Justin Burke on Aussie YouTube stars
In a medium perhaps best known for jumpy editing and cat videos, Brady Haran bucks conventional wisdom in several ways. The Adelaide-born former journalist is a trained videographer, and his YouTube videos, which have accumulated almost 400 million views and four million subscribers, examine the world of maths and science. Examples include an episode about what the first million digits of pi would look like printed out and unspooled on a runway, and touring the Bank of England’s gold bullion vault with a chemistry professor.
“The viral home movies or phone videos might create a false impression that all YouTube videos are amateurish or trivial,” says Haran. “The internet is a big, diverse place and there can be an audience for anything – if it’s good enough.”
Haran’s transition from making videos for the BBC to YouTube came down to creative freedom. “I truly loved working in newspapers and TV, but it’s liberating to be my own boss and make whatever I want. Traditional media has creative disadvantages that don’t exist online.”
The 39-year-old, now based in Bristol in Britain, has been making YouTube videos full-time for six years; although he says running multiple channels including the Periodic Table of Videos and Numberphile is more like “five full-time jobs”.
Alongside the advertising revenues that YouTube shares, collaborations with the University of Nottingham and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in the US have helped defray production costs. But he insists that passion has to come before business ambitions. “When I tell strangers what I do, many people’s first question is about money,” he says. “A number of my friends make a full-time living on YouTube, but I don’t think any of them started with an intention to make money. It just followed from doing it well.”
Haran is open-minded about the future. “Everything changes so quickly, in 10 years we may be redoing this interview, but about a technology that hasn’t been invented yet.”