Comedian/musician Rob Paravonian has to fight through algorithms, pitches for ad buys, and an inundation of competing clickbait just to reach the thousands of fans he’s already made. Such is the current state of social media driving online “content.”
Paravonian is best known for his viral Pachelbel Rant video that made the rounds in the early days of YouTube and which has over 13 million views. He has just completed his year-long 52 Sellout project wherein he wrote, shot, edited, created music for, and posted a new commercial spoof each week. Though the series garnered a small following of devoted fans, it never really took off like his earlier viral hits. None of the videos broke through the Reddit/blogger/aggregator echo barrier and the two highest-viewed videos were reposts of existing commercials for which Paravonian created contrasting music for comedic effect.
When asked if he would have embarked on such an ambitious project if he knew the numbers would be so underwhelming Paravonian shot back “of course! I’m a comedian and a musician, what the ✄✄✄✄ else am I supposed to do?”
After his publicist convinced him to return to the table to complete the interview, Paravonian continued, “sorry. All of these media sites and reposters of comedy are only concerned with clicks and shares, and what’s actually being shared is secondary. It’s kind of frustrating.
“Not to mention that the algorithms are optimized for, well, bull✄✄✄t basically,” he adds, before veering off into a harangue about fake news being the fault of the people sharing it as much as the people making it.
“Back to the algorithms,” I intervene, “do you mean facebook?”
“They’re one example. They want to optimize the amount of clickable s✄✄t that you see, and they’d prefer it if that clickable s✄✄t was somehow still on their site so they can continue to feed you ads. And they actively suppress YouTube links which makes it really hard to get non-facebook-hosted videos to catch on.
“Which is maddening because I have a facebook page with nearly 5,000 ‘likes,’ which means nearly 5,000 people have taken the time to stop by my page and let me know they want to see my work and the links that I share. But every time I post a link facebook asks me if I want to ‘boost’ the post, meaning do I want to pay them money to reach the people that have already said they want to see my stuff? All the while they’re making money by feeding ads to the people that are looking at all the stuff I’ve already posted—with no cut of the ad money going to me, the person who’s creating the work that people are there to see.
“And YouTube? Hell, I have 26,000 subscribers and I’m lucky if I get 300 people to see a new video. No one really knows what metrics go into their recommendation algorithm, though a lot of people have guesses. Some say the biggest factor is watch time, some say it’s how many subscribers watch in the first day. If it’s watch time I’m screwed because all of these commercials are about 1-minute long. I think next year I’m gonna be one of those vloggers who just sits around overreacting to the normal world around me.”
“So, you’re going to be the next React To guy, or maybe the next Pewtie Poo?” I ask.
“Oh, god no. I’m kidding. I came up at a time when we were trying to make art. Not “Art” as a pretentious, museum kind of thing, but art as in something from your soul that has a point of view and tries to communicate to other people.”
“Is there room for ‘art’ in a world of content?” I ask.
“That’s a good f✄✄✄ing question, I’m not sure. If I were a Magic 8 Ball I’d say ‘outlook not good.’”
Despite his frustration with the current workings of the online mediaspace, when asked if he considers the project a failure Paravonian is quick to say no.
“It’s not a failure because I did some really good work. I pushed myself to try different things, I created work I never would have made otherwise, and I put a lot of good ‘content’” he says, with the most sardonic air quotes ever seen, “out into the world, and it’ll still be there tomorrow.”
To date the 52 videos in the series have over 123,000 views on YouTube, 90,000 coming from the two videos in which Paravonian changed the music of an existing commercial (The Amazon Lion Dog ad and the Bacardi house-on-a-truck ad). Another two videos were cross-posted on facebook where they received 3,900 additional views.