This duo is probably best associated with the remarkable business they built and sold — Fullscreen, but the impact these two have had on the business span much farther back. From two very different sides of the business, Strompolos and Cooperstein were early drivers of revenue models for YouTube creators — Strompolos from inside YouTube having been on the team building the Partner Program, YouTube’s rev share model; and Cooperstein from the agency side, leading brands to the “influencer well”.
“I really wanted to be at that intersection between technology and entertainment. To me, what was far more profound was that individuals from all walks of life, from all different parts of the world, now had access to pretty cheap technology and had distribution platform on YouTube. I really focused my intention on that. And I believed new media companies would be built in the eve of this disruption.”
And while Strompolos and Cooperstein are currently well-known for Fullscreen, both of their most reputable contributions to the business came around 2005, when YouTube creators were beginning to generate meaningful audience spurring a new kind of career path — the YouTube star.
Approaching creators from different sides of the business — Strompolos from inside YouTube and Cooperstein from an outside media standpoint — both ultimately shaped the business models that would fuel YouTube stardom and YouTuber-based branded entertainment. “I was able to rally some resources [at YouTube] and [with] a small group of people built what is known today as the ‘Partner Program,’” said Strompolos. “[The program] was an effort to democratize revenue sharing for this new creator community, which was just really getting going at that time.”
And Strompolos’ contribution set in motion a model that Google would patent and one that would influence generations of user-generated technologies to follow. And though YouTube has been criticized for its “tax”, today some of the most popular social media sites have followed the rev share concept including Amazon Video Direct, Dailymotion, YouNow, Musically and Facebook, among many others.
“[When] Google received a patent for the monetization of user-created video, I was one of the people named to that patent,” added Strompolos, “so I’m really proud of the work I did at that time.”
But George wasn’t alone in the early user-generated generation and in helping creators make money. Cooperstein, first in his role as VP of User-Generated Content for Al Gore’s people-powered Current TV and later from his role as VP, Director of Innovations West at marketing agency Initiative, was early to the influencer game. During his time at Initiative, he was charged with helping brands cash in on the new-found influence of internet celebrities.
“I also was excited about production and marketing model that Maker was founded on — share resources and audience to make all boats rise. It was a golden age where many of the best practices and formats, biz models for creator were developed.”
It was early in the branded entertainment life cycle and while Cooperstein was focused on creating activations across any and all emerging platforms, his prior work with Current TV drew him towards YouTube and social media influencers. And he cites an early campaign he did with Strompolos (at YouTube) for Carl’s Jr. as the “aha moment” when he fully grasped the power of the YouTube star.
And in 2009, that campaign was among a handful that incorporated YouTube stars to move product and drive brand awareness. Cooperstein and Strompolos weren’t messing around — they packed a list of heavy-hitters including iJustine, Ryan Higa, Alphacat and SMOSH into the campaign. On launch day, the branded videos nearly broke the internet on behalf of Carl’s Jr. generating millions of views.
Cooperstein also shared that, at the time, brands were paying hundreds of thousands for homepage takeovers on YouTube, a dollar commitment that far outweighed the total budget allocated for these creators. But the impact of the Carl’s Jr. campaign was impactful, so much in fact that it seeded what was to become the behemouth that is “branded entertainment”.
“This campaign was the lightbulb moment for me and George,” Cooperstein told VideoInk. “The creator videos turned out to be far more efficient and impactful than the homepage takeover (a big deal back then) by the brand. It was a campaign that actually moved the needle. It was innovative marketing (at the time) that worked.”
“Even today, you talk to some people about online talent and that people do this for a living, and they’re surprised,” added Strompolos. “So imagine in 2007, people just didnt get it. Hollywood didn’t get it. Madison Avenue didn’t get it.”
Ultimately, it would introduce Cooperstein and Strompolos to what was set to become an entire business model — the multi-channel network.
Building MCN’s. And Watching Them Fall.
“I found myself in a unique position,” said Strompolos. “And I believed new media companies would be built in the eve of this disruption.”
And, over the course of 2008 and 2009, some of the early video networks were being formed around the YouTube creators that could form what Cooperstein refers to as the “YouTube Mount Rushmore”.
“Machinima had gotten started,” added Strompolos. “Frankly I thought there was a way to do it better so I left my role at YouTube with the simple mission of empowering creators,” noting that at on a similar timeline, Cooperstein had departed his post at Initiative to join Maker Studios, then called “The Station”, as its founding CEO.
“I was convinced that KassemG, Shay Carl, Lisa Nova and the other talent Danny [Zappin] brought together were the future. This was 2009 and YouTube was coming of age and these were the platforms stars.” said Cooperstein. “I was blown away that they could release a new video and it would have a million views 24 hours later.”
And so the crew set out to build a new kind of collective, a network that would share resources, empower creators and build cumulative audience to “make all boats rise,” as Cooperstein puts it. “It was a golden age where many of the best practices and formats, biz models for creator were developed.”
It wasn’t until 2011 that Cooperstein left Maker Studios, then a competitor to Strompolos’ Fullscreen to run the business fresh off of YouTube’s Original Channels Initiative and fresh funding.
“This was novel and exciting. I also was excited about production and marketing model,” added Cooperstein. As MCN’s evolved, the offering for creators became two-fold — the benefit of a sales team and infrastructure for ad sales and brand partnerships paired with talent management. Later, original IP development and production would become a focus.
But from their work, alongside other early MCN leaders like Big Frame, started by Sarah Penna, MysteryGuitarman (Joe Penna), and Destorm Power, Machinima, DanceOn, INDMUSIC, and StyleHaul, an entire industry began to mature around YouTube creators.
The result — mega-millions in investment, acquisitions, and talent salaries. And whether through the Partner Program, or branded entertainment or the network effect, Cooperstein and Strompolos have had their hands on helping creators make meaningful money, while building media businesses that sit exactly where Stompolos dreamed of being — “at the intersection of technology and entertainment.”