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Promoting Science with Web Video

by Brian Dunning, Dec 31 2009

infact150As some of you may know, earlier this year I made three pilot episodes of a new web video series called inFact. The idea was to take the content from Skeptoid and repackage it for delivery to a much broader audience. If you’re wondering what the heck brand of paint I was sniffing to imagine I might have time in my schedule to make a weekly video series, you are on the right track. Of course I don’t have time, and don’t expect to find it any time soon. Video takes an order of magnitude more time and money to produce than an audio-only podcast like Skeptoid.

Therefore, the only way to produce inFact is to take time away from my regular professional career as a consulting computer scientist. This is the kind of career change that I’m looking to make anyway, to become of a full-time science journalist and skeptical outreach professional. But being the family breadwinner, I can only make such a change when there is sufficient money in the game.

So I’ve been studying the web video landscape for some time, seeing what models are making money. It’s an easy answer. None of them are making money. There are exceptions to every rule – every financial model for web video has a few standouts who make good money – but the rule for each is that it must be done at your own risk and at your own expense. Most sponsors are not seeing a worthwhile return. Investors have shifted their venture dollars from content to infrastructure. On the plus side, it’s a dynamic arena, so much so that this paragraph will very likely be outdated very soon. But that doesn’t offer much practical assistance to those like myself, who have good content and just want to get it out there.

The default offering for such content producers is ad revenue. Video sharing sites, of which YouTube is just one of many (albeit by far the most important), offer you a pittance. Ads are overlaid, or placed in front of, your video, and you receive a small share of any ad revenue. Unless you have huge traffic because you’re a celebrity or are driven by a popular television show, you’re unlikely to get enough traffic for the ad revenue to cover your costs. I’m neither, so that does not bode well.

Skeptoid is listener supported. About one half of one percent of listeners make a voluntary 99 cent per episode recurring payment. This covers the out-of-pocket expenses for Skeptoid and some of the travel and related costs. It certainly doesn’t cover my time, but then I never expected it to; Skeptoid is done strictly outside of business hours. I’ll ask the same for subscribers to inFact, most of whom I expect to come from outside the Skeptoid listenership. inFact will be enrolled in all the ad revenue programs, but it will also be offered as a video podcast so it can be downloaded through iTunes. As of this writing, those downloads are ad-free (and thus revenue-free); so it’s that market from whom I hope to get some viewer support.

You’ll see the new first season of 13 episodes of inFact appear early in the first quarter of 2010, unless something changes between now and then. When you do, it will be most widely distributed through ad supported channels. It will also be available for ad-free distribution as a video podcast. I fully expect that the first season will be produced at a near-total loss, but these are the kind of first steps that everyone needs to take if we’re going to find a profitable model. Yes, this was a difficult decision to make, and yes, I do have domestic support, if you know what I mean.

When inFact appears, I hope you’ll subscribe and enjoy it, but mostly I hope you’ll share it with others. It should be ideal for schools for all ages, and I promise there won’t be a single episode that you wouldn’t show to your mother. Listen to Skeptoid, or watch SkepticBlog, for further announcements. As I always say, supportive viewers and listeners are the critical link in the chain for spreading the value of critical thinking to those out there who need it most.

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8 Responses to “Promoting Science with Web Video”

  1. Scott Carnegie says:

    Good luck Brian, look forward to the series, and let me know if you can usesome help

  2. Anika Jules says:

    I can’t wait for inFact to come out!

    I posted all the pilots on my Facebook already. I’ve also burnt several Skeptoid CDs and given them to my family and friends.

    Thank you Brian for all your hardwork! I’m sure it will pay off.

  3. Dave says:

    I have used “Here be Dragons” on two years worth of Waldorf (!) HS students. I owe you twenty bucks, so I’ll throw that in to the new video series. Thanks, Brian.

  4. Carl says:

    Brian,

    Look into educational grants. inFact is exactly the sort of thing good science teachers need and some grant organizations would recognize this.

  5. Jason M says:

    I’m also looking for forward to InFact, good to hear you have domestic support for the project at least; making profit on the Internet is a tricky game.

  6. Joshua Hunt says:

    I’ll certainly watch and share with everyone I know! Good luck Brian!

  7. A.L. says:

    Your podcast is enough for me, but YouTube needs images – good luck with that! imho, you should make more high-profile appearences if possible – I hadn’t heard of you before your “Missing cosmonauts” talk on the Chaos Computer Club’s 26C3 conference. Being better known results in more site hits and more money, ergo you should do your best to become famous. ;) Real money, or at least a decent return, are (apparently) only to be had from mainstream media. “Bad Science” blogger Ben Goldacre, a British doctor, writes a column in the “Guardian” and is a successful book author, but maybe you already know him better than I do.
    Best of wishes.

  8. Joergon says:

    As a computer programmer myself, I really admire the amount of time you spend in your sceptical endeavours, when you could be using that time to substantially line your wallet instead.

    I liked the inFact videos, and am really glad to hear you will be making more. I think you are doing very well by having an audio podcast, books, and blogging, but video is an area I think you could do very well in too. I’ve seen ‘dragons’ and ‘inFact’, and some of your other videos on your YouTube account, and I think you do well on screen.

    I strongly agree with a previous poster who suggested looking for grants from foundations or other groups, although this would likely limit your ability to profit in the area they sponsor, it should at least limit the costs, and hopefully with more exposure you could start making more money in other areas like books. I don’t know how your relationship is with JREF, but perhaps they could help. The Randi videos have not been so regular since his illness, so maybe they would sponsor some videos to help fill that gap.

    The best of luck to you, I’m sure you have some great ideas, and I hope they all come to fruition.