Dance-music powerhouse Ultra Music will announce later today that its YouTube channel has reached 1 million subscribers, making it the No. 1 independent label channel on the site, and No. 11 channel overall. The milestone comes on the heels of the company's strategic alliances with Ultra Music Festival and Wynn Las Vegas earlier this year.
"It's a new thought process," Ultra president Patrick Moxey told Billboard.biz. "Before we were just thinking audio; now we're thinking audio-visual."
The five-year-old channel, which boasts close to 2 billion total views, found its success through aggressive promotion "since day one," Moxey said, and a long-tail syndication strategy involving a wide array of partners.
"The monetization that occurs from streaming is important revenue for Ultra's artists," he continued. "We accounted to artists for video streams probably two years before most other labels. We grasped the concept really early on that this is a serious revenue source and you've got to really work on it."
Much of Ultra's activity happens away from YouTube proper, via embeds of the YouTube player on blogs, specialty sites and portals. Player embeds include pre-roll and banner advertising, increasing overall scale and impressions for additional revenue. "We made sure we pushed out each video as much as we could, to the blogosphere, AOL, Yahoo, MSN, anyone we could possibly get in bed with," says Moxey. "From that, each video would get embedded in a number of additional places; it became a whole network of video embeds across the Web. It's only about 1,200 videos, but all those different nooks and crannies cumulatively had a massive impact."
While the channel is buoyed by some hits, like Pitbull's "I Know You Want Me" (its top performer with over 210.8 million views), Moxey has included additional programming: music videos for newer artists (such as Adrian Lux) as well as established ones (Steve Aoki), and live streams edited into long-form concert movies (of meaningful gigs, like Kaskade's first Staples Center sell-out). The movies are a new revenue stream unto themselves.
"When the bottom fell out of DVD market people stopped recording these concerts. I picked up the challenge and said, 'Let's have this thing reborn in an online world,'" Moxey said. "We tie in different partners for the live streams, like Fuse or MTV, then clear the music rights and create a long-form concert experience which we've been selling into video services like Netflix, Crackle and iTunes. We make it as seamless as possible: A live stream followed immediately by a piece you can purchase."
Ultra recently launched an additional YouTube channel, UltraTV, to serve up original content from not-necessarily-Ultra artists; Moxey call it a "label-agnostic lifestyle channel. I think ultimately Ultra is very synonymous with dance and electronic music as a lifestyle brand, so it makes sense that UltraTV should capture what's happening around electronic music, whereas UltraMusic is more tightly focused on Ultra's music videos."
That ranges from behind-the-scenes peeks into artists' lives, like a video tour diary from Benny Benassi, to tongue-in-cheek tutorials, like fearless crowd-surfer Aoki instructing viewers how to ride the waves in his signature raft.
Moxey estimates that Ultra currently has 70 videos in production, averaging 2-3 new postings per week. He added a "video A&R rep" to his full-time staff to work with artists, select directors, and manage production. But the other elements of Ultra's video initiative - like, say, managing relationships with the digital platforms - fall to preexisting employees.
"It's become an extension of our day-to-day activities," he said. "There's a certain investment, sure, but I think we're building up the most incredible audio visual catalog, and the uses of it will only expand with new channels needing more content constantly. Ever since we started the project, we've had new people pop up and ask for content. 'I'm in Japan. Do you have 10 full-length music videos? I'd like the license them for two years.' And they pay a fee."
For any musical entities looking to perform a similar feat with their online video presence, Moxey has a few tips: "I think the concept is stronger than budgets in this world, so creativity is going to get you a long way. Capture anything that's interesting to you about the music, or lifestyle of the music, and start to put things up to your YouTube. It's kind of like a snowball effect: The more that's in there, the more it will go. And when it becomes a conversation between the subscribers and the channel itself, the better it gets."