Once in a while I get an email or a private message through one of my channels which turns out to be an offer from a Multi-Channel Network (MCN).
Although my ego often feels flattered to get these, I have declined every offer so far — and in this article I want to explain to you not only why, but I will also tell you more about MCNs in general and discuss whether it makes sense to sign up or not.
What is a Multi-Channel Network?
Before we dive deeper, however, let’s define the term: what are Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs) exactly?
According to YouTube, MCNs are companies that offer YouTube creators help “with their programming, funding, cross-promotion, partner management, digital rights management, monetization/sales, or audience development.”
That sounds like a lot of help you could be getting.
In reality, the services most MCNs offer are more limited and most MCNs are known for providing some of the following benefits to YouTube creators:
(It took me 2 hours to make this. Where’s my applause?)
- graphic tools like thumbnail or banner creators
- Creator forums and networking tools
- Analytics and research tools
- Education material
- Free music and sound effect libraries
- Special opportunities, promotions and sponsorships
- Possibly a higher RPM (revenue per thousand impressions)
- Let’s take a look at all of these potential benefits and see how beneficial they really are.
1. Graphic Tools
Some MCNs like BBTV offer tools that will help you with the creation of thumbnails, banners and other video-related graphic content.
While that can be convenient if you have no graphic skills at all, you certainly don’t need these tools.
Free graphic design software like Gimp or Canva can give you a lot more flexibility and control over the look of your channel and learning how to use them might even be a skill worth developing. I designed the graphic above with Canva, for example, without much experience.
Or you can even ask a friend. My friend Tim helped me to create my YouTube banner and the cartoon you will find below (it’s a good one, keep on reading!).
2. Creator Forums and Networking Tools
Almost every MCN has a special forum for its creators to hang out in and connect with each other. Some MCNs have additional search or connecting tools that are designed to help creators find channels with a similar size and audience. If you read MCN reviews that were written by creators, the forums are often one of the positive experiences members list.
However, there’s no need to join an MCN just for a forum or networking feature. Some forums like YTtalk.com are open to the public, which means that they have a much larger audience than many MCN forums.
Another non-MCN tool that can help you to find collaborators is Channelpages by Fanbridge.
Besides that you can always find possible collaborators on YouTube directly.
3. Analytics and Research Tools
Although maths is ostensibly the reason I don’t have a degree in anything, I love numbers when they come in the form of analytics.
Tools that help you analyze your channel can be extremely beneficial to your channel growth — if you’re able to make the right conclusions from the data. In fact, the reason I’ve been able to quintuple my views in the last three months is that I used the YouTube analytics data to create better content.
Many MCNs offer an additional analytics dashboard. Depending on the network this might be less or more in-depth than the original YouTube analytics feature. Some MCNs also offer keyword research tools that might help you come up with better video or headline ideas.
Again, this is not necessarily a reason to sign up for an MCN. YouTube has a great analytics feature already and tools like VidIQ (which has a free basic version) or keywordtool.io can help you with additional keyword research.
4. Educational Material
Many Multi-Channel Networks promise educational training material that is supposed to teach creators how to build their channels.
I have no idea what the quality of this material is — it could be decent at some MCNs, and it could be lacking in substance at others. The only thing I can say is that, after going through many MCN reviews, educational material is rarely ever mentioned. At least that gives me a feeling that most of it is probably not mind-blowing. Obviously I could be wrong here.
But if you’re looking for education on how to grow your channel you certainly don’t need an MCN for that. There are many helpful blogs, YouTube videos and forum threads that can give you ideas about improving your YouTube channel. No need to sign yourself away just for a few blog posts and videos.
If you’ve been member of an MCN that offered educational material, I’d be interested to know your opinion. Let us know in the comments!
Also, if you are interested in more educational articles about YouTube, make sure to follow this blog! 🙂
5. Free Music
Now we’re getting to something that seems to be a killer argument for many creators to join an MCN: free music and sound effects!
A lot of MCNs have partnerships with music libraries like Audiomicro, which allows them to license their music for cheap. That seems like a perfect offer for creators who depend on music and sound for the entertainment factor of their videos while they usually can’t afford to license commercial music and sound themselves.
Here’s the thing, though: getting free music is easy and doesn’t require a MCN-contract. For one, there’s the YouTube Audio Library with over 1,000 tracks that can be used completely free even outside of YouTube. Besides that, you can find many other resources for free sound effects and music if you care to do some research (or let me do it for you, Sir):
- YouTube Audio Library
Actually it might be smarter not to use any “free” music from an MCN (and I say that as a composer on Audiomicro myself) because it’s hard to tell what happens when you leave: Is the network still going to pay royalties for the music you used? Probably not. That means that you’d be using the music illegally as soon as you leave the network and it could possibly get you into the trouble you were trying to avoid in the first place.
6. Special Opportunities, Promotions and Sponsorships
While everything else on this list has been fairly tangible, MCNs often make less tangible promises, too: by offering you the opportunity to be selected for special projects, promotions and sponsorships.
Key phrase: “opportunity to be selected”.
This is an empty promise for obvious reasons: most Multi-Channel Networks are managing thousands or even tens of thousands of YouTube channels. With that number of channels and relatively few employees — often just a few dozen to a few hundred (Fullscreen, for example, has 70,000 members and about 150 employees) — it’s simply impossible to promote or offer assistance to each one of their channels.
Even though some MCNs regularly feature creators in their own social media outlets, this isn’t a guarantee for substantial or even noticeable channel growth. For example Freedom’s “Channel Spotlight” gets on average less than 1,000 views per video — at an estimated average of 0.05 new subscribers per view, that would give you 5 potential new subscribers max.
If you’re an average YouTuber, and by average I mean *less than 10,000 subs*, you probably won’t receive any of these special promotions or treatments. The reason is simply that it makes more sense for networks to invest in channels that are already highly popular. Not only are these channels more likely to make them a substantial amount of money, these channels are also more likely to be considered by sponsors or press outlets because of their subscriber number, audiovisual quality and reputation.
I’m sure you will find some counter-examples to this if you look, but I’m also sure you won’t find many.
7. Possibly higher RPM
As a creator you will not know whether you’ll earn more or less when you’re joining a network.
There it is, the reason why I actually did consider joining a Multi-Channel Network several times — and also the reason why I always decided against it.
If you didn’t know much about MCNs before reading this post, you might have wondered: how do MCNs benefit from offering all these services to creators? The answer is: They’re getting a cut of your profit.
The problem: You never know much it’ll be and how much you’ll be left with.
Here is how it works: when you sign up for an MCN, all Adsense earnings from your channel flow directly to the MCN which will give you a share of the revenue based on your contract with them (could be as low as 50% or as high as 90%). Ideally, the MCN has an ad sales team that sells targeted ads with a better CPM than Adsense — then a percentage of this revenue (also laid out in the contract) is shared with you, too.
In reality this means:
- if the network has a great ad sales team that makes good deals, you could benefit from this as your net RPM might be higher than with Adsense
- however, if the network has a bad sales team or no sales team at all, it could mean that your net RPM might be lower than before because now you’re only getting a percentage of the original Adsense revenue.
This means as a creator you will not know whether you’ll earn more or less when you’re joining a network.
Obviously a higher RPM would be a great reason to join an MCN — the problem is that MCNs don’t promise you a fixed or minimum RPM — they only promise you percentages.
90% revenue share might sound great at first — but what if it is 90% of 0,5$ per 1000 views?
(My friend Tim Minahan from Hooked On Comics made this for me.)
Be Careful With Lock-In Contacts!
It’s understandable that MCNs can’t offer minimum or fixed RPMs to everybody as their own revenue is fluctuating, too.
The problem is that many MCNs won’t let creators just leave when the RPM is crappy.
Many contracts have a duration of one year minimum. Some creators have been locked in for up to three years. That doesn’t only mean you can’t change MCNs during that time, it also means you can’t go back to being an independent partner.
You might be stuck with low earnings for years while your MCN might be taking your money for doing nothing.
Is It Worth It?
Don’t sign with a network. — PewDiePie
Many inexperienced creators are impressed by the promises of high revenue sharing percentages, promotions and possible YouTube stardom.
Usually seeing their personal YouTube celebrities join a MCN gives them the confirmation that they, too, could benefit from the services of a multi-channel network. After all, a well-known YouTuber wouldn’t just sign with a network if they weren’t going to benefit from it, right?
If you do some research, though, you’ll find, that, of course, YouTubers with a big subscriber base and/or video successes in the past, will get offered not only more opportunities but different contracts, with some of them even getting advances.
Even then, some big YouTubers are not happy with their MCN and decide to leave after the minimum contract duration. Here are a few YouTubers talking about their experiences with MCNs:
Starting from 40:30:
While I certainly won’t claim that you can’t benefit from a MCN partnership as a smaller channel, it’s important to look at the facts, certain probabilities and the price you’ll have to pay.
Is it worth to lose 20% or even 50% of your revenue in order to get access to a few online tools that you can get somewhere else for free?
In my opinion: No.
For me MCNs become interesting if they can deliver higher RPMs than Adsense can. They become also interesting if they can guarantee more exposure (and not “the possibility to be selected for exposure”).
Where to go from here?
If you still feel like exploring the MCN-route, it makes sense to choose MCNs with no lock-in clause. That way you can always leave if you feel like the connection is not beneficial. This minimizes your risk and gives you the possibility to find out what works best for you.
What I’m going to do
At the moment, increasing my YouTube income is not my top focus. Instead I’m focused on improving the way I’m serving my viewers and on learning how to grow my audience. That’s why only some of my videos are monetized.
I might do some small MCN experiments in the future in order to see what they can do for me but I probably won’t sign a lock-in contract anytime soon. The exception would be if I get a reasonable offer with either an advance or a fixed/minimum RPM. Also, anything longer than six months seems crazy at this point. 🙂
I’d be interested in hearing about your MCN opinions and stories. Leave a comment and let me know: MCNs — yay or nay?