by Daley Wilhelm
SourceFed, a company born in 2012 from YouTube’s Original Channel Initiative recently shut down after a merger with Discovery Communications-backed Group Nine Media, to the surprise of both fans and those who worked there. The SourceFed, originally created by Philip DeFranco had three channels, including SourceFed Nerd that produced YouTube personalities such as Steven Suptic, Ava Gordy, and Mike Falzone who have since moved on to produce content on their own channels.
The decision to shut down SourceFed Studios, which provided pop culture and tech news was made purely by Group Nine, DeFranco having sold the company to Discovery Communications back in 2013. Group Nine Media owns brands Facebook users might recognize such as Thrillist, The Dodo, and NowThis. The issue that has Internet commenters extra salty this week involves the latter of this list because those million-odd subscribers who stayed subscribed to the then-dead SourceFed Nerd channel were awoken to a surprise on May 4th when SourceFed Nerd was reanimated as NowThis Nerd.
The channel was originally left untouched: an archive of all the previous content which is still on the renamed and rebranded channel. It doesn’t appear as if there are any plans to delete old content; but former employees such as Reina Scully are worried, as are current subscribers.
The main problem isn’t so much the idea of the eradication of old content, but rather that the rebrand seems like the desecration of a grave. A large portion of comments involve complaints that this is not the channel that users subscribed to and that NowThis effectively stole SourceFed Nerd’s subscriber base by rebranding the channel hundreds of thousands were still subscribed to. On paper, it probably made a lot of sense for NowThis to use a channel that already had a guaranteed subscriber base rather than starting from scratch with a new channel. NowThis Nerd currently has 939,480 subscribers, but this is after the mass exodus of thousands of subscribers in protest, over 20,000 of which occurred within the first five hours of the takeover. The dislikes on the introductory video currently stand at 60,229.
NowThis Nerd’s first video Welcome to NowThis Nerd features the channel’s Senior Producer Mike Calabro saying, “While this wasn’t our decision, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t honored by the opportunity to produce some great content for such an awesome, loyal community,” and that, “Our ultimate goal is still the same as SourceFed Nerd,”
The hashtag #notmynerd seems to have been born to contradict the statement that SourceFed Nerd’s community would be loyal to NowThis coming in as a usurper (an apt comparison considering that Calabro compared himself to Ramsey Bolton).
What NowThis didn’t take into account when assuring audiences that the content would be essentially the same was that a significant majority of subscribers aren’t so much brand loyal as they are to personalities associated with brands, especially in terms of YouTubers. Brand loyalty is defined as consumers making repeat purchases, or in the case of YouTube, repeat views, to a certain brand. Personalities are perhaps one of the most recognizable type of branding, and much consideration has to be put into the face that represents a brand. SourceFed Nerd certainly functioned as a news organization, but there was a clear focus on the hosts. The channel’s most popular videos were less focused on subject matter, and more on interaction with the personalities within the company, their most viewed video being 9 + 10 = 21? – Nerds Play the Impossible Quiz at over 4 million views. Among their most viewed content are other challenge videos. Since the dissolution of SourceFed, subscriber counts for the individual channels of various hosts from the company have gone up. Former host Steven Suptic’s subscriber count has officially surpassed the NowThis Nerd channel’s own since the rebrand.
Comments on the videos made by former hosts or others like Hank Green appear to have been deleted.
What former employees and fans of SourceFed Nerd are really upset about is if the channel intends on making the same content, why fire all the staff? This is an echo of what happened earlier this year when the Seeker Daily channel was rebranded as NowThis’ main YouTube channel. New hosts were also introduced, and a plethora of comments followed suit about buying subscribers, fans feeling betrayed, and the content they loved being hijacked.
Technically, YouTube’s Terms of Service in Article 4D communicates that the individual sale of a channel, and thus the “hijacking” of a fanbase, is against YouTube’s Terms of Service. This doesn’t necessarily apply to the acquisition of a company that owns the channel. When Group Nine acquired SourceFed, it acquired the associated YouTube channels. However, it’s easy to see the ethical dilemma here that led to such a PR nightmare. NowThis Nerd is certainly getting attention, but it’s all hostile. Various protest hashtags have emerged and the @NowThisNerd handle on Twitter has been claimed as a protest Twitter as well, since the NowThis failed to secure it before the big reveal.
It’s suspect as well that former employees of SourceFed were not given prior warning to the rebrand. Thus far, there has been no official statement from Group Nine as to why they made this decision. There might have been a lapse in judgement as to how fans might react, despite the similar vitriol NowThis experienced when Seeker Daily was rebranded. Personally I don’t think they had a good strategy in launching the rebrand ambush-style, or in their choice of cover image on the channel: Spider-man wiping off a window, as if starting clean slate.
NowThis Nerd has started off with a dozen reaction videos from various former hosts of the reanimated channel, and a couple dozen livestreams of their subscriber count dropping on SocialBlade.