This past Friday, award-winning YouTube channel SourceFed was officially cancelled.
Founded by YouTube personality Philip DeFranco in early 2012, SourceFed offered daily news and entertainment content to its 1.7 million subscriber base. Its cancellation came as a shock to the channel’s hundreds of thousands of fans–including yours truly.
So, what exactly happened? Unfortunately, details are in short supply.
SourceFed’s complete shutdown unfolded over just a few weeks. Some rumors started following a surprise announcement by DeFranco on March 13 that he was taking a week off from his personal news show. A week later, SourceFed announced that its long-running “TableTalk” series was going on hiatus.
However, nothing was “official” until Monday, March 20. SourceFed published a video featuring the channel’s current team of active news personalities: Ava Gordy, Mike Falzone, Candace Carrizales, and Steven Suptic. The four hosts announced publicly that the channel had been cancelled, disclosing that SourceFed’s team of almost 40 employees would be left jobless after the shutdown.
Last week was SourceFed’s final week of producing new content. It ended with a six-hour live stream event on Friday, March 24.
New Ownership Troubles
It’s fairly clear that SourceFed’s cancellation stems in part from the channel’s recent change in corporate ownership.
In 2013, DeFranco sold SourceFed Media to Revision3, which owned several other YouTube channels. Discovery Media bought Revision3 shortly thereafter. SourceFed operated successfully under that arrangement for several years.
However, SourceFed Media was sold again in October to Group Nine Media, a new company partly created by Discovery. Group Nine also purchased popular viral outlets The Dodo, Now This, Thrillist, and Seeker.
Group Nine’s stated goal was to “share services” at the corporate level while preserving each outlet’s creative freedom. In other words, the company wanted to reduce overhead while still publishing a range of content through each subsidiary outlet.
Unfortunately, for still unclear reasons, Group Nine chose to cancel SourceFed only a few months into this new arrangement.
The Odd Channel Out
Of the five networks Group Nine acquired, SourceFed was clearly the odd one out in terms of the content it produced.
Each of the four other outlets Group Nine purchased produces viral video content in its given subject area. The Dodo produces animal-driven content; Thrillist, food and travel; Seeker, science content; and Now This, viral video news with a not-so-subtle liberal slant. (Seeker and Thrillist also produced written articles and other content on their respective websites.)
Because these four outlets were more uniform in final work product, their operations were theoretically more consistent. This makes sense, given Group Nine’s stated goals with corporate overhead.
Apparently, Group Nine also viewed their components as interchangeable. On March 17, Group Nine suddenly turned Seeker’s 1.4-million-subscriber YouTube channel into a new YouTube home for Now This. (Seeker’s subscriber base, predictably, wasn’t happy with the change.)
SourceFed, by contrast, was personality-driven rather than content-driven. The channel featured a diverse and lively cast of hosts throughout its five-year history, who contributed to a distinctly fun and quirky video style. The company also encouraged its hosts to pursue their interests, resulting in dozens of memorable comedy bits and several popular series.
SourceFed’s support of its hosts’ creativity also spawned several sub-channels throughout its history. First, DeFranco and other original hosts founded SourceFedNERD, the most successful spin-off channel. SourceFed later spawned gaming channel Super Panic Frenzy, sketch channel Nuclear Family, and culture channel People Be Like.
The Good and The Bad
SourceFed’s personality-dependent and creativity-driven model, while key to the channel’s success, was also a source of ongoing challenges.
In the beginning, DeFranco planned that hosts would eventually grow out of the channel and be replaced by fresh faces. To some extent, that worked: of the six original hosts from 2012–Elliot Morgan, Joe Bereta, Lee Newton, Steve Zaragoza, Trisha Hershberger, and Meg Turney–all but Zaragoza eventually moved on to other entertainment outlets.
However, it arguably worked too well. Some later hosts who themselves became fan favorites, like Reina Scully and Maude Garrett, eventually also moved on. Others popular hosts, including Zaragoza, Matt Lieberman, William Haynes, and Bree Essrig, played less prominent roles on the main channel as they pursued projects on the sub-channels.
SourceFed’s biggest challenge tied directly into the site’s changing of the guard. The high rate of host turnover resulted in the noticeable disengagement of a large part of the subscriber base. Some members of the audience simply didn’t grow as attached to newer hosts. As the dynamics of the channel shifted, these viewers became less engaged and watched fewer videos overall.
This was a very bad sign. On YouTube, user engagement and total video views are what translate into revenue for content creators.
Too Little, Too Late
SourceFed soldiered on despite these hardships, adding new hosts and continuing to innovate with its content. In recent months, the channel had reportedly started seeing positive upward trends in viewership and engagement.
However, the cancellation of the channel makes it seem that Group Nine felt these improvements didn’t justify any additional risks. From a financial point of view, the company probably viewed it as too little, too late.
Steven Suptic, in a video posted to his personal YouTube channel, speculates that the long struggle to rally SourceFed’s viewers contributed to the channel’s cancellation.
I think, what’s unfortunate, is when you’re owned by a parent company that has a hands-off approach, you’re provided with great budgets, but not necessarily great advice–or, advice at all. And I think unfortunately, in the transition during a merger to a smaller company that isn’t god-damned Discovery that has the budget of a thousand suns, drastic decisions are a lot easier to come to.
I don’t think there’s any one person to blame for the end of SourceFed. Granted, it would have been nice to see what happened in three or so months, because it did seem like we were on an upward path.
Was All This Avoidable?
Original Revision3 founder Jim Louderback posted an article on Medium describing how, in the early days, Revision3 and other similar multi-channel networks tried to incentivize content creators. At first, content creators received a cut of the company’s revenue–stock options, portions of sponsorship sales, percentages of monthly revenue, and the like. The company’s success turned into increased earnings for those most responsible.
However, Discovery liquidated those options after purchasing Revision3. After that, Discovery treated its content creators as employees, not co-venturers. They signed new hosts for small bonuses up-front, offering little incentive to stay when other companies made competitive offers.
Louderback writes that, given a second chance, he would give content creators partial ownership of the parent company:
If I had to do it all over again — and when I do — I will absolutely create an option pool for those creators that ultimately drive the business, even if they aren’t employees. Because in this new world influencers and creators hold most of the cards. Media brands still mean something — but less and less over time.
On paper, this plan makes sense. Co-ownership could have incentivized some, if not all, of the core team’s hosts to stay on longer. This, in turn, would have helped keep the audience more stable and engaged.
Unfortunately, this is still just speculation. We can’t be 100% sure such an arrangement would have delivered to the degree needed to prevent SourceFed’s viewer drop-off. Plus, we have no idea what would happen in the event that a Discovery or a Group Nine-like entity still tried to buy Revision3’s holdings. It’s possible they could try to buy out hosts’ shares as a part of the takeover, creating the same bad conditions later on down the line.
As Suptic suggests later in his video, “Maybe it was just time.”
A Valuable Legacy
For the channel’s last “Nerd News” video, SourceFedNERD hosts Sam Bashor, Whitney Moore, and Filup Molina paid tribute to SourceFed’s legacy. The trio filmed a wacky, long-form sketch that paid homage to many of the characters and comedy bits across SourceFed’s history. That video–which I will not spoil here–serves as a reminder of how many happy moments the team created over the years.
Despite those positive memories, SourceFed’s current team has every reason to feel sad. Given the upward trajectory of the channel’s growth, there was clear potential for a comeback. Given that reality, Group Nine’s decision to cancel SourceFed before the channel could fully realize that growth is tragic.
However, the online community is better off for SourceFed’s existence. While the specific SourceFed company no longer exists, the conversations and memories it created will live on, both as current SourceFed hosts find new venues and as inspiration for future content creators. Plus, though it’s only a small comfort, the channel’s old videos can still be re-watched at any time.
I pray that all of SourceFed’s current hosts and staff members are able to find success moving forward. However, I hope that everyone involved finds solace in the fact that they leave behind an amazing legacy. For those of us who were and are still fans of the channel, you are legends.
Even though SourceFed may be gone, the legends it left behind will never really die.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated on April 8, 2017 to address a typographical error in the text.