Rocketboom: Almost 10X Ze Frank's Downloads

Videoblogger Ze Frank is in what he calls a nerd fight with Rocketboom producer Andrew Baron. Frank says that Baron’s numbers are inflated and make it difficult for he and other video bloggers to sell advertisements with much lower numbers to offer. I spoke with both of them on the phone, looked at Rocketboom’s traffic logs and ran my understanding of what I saw past several podcasting industry experts who confirmed my analysis.

I think that if Baron is exaggerating, it’s not by very much. I think his rough numbers are more or less accurate. I also think that’s just the beginning of the story.

Baron says that episodes of Rocketboom are downloaded about 300,000 times each. Frank says his show (called “The Show”) has about 30,000 viewers. Rocketboom delivers its show from four different servers, Tivo, iTunes, Hellio mobile phones and all over the web. Viewer numbers and ad impressions are impossible to quantify absolutely, but it appears to me that each show is getting downloaded through verifiable channels between 150 and 200 thousand times.

Are other, non verified by me distribution channels, bringing those numbers close to Baron’s 300,000 claim? I think they are probably coming close enough that Baron’s number can be accepted as generally accurate with a large grain of salt. Ze Frank himself emphasizes that good analytics are just not available in this brand new industry.

In other words, Baron’s show may only be downloaded 7 or 8 times as much often as Frank’s, not ten, but his claims appear to be in the ball park. Heather Green of Business Week’s Blogspotting just posted on this as well and came to just the opposite conclusion of mine but based on the same numbers. The issue here, though, is the ability to sell ads. Whether Rocketboom has 250k downloads or 300k isn’t the issue if Frank has 30k. The point is that Rocketboom may not be strong in some metrics (like pageviews) but when it comes to downloads the show is scoring high. As Green points out, it also shows that the loss of Amanda Congdon did not cause great pain to the number of downloads.

Big Issues

Numbers and money are obviously what pays the rent and thus they are important, but there are many things that matter more than these numbers. The number of downloads does not equal the number of people who actually view the show. The number of people who press play does not equal the number of people who watch long enough to view an ad. Tacked on ads like Revver serves up for Ze Frank are very different from innovative ads like the one based in Second Life that Rocketboom recently did for a rechargeable battery recycling company.

Pageviews are very difficult to track and are close to meaningless anyway, particularly when it comes to multimedia. See this Alexaholic graph, for example, that makes it look like Ze Frank is beating Rocketboom handily and that TechCrunch is much larger than both of them combined. I’ve seen Rocketboom numbers, the show is of general interest and it is everywhere. In fact there is little reason to come to the site if you like watching the show. I believe that they have a larger number of downloaders than we have subscribers and page visitors. Of course we’re a very topic specific site.

What people get out of watching is an other key question. Jeneane Sessum says there needs to be a likability metric and Robert Scoble says we need a way to measure engagement.

Ze Frank viewers leave hundreds of comments, participate in contests, send in clips of themselves and donate money. Comments are far sparser at Rocketboom. My girlfriend once spent all her free time for a week watching every Ze Frank show that’s been made and I laughed out loud after most of them. If I never saw another episode of Rocketboom again that would be ok with me. I like Ze Frank’s content much better.

The fact remains however, that Rocketboom’s content is being downloaded nearly 10 times as often as Frank’s. I accept Andrew Baron’s explanation of that, too. Rocketboom exercises almost zero control over distribution of their show – other than to push it into as many channels as possible. Frank prominently asks his viewers to keep his videos out of sites like YouTube, presumably so he can track the numbers closely. Rocketboom also has first mover’s advantage, is work safe and, as unfair as this may be, plays the attractive woman card.

Ze Frank and many other video podcasters ought to be able to make a living doing what they are doing. The question of numbers is probably one part of what’s slowing advertising spending in the space. The fact that Rocketboom is as well known as it is shouldn’t lead advertisers to believe that every other video blogger’s audience is insignificant. It’s a changed game and it continues to change.

To see more top video blogs, check out the site of the upcoming Vloggies awards.