Is Pay-To-View the Right Distribution Model for YouTube-Star-Studded Film “Camp Takota”?
Kurt Van Ristell
Dec 3, 2013


Just last week, popular YouTube standy-talky man Ray William Johnson shared the first trailer for his upcoming feature film Riley Rewind. Importantly, the feature length production will be made available to watch, for free on his extremely popular YouTube channel on the 12th of this month.
This news comes at the same time that popular YouTube cook-ey-drinky woman Hannah Hart, alongside Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart announced that their collaborative feature film Camp Takota would be made available through the slightly less popular pay-to-view platform VHX.

It’s a funny coincidence that these two events would coincide in such a timely manner. Hart and co’s faith in the pay-to-view model clashing head on with the quintessentially indie YouTube spirit of free and unrestricted content. Johnson may bring a considerable amount more fans to the table than Hart, Helbig and Hart combined (almost 7,000,000 more in fact) but if Takota falls short of its own performance expectations, you can squarely blame a poor choice in platform before a “lack” of popularity.

Camp Takota may very well prove me wrong, but I don’t believe that “low-budget”, independent content is currently the right fit for a traditional pay-to-view model.

The decision to distribute Camp Takota through VHX was something of a forced one…

…initially the trio had announced the feature film would “air” on competing pay-to-view host Chill, but the deal fell through when Chill dropped the bomb that they would be moving away from the pay-to-view model and laying off almost half of their staff as part of a grand restructure, ultimately closing their doors.


Chill’s closure is unfortunate but perhaps telling; the pay-to-view model that sites like Chill, VHX and to a lesser extent Ustream provide should not be mistaken for the much more enticing subscription models you see employed at Amazon and Netflix. These types of services bundle many perks in under one small monthly bill, and have seen wide acceptance from the public due to their perceived value coupled with their convenience of use.

Asking a potential viewer to part with something in the realm of $7-$15 to stream a one-time rental (or digital purchase) of your under-marketed independent show or movie is a difficult sell, particularly when compared to Netflix’s successful monthly-billed all-access plans. Chill Founder Brian Norgard put it best when addressing the companies recent restructure, stating -

“In a era of YouTube (free content), convincing people to transact around a la carte premium content still isn’t nearly as straightforward as one would assume,”“There’s a reason why Netflix is so highly valued on the public markets. Easy access to premium content is still very, very hard to do.

As tough a pill as it may be to swallow, Chill’s decision to drop out of what one insider has called the “slow” pay-to-view video race is in all likelihood the right one. Still, Chill’s restructure came as a surprise to most – employees were assured that Chill had the funds to continue to operate as it was for another year still.

Chill aren’t the first company to leave the pay-to-view market.

Google experimented with the pay-to-view model but eventually quit with their early YouTube competitor, Google Video. Google Video let users upload and share their own independent films, animations, music videos and other content at a set price per video – the service still exists today in name, but was essentially shuttered when Google acquired YouTube in 2006.

Of course, pay-to-view is a model that can and does work under the right circumstances – the general public have little reservation paying for a one-time rental of the latest box-office smash. Millions of dollars of marketing and a Hollywood star-studded cast both create a sense of perceived value and assured quality in the mind of the public – regardless of a blockbuster’s actual quality.

A home cinema buff who rents all the latest releases through her set-top-box might be a lot more frugal if every $15 spent was a leap into the true unknown. I find it hard to envision such a person giving Camp Takota a try at that price, even if they somehow did stumble across the VHX exclusive whilst looking for something to watch. If Hart and co’s movie popped up on said buff’s Netflix stream however?

“Well, what’s the harm in trying?”

In some ways, the decision-making team behind Camp Takota seem aware of this problem.


Hoping to leverage the many fans of the YouTube stars on-board, the feature length film is being offered for early purchase through various limited “care packages” ranging from $32.99 all the way up to $300. Looking at this pricing scheme, it’s clear that Camp Takota was never intended to capture a mass market appeal, but instead lean on Hart, Helbig and Hart’s millions of fans for support. Offering dedicated fans the chance to partake in Google+ Hangout sessions as well as giving personalised voicemail greetings and thank-you videos alongside the usual T-Shirt and signed poster bundles, the drive to exploit multiple revenue streams is classic YouTube MCN fare.

Funnily enough, tying these limited rewards and merch bundles to the film’s admission cost is not too dissimilar from crowdfunding platform Patreon‘s unique artist support model, which lets fans pledge a cash sum to a creator of their choice, to be debited every time said creator provides new content (within a specific, agreed upon scope).

Creators using Patreon often reward their “patrons” with exclusive content, one-on-one Google+ hangouts and other tiered rewards and perks. It’s a model still in development, but one that shows a lot of promise – Patreon’s focus on “sustainable” filmmaking is both an exciting and a noble one.

Camp Takota’s performance on VHX will be interesting to follow. Riley Rewind may depend on Johnson’s many fans for initial support, but thanks to its lack of cost and its easy convenience, there’s every chance it can capture a wide audience beyond this early swell – assuming it’s any good of course. Takota on the other hand will not benefit from a low cost or convenient viewing options. It may have a loyal and eager fanbase on which to lean – initially – but I don’t imagine it garnering much play beyond these loyal devotees in the long run.