- Grow watch time, viewership and subscribers
- Create content that excites the audience and creates authentic engagement
- Become a popular channel with a Gen C audience on YouTube
- Built a consistent content strategy
- Boosted viewer participation by involving them in the creation process
- Portrayed high-profile historical figures and mainstream stars in their videos
- 10M total subscribers
- 1B lifetime views
- 37M average views per rap battle
- 8 of the 100 most commented-on videos on YouTube
In just two and a half years since launch, Maker Studios’ Epic Rap Battles of History has become one of the most popular channels on YouTube, amassing over one billion views on just 38 videos—nearly all of which follow the same format. Created by Peter Shukoff (Nice Peter) and Lloyd Ahlquist (EpicLLOYD), ERB’s unique blend of comedy and music has driven the channel’s overwhelming success. But it has also engaged its audience in ways no other channel has. So how did ERB do it? We highlight four strategies that carried it into the YouTube elite.
Build a consistent content strategy
The Epic Rap Battles format has remained the same from the very beginning. It opens with an announcement of the two rappers, continues with a musical back-and-forth (often with language that may be considered NSFW), and wraps with a voice-over asking, “Who won? Who’s next? You decide.” Finally, the video transitions to a 15–30-second end card pushing fans to more videos, iTunes, the merch store and the channels of any collaborating YouTuber talent. By following a familiar pattern, viewers know exactly what to expect any time they click on an ERB video.
The power of the format was evident from the launch of /ERB. The first 15 rap battles were uploaded to /NicePeter, before the channel moved to /ERB for Season 2. Driven by the rap battle format, /ERB ramped up to 1M subscribers within six months and 5M subs in under a year and a half.
The only time /ERB deviates from the rap battle format is to upload the occasional channel news video that mentions the upcoming schedule and guest stars. These videos fit the comedic style of the channel (typically, they consist of the animation of a historical figure talking directly to the audience), but also provide useful information on when to tune in for new videos. They also tease the audience with particular guest stars or historical figures that will feature in upcoming videos.
The result is that subscribers are very well informed of when a new video is coming. In the first day after a new upload, subscribers make up about 1/3 of all video views on the channel. In subsequent days, that number drops to about 15%. Though /ERB doesn’t often stick to an exact day of the week or month for new uploads, clearly communicating the day of upload helps the core fans know when to come back.
Talk to your fans...and let them talk back
An open line of communication between /ERB’s creators and its fans has been instrumental in the channel’s success. While many channels will talk to their audience, and some will even respond, very few utilize YouTube’s social features the way /ERB does.
By asking “Who won? Who’s next?” at the end of every video, it encourages its viewers to contribute to the conversation. As of June 2014, eight of the top 100 most commented-on videos of all time on YouTube are from /ERB. A majority of the comments are either a direct response to who won the battle or a suggestion of who the fan would like to see in a future battle. The latter category is especially prominent, largely because Peter and Lloyd base the battles on what the audience suggests. At the end of every video, the commenter who suggested that particular battle is highlighted. This creates a huge incentive to input a suggestion because viewers have the chance to be recognized in front of the entire /ERB audience.
Build longer viewer sessions with end cards
The average video on /ERB is a shade over two minutes—not particularly lengthy even by YouTube standards. However, the channel has managed to drive longer viewer sessions through use of annotated end cards at the conclusion of every rap battle. Over the life of an /ERB video, an end card can drive over one million clicks, most often sending viewers to behind-the-scenes footage on /ERB’s partner channel (/ERB2) or to another rap battle on /ERB. Since the videos are on the shorter side and highly captivating, often a very large percentage of viewers stick around to the end card.
Cameos and collabs expose videos to new audiences
High-profile collaborations have been one of the major reasons that the rap battle format has worked so well. Peter and Lloyd have turned the channel into a place where stars on and off YouTube can come to be creative, which has exposed the channel to many audiences who may not have otherwise found it.
The guest appearances range from full video takeovers, where Peter and Lloyd don’t appear at all, to seconds-long nonspeaking cameo appearances. These guest spots not only stir up excitement for the core /ERB fanbase, but they also drive traffic from sources that might not otherwise be aware of the channel. For example, a recent video that guest starred Ray William Johnson got tens of thousands of views directly from Ray’s channel—viewers that may not have been exposed to the video without seeing it curated on /RayWilliamJohnson.
Other notable cameos include YouTube stars such as Jenna Marbles, PewDiePie and George Watsky, and off-YouTube talent such as Key and Peele, Snoop Dogg and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Great content is the heart of any successful YouTube channel strategy, and /ERB certainly has that. It has also taken the next step and built a massively engaged audience with consistency, collaboration, communication and an effective end card strategy. With one billion views and counting, /ERB and its engaged audience should be a vital part of the YouTube community for a long time to come.