In Ep. 71 of Earned, Conor sits down with Marc Hustvedt, president of YouTube sensation MrBeast. Spearheaded by 24 year-old creator Jimmy Donaldson, whose content revolves around extreme and expensive stunts, MrBeast boasts 137 MILLION subscribers and several billion views, making it the largest YouTube channel in America and the fourth-largest in the world.
Marc’s own resume prior to MrBeast is equally impressive. The digital entertainment expert and veteran entrepreneur has founded several successful ventures, including Tubefilter, Supergravity Pictures, and the Streamy Awards, and has served as CEO at Above Average and React Media.
We start the episode by learning why Marc enjoys building new companies, and hear why he’s particularly interested in YouTubers. We ask Marc about the core elements that make a piece of content successful, and the reason behind MrBeast’s most recent explosion in (billions of) views. Marc shares how the MrBeast team has leaned into TikTok, before explaining the importance of viewer acquisition with captivating video titles and thumbnails, and a few of the ways MrBeast optimizes its content for performance. We hear Marc’s take on the current monetization models of social platforms like YouTube and TikTok, and how MrBeast’s side ventures like Feastables and MrBeast Burger are now contributing a larger slice of the revenue pie. To close the show, we discuss the impact that MrBeast, aka Jimmy Donaldson, has had on his hometown of Greenville, North Carolina, and hear what’s in store for the company over the next 20 years.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“You are trying to continually optimize to keep the audience stimulated and excited”: How MrBeast Videos Garner Billions of Views
Conor Begley: What are the key things that you guys are optimizing from a content perspective? There’s the thumbnail, title, first minute—what else is there? Are those the most important?
Marc Hustvedt: Honestly, there's a lot to it in terms of our theories, and it's constantly evolving. If you asked us three months ago, we hadn't discovered something we just discovered two weeks ago with regard to structure and storytelling. But you are trying to continually optimize to keep the audience stimulated and excited. Particularly with our product, we don't put in a lot of what people from traditional entertainment think is valuable. Like the little simplest thing: you'll rarely see an establishing shot from us. If we're going into a Walmart or something, you don't need to show the outside of a Walmart and then go into it, but television was sort of trained in that way.
One of the most fun things to see is when we've got people who came from television or film, and they're intelligent, they have the skill sets to really do something special with entertainment, but they still need to be retrained. It's fun to watch them reprogram their own assumptions about it.
But [in terms of] value, obviously you have to deliver on the promise of what the viewer expected, and that often means early in the video is really critical. We sort of train internally to think about where in the video is that going to go. Let's say there's this giant spectacle with an airplane shooting off fireworks, and it's going to cost a lot of money. It actually really matters where that is in the video, because if we're looking at where we need to spend, we're typically going to bias towards the front side of the video. So there are little things about the literal time of the video and the progression of the video that are super important to think about.
Conor Begley: And again, the beauty of YouTube is that you get so much data on [viewership]. Like in minute 26, we saw a big drop in viewership. What happened in that minute? You can do that kind of analysis on the fly, which is so powerful if you actually use it.
Marc Hustvedt: Within a video, we'll do a brand read, and that may be like 30 to 45 seconds talking about Shopify. They’re a terrific partner of ours. Wwe planted a flag on a mountain that nobody had climbed in Antarctica—it was really fun. But a lot of people would do reads that feel like ad breaks. The viewer is conditioned to hit the skip button, it's literally built into every interface. And so knowing that, how do we make it so that these are not skippable because you're so invested in the story that's going on that you just need to see what's going on in the background?
So in Squid Game, that was an elimination event using the dodgy game and they were throwing them and you were literally watching people fall out, you were now invested in the number of people that were left in Squid Game, but still Jimmy's talking about Brawl Stars, this mobile game, and people are saying, “thank you Brawl Stars.” That was what we worked into the story. So anyway, high-retention ads are something we really specialize in, so they’re not interruptive ads—it's so weaved into the story.
“You can ignore it, or you can lean into it”: Why MrBeast Tapped Into TikTok
Conor Begley: I'm curious how much TikTok has played a role, or is that still a growing channel for you?
Marc Hustvedt: Absolutely. I don’t know about you, but I'm a big fan of Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma, which looks at incumbent businesses and how there are these tectonic shifts in almost every industry, and usually the incumbents are slow to catch up and the upstarts therefore have a real opportunity to step in. And we were all seeing it; YouTube, of course, was seeing it: the incredible growth of sub one minute vertical content on TikTok and elsewhere.
And on one level, it's like an existential threat to our long-form YouTube business. If our long-form YouTube business has a couple of ad breaks, a couple million dollar ad integrations in the middle, each video is a multimillion dollar piece of business, but it's on a 12- to 18-minute video. And here comes the consumption of this ultra short-form content. I think on one level you can ignore it, or you can really lean into it. And I think Jimmy [Donaldson] was really savvy in this way, and it really is a Clayton Christensen type of approach, where you set up the competitor of yourself to compete against yourself.
That's literally what we did with this guy named Rohan, who's a genius and leads our vertical content team. He built a team and they really leaned in and said, “we're not going to repurpose [our content from YouTube], we're not going to look at it as a syndication thing.” [They decided to] really go native in the platform and have these people only focus on that. And TikTok was primarily the focus, now of course we’ve got [YouTube] Shorts as well.
But the most followers of any channel in the world added last year was MrBeast. It was something like 35.7 million followers added, the next was like Bad Bunny at 30 million, and The Rock I think added like 20 million.
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