With all due respect to John Cleese, who identified “9 works of comedy genius hiding on YouTube” back in August for Cracked, I think the funniest comedians on YouTube can be found on The Monty Python Channel. Now, I’ve been a “far too silly” fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus since Oct. 5, 1969, when it first aired on the BBC while I was a junior at the University of Edinburgh. So, you can imagine my excitement when the BBC reported on Nov. 19, 2013, that the five surviving members of Monty Python will be holding a live, one-off stage show at the O2 Arena in London on July 1, 2014. And according to a press release, the reunion will contain “some of Monty Python’s greatest hits, with modern, topical, Pythonesque twists”. Obviously, I'm not the only who was looking forward to this as that show just sold out in 44 seconds! New London shows have just been announced and it's being reported that the Pythons will take their reunion on tour in 2014.
Thanks to the Absolute Radio channel on YouTube, I was able to watch “Monty Python reunion press conference 2013 - full and unedited,” which gave me the feeling that I was actually there.
Now, I’ve never met Graham Chapman, who passed away in 1989, nor can I say I’ve met John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, or Michael Palin. But I have interviewed John Goldstone, who has been collaborating with the Pythons since 1974 and is the producer of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Launch Of Monty Python YouTube Channel Increased Sales of DVDs by 23,000%
Here’s the backstory: On Jan. 21, 2009, YouTube’s Official Blog mentioned, “When Monty Python launched their channel in November, not only did their YouTube videos shoot to the top of the most viewed lists, but their DVDs also quickly climbed to No. 2 on Amazon’s Movies & TV bestsellers list, with increased sales of 23,000 percent.” That was exactly the kind of success story that I wanted to include in my book, YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day. So, I poked aimlessly about Monty Python’s channel on YouTube hoping to find the story behind the story. That’s when I discovered that one of the most viewed videos on their channel was entitled, “The Monty Python Channel on YouTube.”
It was actually more popular than “The Ministry of Silly Walks.” That didn’t seem right. So, I watched “The Monty Python Channel on YouTube” video for 2-minutes and 29-seconds and then read the information about the channel. One was a close imitation of the language and thoughts of the other. Basically, the Pythons said:
For 7 years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube. Now the tables are turned. It’s time for us to take matters into our own hands. We know who you are, we know where you live and we could come after you in ways too horrible to tell. But being the extraordinarily nice chaps we are, we’ve figured a better way to get our own back: We’ve launched our own Monty Python channel on YouTube.
No more of those crap quality videos you've been posting. We’re giving you the real thing - HQ videos delivered straight from our vault. What’s more, we’re taking our most viewed clips and uploading brand new HQ versions. And what’s even more, we’re letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there!
But we want something in return. None of your driveling, mindless comments. Instead, we want you to click on the links, buy our movies & TV shows and soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years.
In other words, The Monty Python Channel was created to identify and claim their content in videos uploaded to YouTube, using Content ID. However, The Monty Python Channel on YouTube now has more than 74.7 million views. It also has more than 261,000 subscribers.
When I emailed Goldstone some questions, he promptly emailed me back some answers. His email included an image of the Python mascot, Mr. Gumby, so I knew it was authentic.
Q&A with John Goldstone, Producer of Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Greg Jarboe: What’s your background? How did you first get involved in Monty Python’s channel on YouTube?
John Goldstone: I have been working with Monty Python over the last 39 years. I produced the three movies—Monty Python & the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life—and because we were able to keep the copyright in the movies and the 45 episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, I was able, when DVD became the primary format for home entertainment, to revisit the movies and TV shows and give them a whole new life both technically and with a considerable amount of new content. As the power of DVD started to recede, it was time to review our digital strategy, and apart from initiating a program of making the titles available for digital download, we felt the time had come to deal with the “YouTube problem.” On the one hand, we were surprised at the number of clips that had been uploaded to YouTube in clear infringement of our copyright, and while we didn’t want to be spoilsports, it was getting pretty much out of control and we could see no real benefit. So, I arranged a trip to meet the YouTube guys on the Google campus in San Jose and discovered that they had a program that would enable us to have our own Monty Python channel on YouTube where we could put up clips from the movies and TV shows of far greater quality and order that might also encourage viewers to want to see whole movies or TV episodes via links to Amazon and iTunes and expand our Monty Python fan base.
Greg Jarboe: Who is your target audience?
John Goldstone: Because Monty Python has been around for almost 44 years, there are possibly now six generations of Monty Python fans around the world, so it wasn’t a question of targeting but more about letting YouTube do its miraculous thing and bring its very wide audience into our net.
Greg Jarboe: Did you optimize your videos for YouTube?
John Goldstone: We gave each clip as much cross reference as possible to make the search that much easier.
Greg Jarboe: What is the most compelling video content on Monty Python’s channel?
John Goldstone: Certainly one of the most compelling, viewed, and discussed is the introduction video we created for the launch of the channel. I had written the mission statement for the channel, which became the commentary for the introduction video, and we drew on interviews with the Pythons to tell the story.
Greg Jarboe: What is your channel strategy? How much effort was focused on Monty Python’s channel on YouTube versus PythOnline? Will it change going forward?
John Goldstone: We have been developing PythOnline, which Eric Idle started in 1996, from its original form into a more interactive, user-generating platform and are about to go for a full launch of the MashCaster, which the folks at New Media Broadcasting Company who manage PythOnline for us have developed as a downloadable software program that enables Terry Gilliam–type animation to be created, shared, broadcast, and uploaded on PythOnline and of course YouTube. User-generated content is therefore a big part of our future direction.
Greg Jarboe: In addition to creating compelling video content, have you engaged in any outreach effort with the YouTube community or bloggers?
John Goldstone: So far we have preferred to provide new content on a regular basis to which YouTube subscribers to the Monty Python Channel are automatically alerted.
Greg Jarboe: What production challenges have you faced and overcome? Are there any tips or tools that you used to get videos uploaded?
John Goldstone: Maintaining high-definition quality has been the biggest challenge. Our mission statement criticized the inferior quality of so many of the clips that had been uploaded before the launch of the Monty Python Channel and we wanted to show how good they could and should be.
Greg Jarboe: Why did you take advantage of YouTube’s click-to-buy platform? Did you also use YouTube video ads?
John Goldstone: The click-to-buy ability was exactly what we were looking for to make the link from video to the right Amazon page much more effective than the URL by the side of the video description. We are only now beginning to address premium advertising, which is only possible when you can show the size, composition, and consistency of your viewers.
Greg Jarboe: How did you measure your video campaign? Do you use YouTube Analytics?
John Goldstone: The analysis tools have been very useful for identifying where in the world our viewers are, although, because our DVDs have been available in many countries of the world, we have known for some time where our major audience bases are.
Greg Jarboe: Did the Pythons create a YouTube channel just to stop their content from being released illegally on the Internet, or is this the beginning of a new chapter in the quest for Global PythoNation?
John Goldstone: It certainly started as a way to control what was going on, but the extraordinary response we got to launching our own channel has opened up broader ideas to reach and expand our audience.
That is some serious advice from a man who has been producing comedy films in England since the mid-1970s. But, perhaps I should make an appointment at the “Argument Clinic,” because I’d like to have a 5-minute argument with Goldstone about one of his statements.
He said, “There are possibly now six generations of Monty Python fans around the world.” But that’s highly unlikely for a group that’s been around for only 44 years, unless those fans are baboons. According to Wikipedia, a new generation of baboons comes along every five to eight years. So, it’s possible that six generations of baboons have been born since 1969. But let’s not bicker and argue over who begat who. If you close your eyes and just listen to the sound that a 23,000 percent increase in DVD sales is making, you can hear the cash register ring.