Benny and Rafi Fine, better known as the Fine Brothers, produce, direct, and write comedy videos for YouTube. The duo’s primary YouTube channel currently has nearly two million subscribers, ranking them 7th in comedy and 31st across all of YouTube, In 2012, the Fine Brothers won an Emmy for Best Viral Video Series for their “Kids React” video series, which features children reacting to popular videos. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn, the brothers currently live in Los Angeles. Older brother Benny recently spoke with NYER’s Michelle Court about starting with small ideas, engaging your social media audience, and the future of online video.
Michelle Court: How did you get started creating online video?
Benny Fine: We made a live action feature in the year 2000 that got into some small comedy film festivals. At the time, we thought we were going to make a feature every year and try to break into Hollywood via film festivals, but we realized it was going to be impossible for two brothers, starting to leave the Orthodox Jewish community and knowing no one in the film community, to make it in the more traditional sense.
About a year after that, we decided that the future was going to be the internet. We grew up with the early internet and had email at a young age, so we saw it as an opportunity to find an audience, before we ever could have predicted it was going to become what it’s now become. In late 2003, we got our first website. By 2004, we had our first web video up. That was before YouTube; before you really could embed anything. The idea was to break up feature films into 10- to 15-minute chunks and then showcase that we can build an audience of people watching us. We thought it was the discoverability tool that will launch us back into traditional film. Instead, a whole business built around us, and we ended up being pioneers because we were there so early.
MC: What’s your advice for companies who want to market themselves better on YouTube?
BF: Depending on what you’re doing, you can really leverage YouTube in different ways. If you’re looking to just get promotion for something you’re doing, you can find a way to organically work with people that are the real influencers in a much different way than doing something on television, for example, where there’s no one-on-one interaction with the creator. It’s integrating with someone who has millions of subscribers that listen to them. I think the future of scripted content is getting rid of the divides between actor, creator, and viewer, to make them feel like they know you and that you are talking to them directly. If you have a personal connection with people, they’re going to want to support it. How do you make people who buy your product or work with your business personally feel connected to you? I think there are innovative ways to do that.
MC: What do you do to engage your social media audience?
BF: Consistency is a pivotal thing in what we do. If you talk to any full-time YouTube creators, they’ll all tell you the same thing: that you reach a level of success, and then you can’t stop. There’s this perpetual nature because of how quickly things change online. And frequency is important, so your audience knows when you’re posting, and then knows you’re going to be there engaging with them on those particular days. Then there’s integrating them into the content, where you’re actually asking them questions and involving them in the creation of your content. In our most popular series, our “React” series, every single episode ends with them asking the viewer, “What should we watch next?” And we pick topics based on that.
MC: Where do you see the future of video going, next year, in the next five years, and beyond that?
BF: I hope that it’s going to be heading to a place where advertisers, brands, and companies start really understanding that there is real audience that is valuable, arguably more than the audience has been valuable before. Right now there’s still a lot of apprehension and confusion over what exactly is going on, on a place like YouTube, with all this viewership. And the fact that there are so many of us that can actually tout that we get 30 to 40 million views a month, yet we are monetizing on pennies compared to Hulu or television. There needs to be some type of watershed moment where that starts being realized.
So I would hope that it’s going to get to a place where the support, ad dollars, and partnerships that can be created from the audiences that so many of us have built, can actually start leading to bigger, sustainable businesses. Because right now, for the most part, all of us are—have to stay—very small. We only can grow so much because the ad dollars and the back-end revenue is only so much right now. But if that goes up 20 percent, even 30 percent, it can turn us into a multimillion-dollar business literally overnight.
Michelle Court is the managing editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.