Learning how to do things can be challenging and complicated, but with the rise of online and mobile video, it's become easier to learn by watching instructional video content. The old adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words," holds true for videos, which can teach us specific skills and techniques that plain text just can't do. Research shows that we learn and retain information best when we can see and hear instructions, rather just reading them. New York-based media company Howcast has built a successful business creating and distributing high-quality instructional video content, and has seen explosive growth in that market. We caught up with with Jason Liebman, CEO and Co-founder of the two year-old company at Streaming Media East, to learn more the instructional video market, and why Howcast thinks every company look at themselves as a media company.
Howcast was founded in 2008 by Liebman and two other colleagues – Daniel Blackman and Sanjay Raman— and are ex-Google employees who worked on Google Video and YouTube. At Google, Liebman played a key role in growing strategic media partnerships for the YouTube, Google Video and AdSense teams, with major media companies, including Time Warner, News Corp, Viacom, Warner Music, Sony Pictures, Reuters, The New York Times, and the Washington Post Company.
Liebman says that the idea for Howcast was born while he and his co-founders were at YouTube and saw that most of the how to content was in text format. They saw a real opportunity to build a media company focused on informational reference content, specially how to content. Their goal was to create the largest and highest-quality library of "how-to" videos and push that content out everywhere.
According to Liebman, Howcast sees itself as a next-generation media company. With offices in New York and San Francisco, he and his management team – that includes his sister Darlene Liebman as VP of Production – has grown the company to be a dominant player in the "how to" video space by expanding its Distribution Network to major video portals, growing its content partnerships, and launching with mobile apps across all smartphone platforms including, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android, along with new WAP site, m.howcast.com, optimized for mobile browsers. Howcast's mobile apps have been installed by over 2 million people to date.
Howcast has over 200,000 instructional videos in its library, and 5,000 of those are original Howcast productions. The topics range from 'How to Make a Margarita' to 'How to Paint a Wall.' In terms of popular videos, it's not surprising that people are interested in sex. 'How To Kiss With Passion' is its most popular video on YouTube with 22.5 million views, followed 'How To Have Better Sex' and 'How to Have Sex in the Office and Not Get Caught.' But two of Liebman's personal favorites include, 'How to Survive a Bear Attack' featuring claymation figures and 'How To Make a Shot Glass Out Of Ice'. Beyond the web and mobile devices, Howcast's videos can be seen at 30,000 feet, featured on Virgin Air's Red on-demand network and also at the gas pump through its partnership with Pumptoo TV.
Howcast offers a range of services for brand marketers and businesses, site publishers, content providers and since its launch it's provided opportunities for independent filmmakers to become Howcast producers its Emerging Filmmakers Program, and pays filmmakers on a tiered rate from $50 to $300 dollars per video.
Liebman outlined a number of reasons why instructional how-to video content is important:
"Number one. Demand. So consumers are actually looking for this content, and the supply wasn't there. So our goal is to create library of very high-quality, informative, engaging content to meet those consumer demands. The second piece. Advertisers, and all sorts of organizations are looking to create a lot of high-quality content that goes beyond traditional 30-second ads – which is historically, what most video content has been created – so, we're helping organizations scale high-quality content at a low cost. And then also get distribution of that content."
The distribution and uses cases he cited include: brand building campaigns, customer support and e-Commerce experiences, social media campaigns. Howcast is seeing an increased need for video for all these different use cases, and suggests that every company look at itself as a media company. Liebman advises brands to have a social media strategy to support the distribution of their content to all these destinations. Core to that strategy is having good content to engage your audience and create conversation around it.
"If you maybe run a campaign where you're investing to get a million fans on Facebook, What is the goal? What do you actually do with those million fans? So what you do with them is keep them engaged or it's not worth the investment to get them in the first place."
Now, more than two years old Howcast is looking to the future by building its platform with more content distribution and licensing deals. Howcast is one of four companies that partnered with YouTube in the recent alpha launch of its new live-streaming product. Howcast steamed three live segments that gave an inside look into digital filmmaking, flashy magic tricks, and cooking tutorials. It was a huge success, says Howcast, and it's looking at ways to integrate the live stream platform into their overall content creation and distribution strategy, and the services it provides to its brand marketers and partners. Howcast believes that viewers are growing more comfortable with and interested in live content broadcasts. According to industry research from ComScore, over the past year, viewers watching live-streaming content grew nearly 650% to 1.4 billion minutes.
Liebman shared a few parting thoughts on how best to use video for your business:
"Everyone knows that video is big today, YouTube has become this big platform. I think the challenge is that since this all happened so quickly, the question is, what do you do? So a lot of the conversations we have with CMOs and other decision makers within big organizations is saying to people, 'We know we need to do something, what do we do? So, we're big believers in baby steps and testing a lot, and making sure that you think of video in a very creative way that otherwise might have through about. That again, is about making sure you have a really good YouTube brand channel, you're having content that's going to live on your Facebook fan page. If you have content on destination sites and your own site, make sure you're creating a great environment."
About Howcast Media
Howcast empowers people with engaging, useful how-to information wherever, whenever they need to know how. From How to Paint a Wall and How to Build a Snow Cave to How to Smart Mob, Howcast streams tens of millions of videos every month across its multi-platform distribution network. In addition to creating a library of valuable how-to information, Howcast also offers an array of custom video solutions for content providers, site publishers, and marketers. Launched in 2008, Howcast is led by a senior management team with backgrounds in traditional and new media, including alumni of Google, YouTube, Yahoo!, and NewsCorp, with offices in San Francisco and New York. To learn more, visit howcast.com, and keep up with Howcast on Twitter, Facebook, and our blog.