Howcast's New 'Health' Channel Finds Winning Formula: Sexy Water Aerobics

Old Pros at YouTube, Howcast Applies Speed, Algorithms and Gloss to Win Viewers

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With trending videos like "How to do a water aerobics line jump" -- which shows a woman jump around in a bikini for the majority of a minute and a half -- it's not hard to see why Howcast is a mainstay on our YouTube Original Channel Tracker.

This week Howcast took the No. 5 spot with 4.21 million views from five new series, made up of 64 new videos.

Howcast is an old hand when it comes to YouTube programming. Started by Google and YouTube veterans in 2008, the company has always had a close working relationship with YouTube, so when it was time for the company to invest in original programming, Howcast was a natural fit.

"Our content is high-quality, it is premium, so it was square in the crosshairs of what YouTube was looking to have more of on the platform," said Rick Bashkoff, VP-partnerships and network development at Howcast. "So I think it was a natural extension of the partnership."

The health and how-to categories are fertile ground for a lot of lucrative ad categories, so its no secret why YouTube is trying to load up on them. But Howcast's content is decidedly racier than, say, EverydayHealth (No. 31) and BeFit (No. 37), running the gamut from how to dance to reggae dance hall to how to understand chiropractic to the psychology of sex.

"We did a good job of challenging and stretching the notion of what health content is . For example, we've extended health to things like dance. ... As dance has become a more a part of health and fitness we released a lot of that type of content," Mr. Bashkoff said.

High volume is also part of the strategy. Over the years, Howcast has gotten very good at reacting quickly to search data and producing relatively high-gloss video very fast, very cheaply. Howcast usually produces between 20 and 50 videos on any how-to topic, which allows them to publish anywhere from 600 to 1000 videos a month between all of their channels. Since launching the health channel in late April, however, Howcast has uploaded 2,020 videos to that channel alone.

Some are immediate hits, others designed to load up the content library to catch search queries in the future.

We caught up with Mr. Bashkoff to talk about Howcast Health.

Ad Age : When you pitched YouTube for funding, why did you go with health? Were there any other topics that you considered?

Mr. Bashkoff: We were pretty engaged with YouTube on a variety of different fronts, most importantly it was on the sales front, making sure that we were selecting categories where there was an advertising need and making sure that the content category filled an overall need.

There's a lot of great health content on the platform, and I think YouTube saw it as a target category to be expanded. We had a good track record in health, which is a fairly successful category online both in text and in video. We definitely had conversations about other categories: travel, food and drink, home and garden, technology. And when it came down to it, health, from all demand points, was really the one that made sense for all parties involved, YouTube, the advertisers and Howcast.

Ad Age : There are other health channels getting YouTube investment, how does your content differ?

Mr. Bashkoff: The main difference with ours is the way that we generate the actual topics that we're covering. We are talking about topics in health that our proprietary suite of data tools is telling us that there is a current need for. What we try to do is take that suite of tools that we use to generate topics and titles and really look for those niche categories, because that was the real message from YouTube going into the discussion around channels. They weren't just looking for high quality content; they were looking for high quality content in underserved niche channels.

That's where we provide a great deal of value, covering something like capoeira or something that has a bit of demand on the platform, but doesn't have the large volume of content. ...The other health channels do a great job of covering the really hot topics ... but then Howcast comes in and fills in the other areas. And because we're built on scale, we have the ability to do that .

Ad Age : What do you do to market the channel?

Mr. Bashkoff: We have a great marketing internal process. We are constantly using our social media channels, mainly Facebook and Twitter. Usually what we'll do is announce a new series once it's completely uploaded. And we'll call out relevant video topics and titles, as they are relevant to an editorial calendar.

The other thing that we've done is leverage We have this channel and we've done a strong job of integrating that content. We developed a feature in our CMS for where we can flip the player to a YouTube player so we're able to house and embed all of that content on unique pages on ... So every piece of content that we launch on the health channel on YouTube is available on through the YouTube player. In terms of passing traffic back and forth it's been such a great feature that we've released that we're really happy that we spent the time doing that .

Ad Age : What have you learned from this new channel that you are applying to the rest of the channels on

Mr. Bashkoff: We're data junkies. We obsess over the performance metrics of our content as we're digging in to the analysis. We're really starting to get a really good deep dive on some of the data around stuff like time watched, how our users are dropping off, where they're dropping off.

Another thing that we've really dug in to, that 's really interesting, is how individual topics cross over individual demographics. So we've gone as far as creating a heat map that shows us whether or not our assumptions have been correct about what demos we're targeting. So we've been able to really improve our predictive capability of our topic and title-generating algorithm.

We're finding that the health category has such a broad audience, it is absolutely a topic that we should continue to cover and that we should be devoted to past the channel. So we're definitely taking a lot of audience and demographic learnings, as well as user behavior ... and we're taking all that data and putting it back in to the topic and title-generating algorithm that we're using to produce all kinds of categories of content.

Ad Age : What makes an engaging YouTube video?

Mr. Bashkoff: What we've found in analyzing large swabs of our performance is that you have to get to the point quickly and the message has to be very clear within the first 10 to 15 seconds of the video. I think it's misleading that attention spans are wildly short [on YouTube]. They are definitely short, they are in line with the short attention spans of the greater web. We've found that if you're very direct with what you're coming out with, with what your message and purpose of your video is that the engagement climbs to a very advantageous level.

I would say clarity of message, speed of message, and, for us, one of the things that we focus on is not only having high quality content, but also injecting some level of voice. We definitely have a lighter tone and we encourage the experts and talent in our videos to really capture their essence. I would say part of what makes a video engaging is really capturing unique personalities and niches. Because a lot of the premium content that is available on TV and broadcasting, it's a great formula, but we found that getting into getting into niche categories and exposing niche personalities has been very successful in terms of creating engagement.

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