The New Apple TV – First Impressions


Since I make my living in the online video business, I try to stay on top of what’s happening in the OTT space. (OTT is industry lingo for “Over the Top” content. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the awesome Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling movie.) So I’ve tried out or owned just about every type of box or dongle you can possibly connect to a television to access video.

Despite being Apple-centric in most areas of my life, my Apple TV has been collecting dust in a drawer for over a year now. I’ve been a loyal Roku user for several years now. Roku’s are cheap, easy to use and they have had channels for years. I love Roku and it’s always been my top recommendation when people ask me about this stuff.

Now, I’ll be recommending the new Apple TV.

Since I had already pretty much written off Apple TV, I didn’t pay attention to any of the new features when it was announced. It wasn’t even a blip on my radar. But then I started to get lots of emails from companies asking if we wanted them to build an Apple TV channel for us.

I ignored all of the emails until our pals at VHX reached out, excited about the potential of creating a channel for Yoga With Adriene. They were willing to do all the work if we willing to be their first guinea pig. We went for it and they not only did an awesome job, they turned the channel around fast and we were in the first batch of channels to launch on the platform.

Since all this was happening I decided I needed to get a new Apple TV so I could see how everything was working.

. . .

AppleTV First Impressions


There are already a ton of detailed tech-site reviews that go into lots of detail about the device itself.

  • It’s a little bigger (and taller) than the previous version. It’s a black box, nothing flashy.
  • The remote control has been completely re-designed and now has a click-able touch interface. It feels good?—?like a really tiny iPhone. The only real design flaw is that the buttons are positioned perfectly in the center so if you’re not looking it’s easy to miss which part of the device is actually the front.
  • The interface is now very iOS-like. There’s nothing new to learn. The black background is gone and everything is white and shiny. There’s also a 3-D effect so if you hover over something it wiggles. I also really like the navigation sound effects.
  • Channels (or apps). This is the most exciting new feature for me. Now you don’t have to be a big-time Apple media partner to create a channel and make it available via Apple TV. This is a very big deal.
  • You can talk to it. There’s a microphone button that activates Siri so you can do voice searches. Unfortunately, the Siri integration is pretty limited and doesn’t seem to work fully with any of the apps yet.
  • Games! You can now play App store games on your TV. I’m not a big gamer but this is actually pretty cool.

There are a few areas with definite room for improvement, but those could easily be taken care of with incremental software updates.

The only significant thing that’s missing for me is an Amazon app and it doesn’t seem like there will be one coming soon.

My Roku has probably been phased out for good.

. . .

What the Apple TV could mean for Video Creators

I think the new Apple TV is going to be a big success. It feels like an integrated piece of the bigger Apple ecosystem. It also feels like Apple is really going to promote it.

So if it does become a big deal, what does that mean for video creators?

  1. It’s now easier than ever to find, buy and rent movies (and other video content through iTunes). Apple is already the market leader in this area and this is going to make them even bigger. I just got started last night and have already made a couple of impulse purchases that were served up as search results.
  2. You can now have your own channel?—?and monetize it if you want to. We’re using a subscription model but it’s also possible to offer In-App purchases. Our channel is only scratching the surface of what is possible and now that we’ve actually seen how this thing works we’ll be making lots of changes and improvements. There is some amazing potential here.
  3. Depending on your subject matter, this could be a better way to reach your audience than YouTube. Are your videos a perfect fit for a computer screen or phone?—?or would they work much better on a TV screen? Up until now, we’ve been optimizing most of our content specifically for the types of things that would work well in the YouTube ecosystem?—?short, search optimized “lean forward” videos. Now we are branching out into long-form “lean back” programming.

For the past few years we’ve been inching closer and closer to TV over the internet and while it’s not perfect?—?this really does feel like the best solution available right now.

So those are my initial thoughts after less than 24 hours with the new Apple TV. I really like it and I can’t wait to to see how indie filmmakers and video creators are going to take advantage of the platform.

New Community for Video Creators

Video Pros Community

I just started a brand new free community for online video creators and producers. This is not a group to promote your stuff and it’s not for people who are half-assing it. If you’re a serious about online video and have been looking for other like-minded people to connect with – check it out.

We’ve Been Making YouTube Videos for over 5 Years!

Hilah Cooking 5 year anniversary

When I decided to start making videos for the internet, I didn’t have an amazing plan in place. In fact I had no plan. Other than the video production side of things, I really had no idea what I was doing. But I was fascinated by the possibilities of creating videos for YouTube.

So we went for it. We figured things out as we went along. We made lots of new friends. It became our full-time job.

Now, we’ve been making videos for YouTube (primarily) for over 5 years. Pretty crazy. This anniversary made me realize that I’ve been making Hilah Cooking videos longer than I’ve actually held down any of the “real” jobs in my career.

The anniversary also drove home the fact that I was feeling a little bit burned out. So was Hilah. As of January 1st 2015, we had made 375 videos for the Hilah Cooking channel. That doesn’t include all the videos we’ve made for companies like Tastemade and Ulive.

Since the beginning, I had been obsessed with creating the perfect show format. A format that was quick to produce and that could almost be automated. We made small tweaks to the format over time but had pretty much turned the operation into a video making machine. We did everything exactly the same way every time we shot and could produce the episodes very quickly. This allowed us to at times launch 3 videos per week.

This is something I always recommend people do when developing a format for their show.

It works. But we had lost the creative energy that was so exciting when we first started out.

Last summer, we cranked up the “machine” and got way ahead of schedule so that we could take a few months of baby vacation. For most of that time, we seriously thought that we might have reached an end point. That we were done making new videos. We would leave the channel up but concentrate on the website and on Hilah’s opportunities as on-screen talent for other companies. We definitely had lost the passion for making more “stand-and stir” videos.

As we mulled over the decision, it didn’t feel quite right to just stop. We had spent 5 years building and cultivating this thing. We loved the community that had developed around the show. And we still loved making videos together. Just not the videos we had already made hundreds of.

So instead of quitting, we’ve decided to break the channel.

Here’s a video that tells the story of how Hilah and I got started on YouTube and where we plan on taking Hilah Cooking in the future.

7 Ways to Make YouTube More Awesome For Creators


Last week the my inbox and social media feeds got absolutely hammered with articles about how YouTube makes $4 Billion dollars but isn’t profitable and is probably in big trouble because Vessel is going to be huuuuuuge.

Since I’ve been following James Altucher’s daily practice of writing down 10 ideas every day, my mind immediately shifted to thinking of things YouTube could to do make their service more awesome (and profitable).

Before I get started with my awesome ideas on how YouTube could make more money, let me just say… I love YouTube.

If I hadn’t started making YouTube videos, I would still be sitting in a cubicle like a chump for 8 hours a day wondering if my after-work trip to the liquor store was going to cause any over draft fees. I am not exaggerating when I say that making videos on YouTube has completely changed my life.

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters if YouTube loses money. It is of such cultural importance right now that Google should just be focused on not screwing it up. I know everybody is excited about Facebook Video and Twitter Video and instaVideo and Vessel and whatever the next YouTube killer is, but let’s keep our eye on the ball, people.

For internet video, YouTube is where it’s happening.

Here is my “wish list” for YouTube. Most of these are geared towards people who are using YouTube professionally but all of them could work towards building more revenue streams and increasing the amount of time viewers spend on-site.

  1. Easier Way To Promote Videos. I know lots of creators would be more than willing to pay money to promote their videos via paid advertising on YouTube. But the system is wayyyyyy too complicated. Create something similar to the Facebook BOOST feature. Make it ridiculously easy to boost a video and creators will use this like crazy.
  2. Paid Verification System— Creators spend way too much time filing copyright complaints. Let creators pay YouTube for a “seal of approval.” This seal of approval would give channels an extra edge in the ContentID system. When I report stolen content?—?which I have to do every week?—?my tickets would be escalated. This would also give my channels an edge when they are falsely reported for using content I have the rights to use. Speeding up the process for resolving these disputes and false flags could save creators thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
  3. Built-in Transcription and Closed Captioning Service. Bolt a service on to your existing Captions feature that would allow creators to pay to have the videos professionally transcribed. Right now just about everybody sends their videos to Speechpad or Fiverr for transcriptions. I would pay more to be able to click a button and not have to worry about it again. Plus, making it easier to have high quality closed captions is just the right thing to do.
  4. Let Viewers Subscribe to Shows (not just channels). Right now the whole YouTube ecosystem is based on channels. But lots of channels have different shows running on them. If viewers had the option to subscribe to shows rather than just channels, it would create an infinitely better viewing experience. It would also allow creators to experiement with different types of content on the same channel without the worry of alienating their regular audience.
  5. Viewer Dashboard. If you want viewers to come to YouTube and stick around, give them more options to see what they really want. Create an awesome viewer homepage that people can customize with the shows and channels they really want to see. You could still save a slot for promoted and recommended posts. Your alogorithms could probably even serve these up even more effectively with all the additional user data.
  6. Give Channels More Customization Options. Right now creators are focused on getting their viewers off of YouTube and onto their own sites. It’s a lot of extra work, but the current channel options are so limited there is really no other choice. Let creators turn their channels into mini-sites. Give us an incentive to drive more traffic to YouTube rather than to our own websites. Let me give people bonus content for subscribing. Bring back the feature where I could include a little advertisement on my channel pages. This is another service I would happily pay lots of money for.
  7. YouTube for Business. Similar to the Google Apps for Work, a white-label version of YouTube would be amazing. The infrastructure is already there, but it would be amazing to have business class features on top of it. I’m already paying for Vimeo and Wistia for my projects that are off-YouTube. But it would be great to have some of those high end features on top of YouTube’s streaming infrastructure.

Not all of these ideas will be for everybody, but they are all things I would implement right away.

Thanks for indulging my early morning brainstorming! What new features do you think would make YouTube a better place?

How to Get Lucky


Things have been a little quiet here since the launch of YouTube Black Book. That’s because I have been on “paternity leave.”

On October 28th, we welcomed our first child – Flint Dryden Sharpe – to the world. He is a healthy and happy little guy and aside from sleep deprivation, the whole experience has been amazing.

For the most part, Hilah and I have both been camped out at home. Our days have pretty much consisted of: staring at the baby, changing diapers, binge watching TV shows, taking long walks in the neighborhood and drinking occasional margaritas on the back deck while Flint takes his afternoon nap.

We’ve also welcomed a lot of visitors over to meet Flint for the first time – including a lot of friends we haven’t seen in far too long. It’s been great to catch up and get reacquainted. But, when the conversation eventually turns to how we’re spending our time these days and the fact that neither one of us has to go to work, we inevitably hear:

“You guys are sooooo lucky!”

While this is always said with the best of intentions, something about it always rubs me the wrong way. While I definitely feel fortunate, I don’t feel that luck was a major factor in getting us to where we are today.

The things that look “lucky” are really just the tip of the iceberg, and it does look pretty awesome. But what you don’t see beneath the surface is the past five years of working pretty much around the clock, fumbling along and figuring things out. Most of this work was done on nights and weekends while we were both also working full-time jobs.

We made Hilah Cooking videos for almost two years before we even turned on advertising. Once we got a tiny trickle of money, we reinvested everything back into the business. After three years, we risked going full-time and worked even harder, most of the time just scraping by financially.

While our current situation may look “lucky” – and sometimes it does feel that way to me – in reality, it was years of consistent, hard work and a sense of destiny that we would eventually figure it out.

And now things are pretty amazing.

The great thing about building online businesses is that they continue to work for you – even while you are for the most part – on vacation. Some really exciting things happened over the last few months.

  • The YouTube BlackBook is the #1 YouTube book on Amazon. It continues to sell new copies every day and the feedback from readers has been amazing. I will be launching a significant update in April, along with finally releasing it in PDF and print versions.
  • We added almost 100,000 new subscribers to the Yoga With Adriene channel. I knew January would be a good month but we have increased all of our numbers significantly. Case study coming soon, but this was a test of the “Video Traffic Engine” concept that I detail in the book.
  • Hilah Cooking has continued to grow even though we haven’t shot a new episode since last summer. The break has given us time to conceive a new creative direction that we will implement starting in March. We’re both reinvigorated and super excited. I think that excitement will be evident when you see the new videos.

I talk to people every day who are working hard on their YouTube channels. A lot of them are discouraged and feeling a little hopeless about it.

I’ve been there.

I’m nobody special and I’m not inordinately lucky. I’ve made lots of mistakes and still ended up in a very good place.

We may not be “rich” in the traditional sense but, we have something much more important: Control over our time and the freedom to do the type of work that is important and exciting to us.

To me this is far more important than money.