GaryVee Uncorked: Wine Library TV's Gary Vaynerchuk
This article appears in the June/July issue of Streaming Media magazine, which mails to subscribers next week. Not a subscriber? Click here for your free subscription.
Viewers of Gary Vaynerchuk, the host and creator of Wine Library TV (aka "The Thunder Show," tv.winelibrary.com), can debate how much he’s "Changing the Wine World," as his site’s tagline states, but he might be having a greater effect on what it takes to succeed in online video.
"I’m totally, 100 percent, a nonbeliever in all the over-the-top lighting and all that stuff—editing," Vaynerchuk says. "I just believe it comes down to honest content and people [are] attracted to that. You’re not going to find anybody who’s less into the nuances of editing. I just don’t believe in it. I don’t believe that’s what the successful sauce is."
Each week, Vaynerchuk (known as GaryVee to his more than 300,000 Twitter followers) publishes five new videos, which are watched by approximately 90,000 people on average. With his encyclopedic knowledge of wine and hyperenthusiastic delivery, he’s created a lot of heat for himself, landing appearances on the TODAY show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, among other shows. He’s also landed a seven-figure book deal with HarperStudio (more on that later), and he’s done it all with shows that are caught in one take and are typically poorly lit.
On one recent episode (No. 644), Vaynerchuk joked that his lighting was "definitely not set up properly," then said a lighting pro had set the lights up 2 years prior but the stands have been tripped over so often that he was sure they were off. He was right: He and his guest (Clayton Morris from FOX & Friends) had shadows across their faces while a lighting hot spot glared off the framed New York Jets jersey behind them.
If production values aren’t the successful sauce, what is? "I believe that the personality and the concept is," Vaynerchuk says. "[Lighting] could be dark, it could be light, it could be off. It’s just not something I believe in."
Why would lighting and editing, two cornerstones of video production, be unimportant online? "Because I think they’ve always been unimportant," Vaynerchuk says. "I just think that people have overestimated the importance of that kind of thing. It’s something that was [i]ngrained in Hollywood and television, and thus people thought it was important. But, ultimately, it still comes down to the story. It’s why a documentary can do well; it’s why indie films can do well. It’s just overestimated what it brings to the table." (Just because Vaynerchuck doesn’t care much about production values doesn’t mean that Wine Libary TV fails in that department. In the companion article "Peer Review"; Jan Ozer takes a close look at the production and encoding.)
While he has the resources for a more professional operation, Vaynerchuk lives by the simple creed he preaches. His production team is about as small as you can get. "There’s one person, my camera guy who tapes it and uploads it to TubeMogul," he says. "iMovie, TubeMogul, done. Simplistic." That one person is Chris Mott, well-known to Vaynerchuk’s fans, or "Vayniacs," because of Vaynerchuk’s frequent on-air command "Mott, link it up," when he wants a previous episode linked to the one he’s currently shooting.
That’s one person in front of the camera, one person behind it, and no time on editing. The result is an online video success. Clearly not everyone could pull this off.
Vaynerchuk’s early years show that he has a gift for business, hustle, and storytelling. "I was born in Belarus in the former Soviet Union, came to the U.S. in ’78. [I] was a very entrepreneurial kid," Vaynerchuk says. "I had multiple lemonade stands that I would ride my little Big Wheel around and collect dollars. I realized one location was great, but two or three or four gave me more upside, more opportunity to do more damage, and so I did, which is pretty darn funny when I think about it."
From lemonade stands, Vaynerchuk graduated to baseball cards as a teenager, where he typically pulled in a thousand dollars on a weekend. While selling cards, he met many collectors, and quickly learned how to sell to that mind-set. They were emotional, Vaynerchuk says, "and there was a lot of opportunity within that emotion."
Wine expert Gary Vaynerchuk takes a few minutes at the South by Southwest conference to discuss how online businesses can prosper by growing community.