- April 23, 2013
The Young Turks claims the title of world’s largest online news network, and it just backed up that fact by passing 1 billions views on its YouTube channel. We recently spoke with the network’s founder and CEO Cenk Uygur to learn how the company got online news to work.
Uygur called the past few years with The Young Turks an “awesome journey”. He started TYT in his living room with “a couple pieces of radio equipment”, launching first on Sirius satellite radio in 2002 before moving online in 2005.
He added that people doubted along the way that TYT would become as successful as it has.
“It’s not often that you get to do something that people believed wasn’t possible…I feel very happy about it,” he said.
Even with the network’s ups and downs over the years, Uygur said figuring out how to make online video work has been the “most challenging and fun game” of his life.
The path to 1 billion
When I asked what the key to TYT’s success was, Uygur pointed to trial and error – what he called “one of the oldest cliches in the book.”
“Don’t be afraid to fail,” he said. “I’m probably underestimating when I say we’ve tried at least a hundred different things. We learned what worked, what didn’t work.”
Uygur also noted that the company’s decision to pour its resources into developing a YouTube audience instead of focusing on hosting videos on its own site was a crucial one.
“Back in 2005-2006, conventional wisdom was that you put things up on your own website, you don’t concentrate on portals like YouTube because it only pays you a percentage,” Uygur said.
At the time, creators were also obsessed with making a single video go viral, but the TYT team approached things differently. Callingon a baseball metaphor, Uygur said the network played for consistent hits instead of home runs. Back then, The network averaged eight videos a day.
In the end, Uygur says the strategy paid off with search engines, as TYT’s videos began ranking higher during news events.
“We wound up getting home runs anyway,” he said.
When I asked whether the Internet had changed the rules of the game, Uygur said that he hoped we’re not in a “rare moment in time” where true independent voices are able to speak up.
“I hope the media establishment doesn’t figure out how to put gatekeepers online,” he said. “Right now, you’re rewarded for speaking truth to power.”
Uygur added that the company managed to achieve a billion views because, unlike corporate media outlets, it was able to “actually tell the truth.”
“You want to talk about a competitive advantage, it doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.
The Internet provides a symbiotic relationship for TYT, according to Uygur. He said that the audience actively plays a part in producing the show by fact checking, correcting and providing feedback.
Uygur has spent time in the so-called establishment. He did a short stint at MSNBC, but it didn’t work out. He was willing to cooperate on matters of style, such as wearing a tie, but he wasn’t willing to compromise his message.
“I got the best ratings they’d ever had at six o’clock, but apparently the other considerations were more important,” he said.
Beginning in 2011, The Young Turks partnered with Current TV to produce a show for the television network, but the show is in limbo right now. Al Jazeera purchased Current at the start of this year, announcing plans to shut down Current and open up its own operation in New york.
Uygur said that wherever he works he lays out his ground rules: “If I get editorial control and we can deliver the truth, God bless; if not, sad day, we don’t deal with you.”
He continued: “It’s honestly terrific to be in a situation where you can lay down those rules. For most of my career, nobody was in a situation like that. I’d do it anyway and get fired immediately, but if we hadn’t had the Internet come up as it did, I would have just continued to get fired at different places and probably never broken through because of the gatekeepers.”
Reality’s liberal bias
We were curious whether The Young Turks’ business model would have worked regardless of political persuasion.
Uygur said there was room for different perspectives to be successful online if they serve their audience authentically, but he conceded that conservatives have a harder time online.
“As Stephen Colbert famously said, ‘Reality has a well-known liberal bias,’” Uygur quipped.
“The Internet is one giant fact-checking machine,” Uygur said. “On the Internet, you come with your BS and I wish you good luck. We embrace that. But if you’re a right winger that doesn’t believe in science or math or facts, they’re going to eat you alive.”
In contrast, Uygur views TV audiences as still being partisan, while online viewers are tired of Republican/Democrat games.
Show me the money
As for monetization, Uygur said the process was exceedingly difficult.
“I remember when we got to a million views and I was ecstatic and then I got like $10 bucks in the mail,” he joked before clarifying that it was actually probably a bit more.
TYT had to be extremely frugal with growth in order to stick with the independent online news model.
“We’re probably conservative to a fault financially. It’s not in our DNA because we’ve had to tread water for 11 years,” he said. “You’ve got to be a lot more efficient, you’ve got to be smarter with how you run your business. Time rewards those who get it right and punishes those who don’t know what they’re doing. If you’re online, you’ve got to be incredibly careful not to overspend. At the same time, you’ve got to know when to do an expansion, it’s a balancing act.”
“Money is now pouring into online video so it’s an incredibly growing field and it’s growing by leaps and bounds, not every year, but every month. If ever there was a time to invest, this is probably it. This is when you can get the most return because of the growing audience and money involved.”
TYT makes the majority of its money from YouTube. It also runs a member program on its website that grants access to extra content like podcasts and a daily post game. ”Our members kept us afloat for a long time, so we’re absolutely beholden to them. They’re integral to our success,” he said.
“[YouTube is] a very good company to partner with. We got lucky that what I believe to be the smartest company online, Google, is the one that wound up having the central hub for online video.”
What’s next for the Turks
Uygur says he’s not content just to lead the online news market: ”I have always said from day one and people thought I was nuts for saying it, but now it seems a bit more reasonable. I’ve always believed we’re going to be the top news show, period. And news network, period.”
“Let me blow people’s minds by saying, “Yes, we can be bigger than CNN,”” he added. ”We don’t have anywhere near the resources that they have at this point, but I’m working on it.”
“We’re not that far off because we’ve already conquered the biggest medium there is, period,” Uygur said, while noting that the goal could take as long as 20 years to reach.
“We just have to make sure we don’t blow it. Right now we’re in a very, very good position. We have to take advantage of it as we grow into the future…As long as we grow smart, we should be in great great shape.”
While TYT is best-known for its political commentary, the network has been expanding into other verticals as well. Both its TYT University and TYT Sports channels are already profitable.
Meanwhile, its new Pop Trigger channel about pop culture is off to a record start: ”Pop Trigger is our fastest growing show ever. They’re over 3 million views already and it’s only been five-six months. In terms of subscribers, viewers, revenues, it’s the fastest growing channel ever for us. We’re incredibly encouraged and we’re thinking of adding even more shows to Pop Trigger, more channels, more contributors. We’re definitely in expansion mode because the expansion’s going really well.”
With YouTube’s audience of more than 1 billion monthly viewers, The Young Turks is in a pretty good spot to rack up another billion views for its news network. Beating CNN is going to take some serious work, but if I were going to bet on any company going forward, I’d bet on the one that’s winning the Internet.
- February 25, 2013
The Young Turks uploaded its first video to YouTube on December 25, 2005. The liberal-progressive and self-proclaimed “first internet TV news show” was created by Cenk Uygur (here’s a videoif you need to learn how to pronounce that one), Ben Mankiewicz, Dave Koller, and Jill Pike and born out of a defunct Sirius Satellite Radio program of the same name. It’s done much better online.
In the five years, six months, and couple of weeks since the program found a new home on the internet, The Young Turks has uploaded 9,450+ videos, accumulated 250,000+ subscribers and just recently received it’s 500,000,000 view. In that time frame, Uygur also landed a hosting gig at MSNBC while Uygur and company turned The Young Turks from one left-of-center news show into a brand that now produces no less than six regularly scheduled original web series, employs 12 full-time staff members, and sees revenue upwards of $1 million per year (a threshold Uygur tells me the company stepped over eight or so months ago).
That half-billionth view and those revenue numbers are some very impressive milestones to attain, especially for a news program that’s not trying to garner eyeballs via pop culture parodies (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or by way of video titles sprinkled with the names of conventionally attractive celebrities (not that there’s anything wrong with that, either).
Given his program’s numbers, I recently caught up with Uygur over the phone to find out more about the current status of The Young Turks (the show and the company), how Uygur manages the relationship between his television show and his internet show, and where The Young Turks (again, the show and the company) is headed.
Tubefilter: You have a regular gig now on MSNBC. A lot of people in the online video world would consider that the end game, a sign that you’ve made it. So why is The Young Turks still up and running online?
Cenk Uygur: The Young Turksis the main show. The network is averaging over a million views a day. Just from a financial perspective – let alone the ability to get our your message and do something you love – you’d be crazy to stop the program.
TF: How does MSNBC feel about that?
CU: Whenever I talk to any TV executive, I say stopping The Young Turks is non-negotiable. I think the oldschool way of thinking is if you’ve made it onto TV you’ve made it. I’m not a believer in that oldschool of thought. I think online is going to be bigger and I’d much rather hold onto my online show than get caught up in dreams of television stardom.
TF: What’s the relationship like between you on MSNBC and The Young Turks? Is there any synergy there?
CU: Sure, but they don’t work together much. We promote MSNBC on The Youg Turks. We promote The Young Turks a little bit on MSNBC. We haven’t coordinated anything at this point in a significant way. So far they’re fairly distinct.
TF: Are you seeing fans cross over from one medium to the other?
CU: A lot more viewers cross over from The Young Turks to MSNBC than MSNBC to The Young Turks. I think television viewers are are a little more set in their ways. It’s a little harder to get them to try something new, whereas The Young Turks viewers are invested in the show and happy to see me on TV.
TF: Do original Young Turks fans get bragging rights since they liked you before you were on TV?
CU: Ha. I think people feel a little proud that they’re able to say, “We were TYT fans before Cenk was on TV.” Definitely. There’s a point of pride there.
TF: You said you’re getting a million views a day across all your online shows, but I know you also generate revenue through TYT Memberships that give subscribers access to special content. How’s the revenue breakdown between those two revenue streams?
CU: The lion’s share of revenue comes from YouTube. The subscribers get access to audio and downloadable podcast versions of everything we do. They’re really paying for convenience and the ability to watch or listen without the ads. About one-third of our revenue comes from those subscribers. The other two-thirds comes from advertisers and YouTube.
TF: You used to also produce a supplemental radio version of The Young Turks’ online show. What happened to that?
CU: The radio portion really was not worth the hassle. The online show is so much easier. People used to think of the online part as the add-on. Now, I think online is the real deal and the other things are the add-on. We decided with radio that it wasn’t worth it unlike being on TV, which so far we feel has totally been worthwhile.
TF: You’ve just crossed some major milestones. What’s next?
CU: Right now The Young Turks is the largest online news show in the world, but I want it eventually be the largest show in the world. Largest in any formant, in any media. It’s ambitious, I know, but I believe we can do it by being the place people come to for news all across the world.
We really want to be the preeminent online TV network or video network online. We want to create a brand. Our brand is honest truthtelling. We don’t suck up for access or for money or for advertisers. We keep it real, whether that’s in politics or entertainment or sports, and I think our audience appreciates that.
Check out Uygur and company keeping it real across their network of shows at TheYoungTurks.com.
- February 25, 2013
If you were to think of the top news and politics channel on YouTube, you’d probably think it’s one of the big boys: CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox. You’d be wrong. According to OpenSlate, a company that provides metrics and rankings for YouTube channels, the highest ranking news and politics channel is The Young Turks.
“The Young Turks” is a political talk show from Cenk Uygur first airing on Sirius Satellite Radio in 2002. A little over a year ago, it moved to Current TV. Uygur has built a formidable YouTube presence with 385,000 subscribers and more than 800 million video views. Through its YouTube Channel, “The Young Turks” has been able to have a dialogue with its fans, creating a devoted fan base, something agencies pay close attention to.
Compare this with the No. 5 outlet on this list, ABC News, which has 116,000 subscribers and 21 million monthly views. OpenSlate values areas like engagement, influence and consistency measuring the categories on a scale of 1 to 10. The Young Turks, young as they are compared to ABC, has higher ratings in those three key areas. Most notably, in the engagement arena, The Young Turks scores an 8.4, while ABC scores a 7.9.
But The Young Turk brand is still not well known among brands and agencies.
According to OpenSlate, engagement refers to how a video producer can create a “captivating experience;” influence means how a channel can push activity across an audience; consistency is a producer’s ability to replicate its success. The company also mixes in other metrics, like subscribers and monthly views. This explains why there is a mix of household names and some random content producers.
With buyers trying to reach as many people across the vast Web, OpenSlate’s metrics can help agencies and brands determine where they should be to reach more viewers. Since it’s notoriously hard to define squishy terms like engagement and influence on the Web, an algorithm can be helpful to agencies, if not to the publishers looking to find more ways to engage and influence.
Below are the top 10 channels in the News and Politics sector, based on the SlateScore. Notice how there are only three mainstream publishers in this category, ABC News, CBS and the Associated Press.
- February 25, 2013
This week, news broke that Al Jazeera had acquired Current TV, the left-leaning cable news network founded by Al Gore and Joel Hyatt that’s seemed to change its mission statement once every two years or so.
Plans for the soon-to-be-rebranded Al Jazeera America include a fresh slate of content which may not have room for previously-existing Current programming — but you know who doesn’t seem that worried about it? One of Current’s biggest personalities.
Cenk Uygur, of the nightly live series The Young Turks, came to Current after his relationship with MSNBC went south last year; since then, the opinionated host has become one of Current’s most-watched anchors.
But that’s not why Uygur seems extremely confident about his show’s potentially uncertain fate. See, The Young Turks was born initially as a radio series in 2002, then expanded to YouTube in December 2005. Currently, TYT has nearly 500,000 YouTube subscribers and over 900,000,000 views on its primary channel. Or, as Uygur puts it on Twitter:
For knucklehead conservatives making jokes about @theyoungturks because of @current sale, TYT has over 40 million views a month online.
— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) January 3, 2013
Facts: @theyoungturks network has over a billion views online, 40 mil views, 15.5 million unique viewers and 100 mil min. viewed per month.
— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) January 3, 2013
With our 15.5 million unique viewers a month online, @theyoungturks is much bigger than Rush Limbaugh and almost any cable news show on TV.
— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) January 3, 2013
These stats refer to The Young Turks‘s YouTube channel, not the Current series of the same name, which will continue for at least the next three months before the conclusion of the Al Jazeera takeover.
However, there’s been some confusion about the difference between TYT the YouTube channel and TYT the live Current show. This lead to questions about whether or not The Young Turks had been sold to Al Jazeera along with Current — questions which Uygur addressed in a video released on Thursday, frankly entitled “TYT Is Independent, Not Owned by Current or Al Jazeera.”
In the video, Uygur refers to the connection between the two iterations of the TYT brand as “a mutually beneficial relationship and we hope to continue that.” He then showed off a little bit of Arabic.
According to the New York Times, the Al Jazeera acquisition does mean that layoffs are coming for at least some Current staffers. But Uygur will still have a platform for getting his voice out — and more importantly, an audience.