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Jamie Oliver Group: How to make money online

In a little under three years, Jamie Oliver's Food Tube channel has amassed 1.9 million subscribers and 155 million views. Find out how he did it...

Jamie Oliver MBE is much more than a cheeky chappy character with a penchant for the word ‘pukka’ and a dislike for sugary drinks and school dinners.

In fact, according to the people who work closest to him at the Jamie Oliver Group (JOG), Oliver is a “commercial juggernaut and serious entrepreneur with a disruptive business strategy”.

Disruptive, how you might ask? Well, just look at the growth of his early-stage entertainment brand Food Tube. The “foodie community” YouTube channel he re-launched in January 2013 has already secured over 1.9 million subscribers and racked up an impressive 155 million views, and counting.

While you could argue that the success of Food Tube is largely due to the fact it has Oliver’s name behind it, his team insist that the transition from TV to online and viral videos isn’t as easy as you might think with several challenges – largely around commercialisation – in getting the channel to where it is today.

Speaking at an event to celebrate food technology, Rich Herd; head of Food Tube, Lisa Tookey; head of commercial for JOG, and Food Tube vlogger John Quilter; “The Food Busker”, discussed Food Tube’s start-up journey and how budding entrepreneurs can create a successful business online.

Read on to find out what advice Oliver’s team had to share…

What is Food Tube and what was the idea behind it?

Rich Herd: “[On Food Tube] Jamie’s slightly more cheeky, because he’s free to do what he wants to do. He started off as the Naked Chef because that’s what he’s all about, he was free and unencumbered and was a change from Delia Smith! Food Tube is a home for new talent.”

Lisa Tookey: “The conversations we have now with brands and partners that want to work with us all come through the Food Tube lens; it’s kind of the sexiest bit of our business and one that has grown massively over the last two years.”

How did Jamie Oliver make the transition to online and why?

Herd: “Jamie’s always trying to push boundaries and envelopes to make things happen and that’s why Food Tube was born.

“Me and him were mucking around trying to promote his Food Revolution Show in America about four years ago, we had a laptop and a webcam and Jamie was going to do a Twittercast; taking live questions on Twitter and we were going to promote the show in America half an hour before it was due to go live to drum up an audience. We answered a few questions and then Jamie started having a bit of fun and started to give some examples and this half an hour show turned into an hour and a half live broadcast of me trying to chase him around with a webcam while he cooked recipes and did loads of stuff because he was free to do that.

“We missed the entire show that we were meant to be promoting but that was besides the point because he realised he needed to reach this new audience; this new online demographic. We thought that if we’re losing audience from Channel 4 – which we were, they were going somewhere else, online, watching in 4oD, and in digital forms – then how could we be there ready to engage with them? It’s still early days for what we’re doing but it’s the only real celebrity brand that has made the transition to online.”

Was JamieOliver.com a precursor to Food Tube?

Tookey: “Yes, JamieOliver.com started off as a blog and then became the fully-functioning site that it is today. We now have between eight and 12 million unique users a month depending on seasonality, obviously peaking at Christmas, and it’s [a platform] for Jamie to share all his recipes and bring in talent like food bloggers. But that’s evolved over time, our audience now go to Food Tube because they want to be entertained and they go to .com for recipes.

“For brand partnerships having a fully engaged audience around food and having multiple platforms to target them is a benefit. [For example] .com is very female focused whereas Food Tube is more male-focused.”

When thinking about going digital, how do you engage prospective customers/your audience?

Herd: “You need to gain the trust of this new digital audience. When we first started Food Tube, some people thought [about Jamie] ‘Who’s this dude, he just wants to make money and rinse us for what he’s worth!’

“We had to give our audience what they wanted and make lots of new genres. For instance, Jamie’s not that good at making cakes so we’ve got Cupcake Gemma who makes amazing cakes. It’s all about being honest but it [going digital] is a big risk.

How do you make money online using creative content?

Herd: “There’s the juxtaposition between wanting to reach out to an audience and share free content while also being able to commercialise that content.

“So how do you do that? You look at advertising, sponsorships etc. We’re creating Food Tube books and all of those books will have links to the videos because people don’t actually cook from a video. It’s much better to push your audience to a printed recipe because there’s something tangible about that. Food Tube is an entertainment platform rather than an information platform.

“Since Naked Chef, [Jamie’s message] has always been to ‘get people excited about food and get people interested in food’. It’s still the same core message we want to share and the same reason we exist today.”

Food Tube

How do you balance making money with making a difference?

Tookey: “It’s a constant challenge. We’re lucky enough to have Jamie and the brand so that has been less of a challenging journey for us but then in a way that can make it more challenging. There are millions of brands in the world that want to work with him – that have loads of money and want to be in the space – like Coca Cola but we can’t work with them because they don’t share our values.

“We wouldn’t have that kind of content running around Jamie’s videos or use product placement of that. [That then reduces the amount of brands you can work with]. We have to be really strategic when it comes to brand partnerships.

“There’s a huge amount of money to be made in terms of making content with brands, especially with something that is much more immersive and engaging.

“Unless you’re someone like Zoella or PewdyPie, who have millions and millions of views on their channel, you’re not going to be a millionaire out of your ad-sense revenue so that’s going to be a challenge. [Which is why] it’s about branded content and brand partnerships. All of your offline revenue counts as well so merchandise, events etc. All of those things go into your pot to make up your revenue streams.”

So how do you juggle profit with purpose?

Herd: “It’s how you monetise your platform. If you have restrictions on who you can work with then it’s very difficult. It’s the big multi-million brands that have the revenue to spend but they do bad things so we can’t work with them. Whereas we’d love to work with organic farms and small producers but they don’t have enough money to spend on the platforms. It’s a constant challenge.”

Tookey: ‘We often ask our team ‘Can you go out and find partnerships with really artisan brands?’ But sadly those artisan brands don’t have the marketing budgets so it is a balancing act of trying to support the smaller brands while funding the channel through the big brands.”

Herd: Beerforthat is a good example, they have some of the small craft beer brands but they also have the big beer brands such as Heineken. If we did a video with them for a craft beer, the amount of vitriol that comes back [is unreal]. The money’s going to come from Heineken not the craft beer company. You’ve got to work out your brand values.”

Is online the new due diligence?

John Quilter: “Back in the day when you wanted to open a restaurant, you’d open a pop-up to validate it. You’d put half a million into it and hope it would work, often it didn’t, but now due diligence gets done online. That’s what FoodTube is in a way – a portal to test ideas [of what works and what doesn’t]”.

Herd: “Some chefs come to us and are told they’re not right for the mass market but we can see the potential in these guys. We’ve given people an outlet to prove their potential. For example when it comes to DJ BBQ (a chef that cooks while DJing and wearing spandex) the conversations we’ve then had with the commissioner are completely different after a year of him being on the platform.

“Young audiences aren’t going home to watch TV, they’re going online to watch Zoella and the like. They’re not suddenly going to get to 22 and come back to the old traditional way of waiting for something to come on the telly at 9pm. That’s why all the brands are like ‘shit, our bottom has just dropped out our market, how are we going to engage with brands?’.

How can a business achieve success online and on YouTube?

Herd: “Find a relevant audience. It’s about frequency and consistency when it comes to content, quality can be improved later.

“YouTube is a search engine now and the two most essential words are ‘how to’. Any video such as ‘how to paint a wall’ or  ‘how to make a pork pie’ will have an audience there that is ready.

“You need a thing that [makes you stand out]. Remember there’s millions and millions of pieces of content being made on a daily basis.”

Quilter: “The biggest search engine in the world is Google and they own YouTube. If you do well on YouTube, it pushes you further up on Google. If you have a product to sell, then that works.”

Herd: “You’ve got to risk it and you’ve got to go for it and work out what makes sense for your audience, even if it’s just four people or four subscribers – it’s an audience you’re talking to. You need to create a dialogue with them, ask them questions. Being online you have the opportunity to change and change and change.”

Tookey: “Content creation is so creative, chances are people will want to work with you. Don’t think that people [and brands] won’t welcome you.”

Quilter:Obsession leads to perfection which leads to paralysis. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing shit, [and you can then improve]. It’s our fear which keeps us locked in so [just do it].”

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