USA TODAY US Edition
Mondo laughs its way to top of Youtube
Comics channel has nearly 1.5 billion views
SAN FRANCISCO — Back in 1998, John Evershed got an idea about how to make money from the Internet: distribute online cartoons to hundreds of websites, much like newspaper syndicates have done for years with comic strips such as Blondie and Peanuts.
Today his Mondo Media is finally profitable — after several very lean years — but most of the thanks goes to YouTube. Evershed realized the video giant was where the action was going to be, so that’s where he put his energy.
Now, his YouTube Mondo channel has nearly 1.5 billion views and is one of YouTube’s most watched channels, due to online hits like Happy Tree Friends and Dick Figures.
“It took a long time,” Evershed said in an interview at Mondo’s small offices here. “We thought it would be two to three years, but like everything, it just took a little longer. But I’m glad we hung in there.”
Mondo doesn’t produce shows but commissions about 20 production teams around the world to make the animated shorts. Evershed says he plans to have 500 shorts made this year, at a cost of $1,000 to $10,000 per cartoon.
Graham Bennett, manager of content partnerships at YouTube, says many younger channels can learn from Mondo’s success. What it’s been smart about doing is communicating with its audience.
“It’s not just creating the content; you also have to understand and engage your audience,” Bennett says.
Mondo is part of the 100-channel initiative at YouTube to start new channels or boost existing ones. As part of the process, Mondo began posting pilots for new cartoons, but viewers were confused. They complained they couldn’t find their favorites. “So Mondo responded by branding them as ‘pilot’ at the beginning of each episode,” Bennett says. In the process, Mondo’s audience rose. “When you get it right, it really pays off.”
The inclusion by YouTube in the 100-channel initiative means “a big infusion of money we can use to finance new shows and build the infrastructure,” Evershed says. As a partner, Mondo gets a larger share of the ad revenue split with YouTube.
Since it began the pumped-up channel earlier this year, Evershed has added 200,000 subscribers. In YouTube land, garnering subscribers is a big deal. With tens of millions of individual channels, the name of the game is getting people to subscribe to your channel, because they not only get notifications about new videos, but their home page is highlighted by videos from subscribed channels. It’s YouTube’s way of delivering personalized content.
Mondo has over 1 million subscribers, which puts it in the top 100 “most subscribed” channels at YouTube.
Beyond YouTube, Mondo still syndicates the cartoons to tons of websites, including India Today, as well as Netflix and iTunes. All told, they generate another 50 million views monthly.
Happy Tree Friends — a violent cartoon featuring cuddly animals — is Evershed’s most successful show, with 20 million views. But he says Dick Figures is soon to overtake it. It’s the story of two stick-figure friends, “loaded with pop culture references,” and averages 15 million views monthly. He compares that with about 3 million who tune in to watch South Park on TV. “The audience scale for what we’re doing is getting to be really significant,” he said.
In a world going increasingly mobile, he knows the next step is to develop a great app to watch Mondo’s toons on phones. “We’re focusing on making sure we have a great mobile experience,” Evershed said.
Fred Seibert, a former Nickelodeon exec who now produces online cartoons for YouTube and others, says Evershed succeeded “because he won’t take no for an answer.” He also jumped at opportunities early.
“He was one of the first to start putting cartoons into iTunes as podcasts,” says Seibert. “He was early in YouTube. As painful as it was, he knew he had something, and eventually the audience caught up with him.”