Getting an email from a YouTube multi-channel network (MCN) can be flattering and exciting.
The prospect of working with a company to grow your channel and earn more money is naturally appealing but unfortunately not all the networks have your best interests at heart.
This guide should help you get the most out of your network and avoid the charlatans that may reach out to you. Now heed our warnings!
It’s all about the money
Let’s be absolutely clear about one thing: MCNs are in it for the money.
Google takes 45% of your YouTube advertising revenue and you keep 55%. MCNs take a slice of your remaining 55% – sometimes as much as 30% of it.
Before you sign a contract make sure you understand what the MCN going to do for you, in return for handing over some of the money you are doing all the hard work to earn.
Do your research
Sometimes networks tell you things to impress you, that actually might not mean anything. “One network told me they would promote my channel to a wide audience on their Twitter page,” recalls Chris Foxx. “They had 72 followers.”
Always investigate the MCN you’re thinking of joining. It’s a good idea to check out the network’s reputation on social media. Search for YouTube videos about the MCN you want to join. There are often unhappy customers who have uploaded informative rants.
And if your research doesn’t uncover much, don’t be afraid to ask around. “Ask other YouTubers about their experience with the MCN, find out what they think of it and whether they would recommend it,” suggests Laura Bubble.
Find out how many channels they manage
Some MCNs sign up as many channels as they can get, even very small channels, and take a cut of the advertising revenue. In business this is called the long tail game. Even earning just £1 from each channel soon adds up to thousands of pounds a month for doing no work at all.
It’s brutal, but this is a game that a lot of networks play. Unless you’re pulling in millions of views a month, it’s possible that this is what the MCN has in mind for you.
Ask MCNs how many channels they manage and be cautious if they refuse to tell you. Websites like SocialBlade can provide some of this information.
Chris believes content creators should be wary of networks that manage thousands of channels. “16,000 partners may sound impressive, but you need to consider if a network with that many members is going to pay you any individual attention at all,” he says.
Find out if they have any big names
Does the MCN manage any YouTubers that you recognise? Email them and ask what they think of their MCN. Even big YouTube stars can get trapped in contracts they’re unhappy with.
It can be reassuring to see well-known YouTubers on an MCN’s roster but bear in mind that these big stars will be getting a majority of the advertising deals and collaboration opportunities the MCN sets up.
Beware misleading claims
Ask for clarification if there’s anything you’re suspicious of. When Chris was approached by Planet Cameo, they claimed to be a ‘network from YouTube’, so he challenged them on it.
“YouTube’s own advice states ‘no MCN is affiliated with or endorsed by YouTube or Google’,” he says. “I mentioned that to Planet Cameo and gave them an opportunity to respond. They ignored my email.”
Don’t let an MCN dazzle you with flattery. You may get emails saying your channel is “eligible” or is “qualified” to join an MCN, or that the network is offering an “exclusive” deal. These terms are redundant because almost any channel can join an MCN.
Don’t be afraid to make demands
You’re ultimately paying an MCN to work for you, so make sure you’re getting what you want out of the agreement. Tell the network if you expect advertising brand deals, collaborations, access to a production facility or a vanity URL – and if they agree to your terms, make sure they’re written into your contract.
Some networks will refuse to amend the terms of their contract, stating that all their creators are on the same deal. Despite what they say, that is not how business works.
Get promises in writing
If they’re not willing to put it in your contract, then it’s unlikely they’ll actually do it. “If they’re claiming to get you brand sponsorship and increase your revenue then they should be able to quantify that in the contract,” explains Tom Ridgewell.
“I wouldn’t sign anything that doesn’t say ‘we guarantee to do this, by then, and if we don’t then you can leave’,” he continues.
And sometimes their promises already seem too good to be true. Chris once was told by a network that Simon Cowell was a huge fan of his videos. “A girl telephoned me and said if I joined her network she could ask stars like One Direction and Leona Lewis if they would collab with me,” he recalls.
“It goes without saying that One Direction would have said ‘no’ – so get promises like this written into your contract.”
Some other things to consider…
Does the company have a local office? Cherry Wallis told TenEighty: “I joined a network in the UK because it means I can visit them if I need to talk about something. It’s much nicer talking to somebody face-to-face. My network also provides a PO Box for me, so subscribers can send me letters. A network in the US couldn’t do that for me.”
Never give an MCN your own money. Although MCNs do take for a slice of your advertising revenue, they should never ask you to send them money up front. Be suspicious of any company that asks you to pay for photographs or a showreel before they take you on.
Check the duration of the contract. In his video Should I join a YouTube network? Hank Green says: “I would never sign a YouTube contract for more than a year. Online video changes so fast that a year is just an eternity.” Be wary of networks that refuse short contracts.
Watch out for auto-renew. Laura Bubble told TenEighty: “Some MCNs automatically renew your contract every year. Sometimes it’s better to renegotiate – a lot can change in a year.”
Ask for a trial. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask a network for a short trial period before signing a full contract. Mobile phone contracts have a cooling-off period – and networks should extend you the same courtesy.
It’s still about the money
Remember that MCNs are in it for the money. Make sure that you’re the one reaping the benefits for all your hard work. Or else, they may try to reap the benefits from you.
“One MCN that was encouraging me to join wanted 30% of my advertising revenue. In return they wanted me to make two videos a month for their collaboration channel,” recalls Chris. “They wanted me to make videos for their channel and pay them for the privilege.”
Do you even need a network?
Some of the UK’s biggest YouTube stars have not joined an MCN and continue to enjoy success on YouTube.
Tom enjoys millions of views of his sketches and cartoons every month and considers YouTube his full-time job. “My YouTube channel is my life, my livelihood, and I hate the idea of feeling like I’m not the only person in control of that,” he says.
And sometimes leaving a network can be an ordeal in itself. Tom describes the difficulty he had getting the Eddsworld YouTube channel back from an MCN after his friend and collaborator Edd Gould died. “It took months for them to release him from his contract, even after he died,” he recalls.
“They handed the channel back to me broken and it took almost three years to get ads working on the old videos.”
Either way, you won’t make as much money as you think…
Everyone assumes that YouTubers are making a lot more money than they actually are. But for Tom, the majority of his income doesn’t come from advertising revenue.
“The advertising revenue I earn is totally garbage for a channel that brings in over ten million views a month,” says Tom. “If it weren’t for merchandise sales and brand sponsorship deals it probably wouldn’t be a self-sustaining channel.”
Instead of handing over his YouTube channel to an MCN, Tom enlisted a management company called FlipSide. The company sets up advertising deals for his channel and shares the profits.
“They don’t control my channel itself or have any affect on my ad revenue, we work together on corporate sponsorships and brand growth. I’m very happy with them,” he says.
Want more advice? Check out TenEighty’s guide to copyright on YouTube. Alternatively you can read about YouTube’s new twitter support account, or find out which YouTubers joined Brett Domino for a charity single for Comic Relief.