Multi-channel networks (MCNs) first emerged on YouTube to leverage the power and potential of the platform’s biggest channels and most influential stars. Utilizing an amalgam of practices adopted from talent agencies, marketing firms, and production companies, MCNs sought to create a new business model to help represent and service the platform’s unique talent (“YouTube influencers” or “YouTubers”).
As both YouTube and YouTubers have evolved, MCNs have attempted to evolve and meet the needs of the changing landscape, seeking to provide influencers and creators services such as digital rights management, monetization, and funding, audience growth and development, as well as collaborations and partnerships.
Below, we’ll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of YouTube MCNs and what businesses should look for when considering working with them for online video marketing campaigns.
1. Talent rosters – Some of the biggest channels and influencers on YouTube work through MCNs. For brands who want to be in business with larger influencers, MCNs oftentimes have access to larger YouTube influencers (vs. influencer marketing platforms).
2. Channel visibility – Traditionally, MCNs have operated by a “strength in numbers” philosophy in an effort to maximize reach. Channels affiliated with an MCN are sometimes promoted across the breadth of the network.
3. Channel connections – Certain MCNs will create opportunities for channels within their network to work together. For example, MCNs can orchestrate a collaboration between a small and large channel when they see the potential for symbiotic growth.
4. Monetization – MCNs seek to increase influencer moneymaking potential through endorsements and product placement, as well as other marketing and promotional services.
5. Facilities – Some larger MCNs offer creators a place to produce and edit their videos, helping to alleviate production burdens and costs.
6. Credibility – In a time when anyone with an internet connection can create a YouTube account, MCNs lend a certain level of credibility to newer channels and influencers.
7. Administration – Some MCNs may offer accounting, legal, and other administrative services to YouTubers not equipped to deal with complexities of dealmaking, bookkeeping, copyright issues, and other aspects of being a functioning business.
1. Growing pains – As MCNs have saturated YouTube, their scalability and ability to provide adequate resources to talent has come into question. Some MCNs have looked to remedy this with new forms of revenue, but the pivots have resulted in less time and resources dedicated to each MCNs talent roster (including significant cuts in number of influencers managed – Maker Studios went from thousands of influencers to just their top 300 in the early part of 2017).
2. Changing industry – MCNs were conceived to keep groups of channels relevant, popular, and profitable within YouTube’s ever-changing, fast-paced environment. However, as they’ve taken on more responsibilities and explored new verticals, many MCNs have become less focused and nimble. Additionally, some larger MCNs have been purchased by outside entities looking to stake claims in the digital space.
3. Limitations with influencers – MCNs represent some of the larger YouTubers and channels on the platform. Unfortunately, many of these influencers may be out of reach for the majority of businesses or tied up with existing or conflicting deals. For brands looking to work with smaller or micro-influencers, niche talent, or simply influencers outside of an MCNs talent roster, MCNs may not offer the right options.
Brands working with an MCN are limited to the influencers on that particular network’s roster. Moreover, MCNs may push certain influencers as a way to strengthen their own relationships or satisfy contractual obligations, which may not always be in the best interest of a brand or their campaign goals.
4. Influencer vetting – Despite calls by businesses for MCNs to better vet and manage their influencers, brands have found themselves in undesirable situations due to words or actions by social media stars.
5. Commitment & consistency – In a bid to gobble up talent, many MCNs overextend themselves. Some YouTubers find they aren’t given the attention they’d expected, while other creators are dropped in the midst of a volatile and changing industry. For brands looking to establish long-term relationships with influencers, conflicts between MCNs and talent can be an unwanted variable.
6. Restrictions for content creators – Contracts between MCNs and influencers can limit, or even appropriate, a creator’s intellectual property rights. Moreover, many influencers are limited to working within the confines of their MCN, or require permission to extend beyond it.
7. Restrictions for businesses – MCNs managing an array of creators and business interests can be slower, more expensive, and just altogether cumbersome for brands to deal with.
8. Financial woes – Several MCNs have shut down over the past few years, while others have experienced layoffs and internal restructuring. As MCNs look to refine their business model and place within the digital landscape, many influencers and brands are wondering what the future holds for MCNs.
For businesses interested in partnering with top YouTubers and channels, an MCN is one of the several options to consider. However, for brands looking to promote their products and services outside of the online celebrity sphere or an MCNs talent roster, the advantages and disadvantages of working with an MCN should be carefully weighed.
Alternatives do exist for working with macro and micro-influencers on YouTube (and other platforms). One possibility is finding, vetting, and managing influencers directly however for some brands, this is not practical due to bandwidth or lack of industry expertise. Another strategy is to utilize a reputable influencer agency specializing in relationships between influencers and businesses. No matter the case, due diligence in the influencer space will ensure that brands find the right fit to meet their YouTube marketing goals.