCWorld hasn’t expanded into more monetizable formats yet. Do younger generations really listen to talk shows? Skits clearly get more engagement. And without commutes or gyms, podcast streams are down.
Are there other examples of popular podcasts & talk shows in black culture? Well, there’s The Breakfast Club, The Joe Budden Podcast, Bodega Boys, & Complex’s Everyday Struggle show. Then there are shows like Red Table Talk on Facebook Watch. Even Barstool brought on Million Dollaz Worth of Game this year.
I don’t have the numbers, but the people I see raving about these are usually older millennials. Even if a podcast isn’t a big performer for RDCWorld’s demo yet, it would give them an outlet to mature with their audience once they are, similar to how Barstool grew with college-aged students.
Maybe it’s a distraction from their end goal of making movies & shows for platforms like Netflix. I just don’t see them continuing to enjoy making sketches in their 30s.
Media Diet - Cyberpunk
Since most of my media diet as an adult has been YouTube & other free online sources, I’ve found myself having to “catch up” on the iconic films I watched as a child but never fully appreciated.
I’m a big thriller & coming-of-age fan, but the first genre I’ll be revisiting is cyberpunk. This documentary by YouTube creator Indigo Gaming was a great place to start my deep dive.
Never realized RoboCop was set in Detroit, or that there was a Kickstarter campaign to have an 11 foot statue of him built here either. The comparison of Max Headroom in the 80s to a Twitch streamer today was also super interesting.
I guess you can say I’m prepping for this year’s highly anticipated release of Cyberpunk 2077.
That’s all for now, thanks for reading. Until next time!
- Aaron 💭