Last week, YouTube sensation Casey Neistat announced – in a vlog – that he was ending his daily vlog. During his final episode, he cited many reasons; the creative challenge was no longer there; it had become too easy, too formulaic. Perhaps he was just losing enthusiasm for it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan and love everything he puts out there. But I have to admit, he reached a plateau. Kinda of a, ‘where can I go from here?’ feeling. And I get it. Smart, efficient and highly productive creatives will develop processes to streamline a workflow. Once you’ve created a template, it becomes easier to just plug in the content and churn out a video every day. And that he did, and did very well, for his daily videos.
It’s an impressive feat. Hundreds of videos, a new one everyday, and each one with the cinematic quality of anything you see coming out of Hollywood. Actually, better.
His fans are devastated, unsure of where to turn for their daily dose of bass-ass inspiration. I mean, the guy is cool (I almost said was). Who else do you know bombs around NYC traffic on an electric skateboard, tricked out Canon DSLR on a gorillapod in one hand, while simultaneously controlling his Boosted board, drinking a smoothie, and oh, flying a Phantom 4 down the avenues of NY capturing the moments from those now-iconic bird’s eye views. Who does that? No one. No one does that.
His announcement sent a shockwave through anyone who’s been paying attention. But while his 5 million+ fans – many of whom are teenagers and young millennials – may be in despair, crying “is this the end of the daily vlog?!” they shouldn’t be.
Is it the end of the daily vlog? Well, it’s the end of the daily vlog as we know it. Just as Casey’s entrance into the category was the end of the daily vlog as we knew it then.
I’ve been following Casey for a long time now, enjoying his content, but more so, taking note of what he actually did, the real influence he holds. I even had the chance to work with him on a couple of occasions. And here’s my take-away.
What Casey Neistat Did
Long before his daily vlogs first appeared, I admired Casey as a filmmaker and a storyteller. He has an almost child-like nostalgia that runs through his videos. I became hooked. And admittedly, I would check his YouTube channel every couple of days to see if he had created anything new. But he usually would post something once every few months. His videos were always great, but I never liked the long gaps between videos and I was always left wanting more. So when he announced in March of 2015 that he was embarking on a new challenge – a daily vlog – I was pretty excited. And he did not disappoint.
But what Casey Neistat has done over the past two and half years is much much more than crush it as a daily vlogger. His impact and influence had much broader implications. At least for me, and these are the things I took note of:
What he did for the category: Casey did not invent vlogging. But he did raise the bar for the daily vlog; significantly. He effectively redefined the category, brought it to a global spotlight, inspired thousands of would-be vloggers to not only get out there and create, but to up their game. Up the quality of their content, and most importantly, their story.
What he did for YouTube: Arguably, Casey’s work brought new attention to YouTube. Not as the place to go for stupid cat videos, but as a distribution medium. Casey Neistat inspired filmmakers to re-think their career aspirations, and to forgo the traditional channels. He redefined success, as well, redefined the new mainstream. His simple mantra, eliminate the middleman. Demonstrating to millions around the world, that through this simple video platform called YouTube, he could do it his way. No agents, no studios, no red tape, no bureaucracy and no one tampering with your work. The audience would be the judge, and no one else.
If you listened, you heard him champion this message. It wasn’t a just a talking point for him; he was living proof. He had done it. His way.
What he did for Viral Video: Every YouTuber wants to go viral. And unfortunately, many lead with that in mind. “If I do this, it will go viral.” So they try, and fail. And there’s a reason for that. It doesn’t work that way. And Casey knows that. He puts out a viral video – every day. That’s unheard of. How does he do it? Well, he’s not trying, that’s how. He instinctively knows that people want a good story. It’s about storytelling. And if you keep your focus there – you remain true to your art (and yes, if the right pieces happen to fall into place at all the right times) you might just go viral. By focusing on his story, by staying true to himself, and simply sharing stunning imagery, he built an audience of millions who waited every morning at 8:00 am to be ‘first’ to watch his videos. Instant viral video. He would talk about this on occasion, and it’s always clear; he just wants to share a story. “If you like it, great! I’ll make more.”
What he did for entrepreneurs: I sat back and watched as his strategy for Beme – his startup – unfolded. Pretty brilliant. Build a captive audience – an addressable market – of literally millions of already bought-in fans, all on YouTube. Then use that very platform to launch your new company. No press conferences, no launch event at some fancy venue. A simple video to his adoring fans. The buzz was huge, I’m sure the numbers were through the roof from the minute they flipped the switch on the App Store. I don’t have actual data, but I’m confident the numbers were enviable for any small startup looking to get some visibility for their new app. Believe me, I have some experience in this area. I remember thinking, traditional press coverage seemed odd, uut of place, unnecessary and even…old school. The press covered it, but it felt like they weren’t even the priority. Like they weren’t even invited to the party. Again – why go to the middleman with your message when you can take directly to your audience. Brilliant.
What he did for marketing: Who will ever forget ‘Mail Time.’ Simply opening packages in front of the camera – with all the wild-eyed, excited recklessness of an 8 year old on Christmas morning – became a thing. And marketers took notice. Again, Casey did not invent product placements or brand supported content, but he sure did reinvent it for the YouTube era. Casey sent a wake up call to all the brands out there. Look, this is where people are spending their time. These YouTube videos are performing better than most television shows. So you better re-think your marketing, content marketing and online ad strategies. Old school thinking in a new era.
And lastly, what he did for NYC: I grew up in NY (Long Island) in the 70s and 80s. Not a great time for NYC. I’ve long since moved away, but I go back to NYC with my wife and kids; it’s one of my favorite places on earth now. And I hope the City has taken note of what Casey has done for the image of that City. The City he calls home; the City he loves. He brought a level of humanity, kindness, friendship, community – a neighborhood feel – to one of the biggest cities on the planet. He humanized everyone – and made his UPS delivery guy a celebrity. How does that even happen? But he did it, seemingly effortlessly.
And of course, who could forget his snowboarding through NYC videos. What would normally get any punk kid thrown in lockup for a few hours, catapulted Casey into a new strata. Casey wasn’t being a disrespectful punk. He was showing the city he loved just how much he loved it. Cruising through Times Square on a snowboard, towed behind a Jeep, American flag flying – and to the classic Sinatra tune, New York, New York. It made people feel good. Even the cops love the guy.
It’s very much a part of who he is. His stories are real, they’re genuine, like Casey. And that’s why people flocked to him.
So, is it the end of the vlog as we know it? I hope so. And that’s a good thing. Like a good sitcom going out on a high note, Casey is moving on. He hasn’t given up; far from it. I just can’t wait to see what’s next! The internet will be a better place for it.