VFS scores partnership with Joost

The Vancouver Film School's marketing strategy - using online video 'viral engines' to promote both students and the school - is paying off.

Over the past year, the Vancouver Film School has been perfecting the use of video sharing sites to boost its profile. Potential students frequent sites like YouTube, and the school has lots of demo-relevant content: student films. Put the two together, and you have a ROI-friendly media strategy. And in a clever twist, VFS has inked a new deal that will see the marketing of its student-produced content pay off for students, by potentially earning ad revenue that will be earmarked for funding future films.

VFS has become the first film school to partner with New York-based Joost.com, offering up two channels (Animation & Visual Effects and Drama & Documentary) of student-produced content on the peer-to-peer-based, broadcast-quality Internet TV platform. While Joost takes 70% of ad revenue, VFS plans to put its 30% towards an alumni fund for graduate projects. Joost will present the content to its advertising partners, but VFS has control over which advertisers are placed with its content (for example, no competing organizations, gambling or pornography). VFS will provide Joost with about 10 pieces of student-produced work per month.

‘We’re waiting until spring 2008 to figure out how much money is in the fund and whether it’s actually got any legs,’ says VFS director of marketing Stephen Webster. The deal took about four months to negotiate, but it has already paid off in terms of promoting the school to prospective students and exposing current students to the film and television industry.

Since VFS first started ‘experimenting’ with YouTube in October 2006, awareness of the school has exploded at a faster rate than at any other time in its 20-year history, says Webster. The school now has 292 videos posted on YouTube, and the material has attracted 4.5 million views, more than 8,200 loyal subscribers and 180,000 channel views. When one video, Piece of Mind, by graduate Ori Ben-Shabat (pictured), collected half a million views, Webster and VFS quickly assembled a VFS team to create a ‘DVD-like making-of video’ to address the 1,200 comments and reactions to that video alone. Now, 11 months after it was first posted, Piece of Mind has recorded more than 800,000 views, while the making-of has attracted another 30,000.

‘I predicted that we would maybe hit the homepage of YouTube early on in the process, but I didn’t actually know,’ says Webster. ‘Within about four weeks, we hit the YouTube homepage and became one of the number one channels with respect to higher education on YouTube.’

Beyond YouTube, VFS expanded its experiment to include Yahoo and Google Video platforms, Metacafe.com, Blip.tv, Revver.com, VidiLife.com, YouAre.tv, DailyMotion.com, MyHeavy.com, Eyespot.com, Zannel.com and other social networking destinations such as MySpace, Ning.com and Facebook. Its recent Facebook application, ‘My VFS Spotlight,’ has 152 active users (about 60% of its total users).

‘We put out about 10 pieces under each site and then started measuring the effectiveness of these sites. We realized very early on that just because a piece is successful at one place doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful at another,’ says Webster. ‘For example, Metacafe was very successful for our 3D modeling work, whereas Yahoo! was more successful for our animation and narrative work. So we’ve got a pretty good handle on which sites are working for us.’

Webster and others at VFS have been invited to speak at academic forums and webinars to discuss their marketing strategy as it pertains to YouTube and what they’re calling ‘viral engines.’ Another result is that VFS students are being approached by potential employers. Toronto’s Spy Films, for example, has contacted several students for potential recruitment. ‘Any piece that we put on the channel garners between 2,000 and 5,000 views within a month,’ Webster says. ‘If a student puts that content on their own channel, they may get 10% of that.

‘People are also looking at this material and asking, ‘Where do they learn to do that?’ and ‘How can I do that?’ So it’s more of a push, word-of-mouth strategy than a pull marketing strategy. But what started as an experiment has quickly grown into a tangible tool for us.’



Yahoo on VFS