5G will bring download speeds up to 100x faster than 4G. That speed boost will force content creators to evolve. Stewart Reynolds (@Brittlestar), aka The Internet’s Favourite Dad* (*unproven) says the biggest impact will be in how quickly content must be created.
Below is a transcript of this conversation. Some parts have been edited for clarity.
♪ Sometimes it’s hard to find some peace and quiet ♪
♪ So the bathroom’s where I go ♪
♪ Me and my phone on the throne checking YouTube ♪
♪ Hitting like on some videos ♪
♪ I know this won’t win me Dad of the Year ♪
♪ But come on give me a chance now ♪
♪ If the roll is done I grab another one ♪
♪ Set it right set it overhand ♪
♪ And now I’m singing like ♪
♪ Family, you know I don’t want much ♪
♪ I even love handmade crafts made of macaroni ♪
♪ Come on now you should know me ♪
♪ All I need is tasty craft beer please ♪
♪ Sometimes I might eat too much ♪
♪ Not worried about my weight ♪
♪ Got that Dad bod rocking on me ♪
♪ Skechers on my feet ♪
♪ Cargo shorts look good on me ♪
♪ I’m a Dad that’s what I do ♪
♪ I get the groceries when I’m asked to ♪
♪ The hair on my head’s getting thin that’s true ♪
♪ But I got lots on my body ♪
♪ Me and your mom said clean your room ♪
♪ But I’ll probably forget about it real real soon ♪
♪ You can find me with a beer by the barbecue ♪
♪ I’m a Dad that’s what I do ♪
Michael Hainsworth: Stewart Reynolds, AKA Brittlestar is the Internet’s favorite dad. Claim of “favorite” status unproven. He’s a content creator looking to the brave new world of 5G. But before we talk about the future, I asked why content creation and not accounting.
♪ I’m a dad that’s what I do ♪
Stewart Reynolds: Well, I think it was probably less about waking up saying, “Hey, I would like to be a-” and more of waking up going, “Wow, I don’t have any money for mortgage and these people will pay me to make content.” So it was more a case of necessity than anything else. It was more a case of, you have the means of production here in your pocket and you can do it and you can turn that into money so you’d be an idiot not to.
MH: So your Genesis as a content creator is closely tied to the evolution of technology.
SR: Absolutely, yeah. Well, I mean 1000 percent. I’ve been creating content as a full-time gig for seven years now. I remember doing a talk like early on, maybe half a year into doing this, at a school for kids who are in Grade Eight choosing high schools, what schools to go into. And they did this big spiel before I spoke where the school board guy was like, if you wanna do something in arts, go this direction. If you wanna do something in business, go this direction. If you’d like something vocational or trade oriented, go this direction. And then I got up and I was like, “Kids, what I’m doing as a full-time job didn’t exist six months ago.”
I think one of the things that’s weird for me is because when I started seven years ago, I was 43 years old. I’ve been a fan of technology since I was a kid. And I really can’t believe that I have this pocket computer that can connect with anyone in the world and I can get entertainment, I can get news, I can communicate, I can do all this stuff. Every now and then I sort of pause and my ten-year-old brain explodes.
MH: Right, exactly because when we were kids, today was the future.
SR: Oh yeah, yeah.
MH: So let’s talk about the recent past of that future because to your point, 2007, the iPhone comes along. Not too long after that, we saw this explosion of apps and this ecosystem that was built around it. If it wasn’t for that little glowing rectangle back in 2007 and all the others that were in the orbit at the same time, we wouldn’t be where we are today. So let’s talk a little bit about that introduction and the evolution that followed.
SR: The introduction of like technology in general?
MH: The introduction of this little gadget that made your career possible. Tell us about the early days of the Wild West of this world.
SR: I remember getting my first Blackberry with the email push notifications and I was like, God, this is amazing. And I remember the first weekend I had it I was in New York and a friend of mine in the UK who was like this super rich pop star, songwriter guy emailed me. And he said, “I’m only emailing you because I know you’re gonna get it right away.” And I think we were both appreciating the fact that it’s like, wow, this is obviously a massive game-changing thing that’s happening. And then sort of going forward, I remember getting like the first iPhone 3G. And it was like, this is super cool, but I had to jailbreak it in order to record video. But I was like, wait a minute. If I can record video on this thing and I can take that content and I can post it somewhere like YouTube or wherever, I’ve kinda got the whole production studio in my hand here right now, I can create things. So that suddenly made it easy to create content that was like everywhere, you could go anywhere and create content.
So in 2013, when we started making Vines on the Vine app, it would be a case of, I had an iPhone four and I used that for the first year and a half where it was like, well let’s just go down the street and record something, let’s go down to this, they’re doing construction down there. Let’s go down and do a bit down there. It’s like, okay, let’s go. You didn’t have to think about it. You just did like put your cargo shorts on, throw your phone in your pocket and walked down the street. Technology essentially brought the production facility or to make it even more basic, it’s put the factory in your pocket, which sounds dirty, but it’s not dirty.
MH: But what it also does is give you the ability to create that content at any time and that anyone can consume that content at any time. You mentioned Vine specifically, which was super short videos, what were they? Seven seconds long?
SR: 6.4 seconds.
MH: 6.4 seconds.
MH: Now as a content creator, to what do you attribute that time limitation back in 2013? Was it tied to the technology, do you think?
SR: Yeah, I think it was tied to the technology and to try to reach the widest audience possible because people didn’t wanna spend hundreds of dollars downloading videos onto their phone if they’re on data. And I think it was definitely tied to the technology in what the audience had compared to what you might be able to produce, because you could certainly produce longer videos and people were doing it on YouTube and all that kinda stuff. But this idea that I could create something on my phone and then upload it easily and not take forever to upload it and not expensively. And then someone could watch a whole bunch of these videos inexpensively was a huge factor for sure.
MH: So you were creating content at 6.4 seconds at a time and actually making money off that. That was a career suddenly.
SR: It made no sense whatsoever, it made absolutely no sense. I literally came into doing Vine because we had gone through this massive business collapse six years prior. Took us six years to kind of just get by. And we were barely getting by in 2013. And I did a couple of videos that kinda took off and I had done it because I needed to basically feel good again, I needed to feel happy again and smile. I remember watching a blooper reel from The Office, The (American) Office. And I was like, man, I want a job where I laugh every day, that’d be great. So I started making these videos and then in August of 2013, Disney DM’d me and I was like, it’s a fake. And then I looked them up and confirmed that they were them. They emailed me and then Disney hired us and paid us thousands of dollars to make a bunch of Vines, a bunch of 6.4 second videos and said, yeah, we’re gonna fly you and your family to California. And I swear to God at this point in time, we were eating lentils seven different ways every week. Like it was like we had nothing, like we were in dire fiscal straits. And so it was like a total lifeline for us. And this idea that you could make money was phenomenal. And I mean, I did really well off of Vine. I certainly didn’t make crazy amounts of money, but did really well. But there were lots of people on Vine who were making $60,000 USD off Vine, which is crazy.
MH: The evolution of technology to where we find ourselves today, as you point out, your first phone, an iPhone 3G, you get the iPhone 4, oh it’s got the better camera, it’s got the faster processor.
SR: 480. Woo, yeah.
MH: Exactly. And it can take better videos. What has been the evolution of your content creation because of the evolution of that glowing rectangle? It is now substantially more powerful than it was even seven years ago.
SR: Yeah, well, I think it kinda goes back to what you were saying about, how the technology and the time affected the length of the videos and all that type of thing. Then when people were able to more easily consume better quality productions, the need to create better quality productions was suddenly there.
So for example, with Vine, it was a square video and it was 480 by 480 pixels. So that’s pretty low res. And then suddenly it bumped up to 720 and it doesn’t sound like a tremendous amount, but actually it’s a massive amount. If you put a 480 video in a 720 square, everything starts to look a little blurry. And that made me more aware, from a production point, that I had to pay more attention to what was happening in the background, in the framing, what people could see, how they could see it. It also opened up opportunities because I knew that people can now see this better compared to before. I had to like, make sure that if there’s something important to the video storyline, as it were, I didn’t have to shove it right up to the camera really closely. I knew they would be able to see it further back and all that kinda stuff. So all those little practical things that would go along with it. But I think that the quality got better. So people expected better quality.
MH: And if they didn’t get that better quality, they moved on to someone else.
SR: Totally. I credit a big part of my success on Vine to the fact that early on I found that I used to have to just film and Vine in the app and then post right away, there was no folder for saving drafts or whatever. You just had to film, edit in the app and edit just meant…
SR: Yeah, record a segment, stop, record a segment, stop, record a segment, stop, and then upload. That was your choice. When we were back in filming with a whole bunch of super, successful Vine people in West Hollywood back in 2013, they would get together at 4:30 in the afternoon and then they had to film as much as they could and post before 6:30 pm because otherwise no one would watch the Vines because there was no algorithm deciding that it could roll out later. It was like, they’re there or they’re not there. So you’d film in-app and then do it. But I found out how to upload basically is what I’m trying to say. So I found out how you can sort of sneaky backdoor into the app and upload. And I started using a better camera. So suddenly even though it was 480, it just looked better than the iPhone 4 camera at the time. And I think that I had a number of people at the time going, your Vines look amazing, your Vines look so cool, they look great. And anything you can use for an advantage is a great thing. And I think that that just spoke to the idea that when we jumped up to 720, and then when you go to 1080, and then you go higher than that and it’s like people, if they can easily consume better quality, you better give them better quality. Or they’re just gonna move on.
MH: You mentioned the algorithm, which I suppose is an important evolution of content creation as well back, 2007, when the iPhone came out, even 2013, we really weren’t talking about artificial intelligence. We weren’t talking about machine learning. Algorithms were just becoming a thing and recognizing them as a double-edged sword. Did you fight the algorithm coming up or did you play it in your favor?
SR: I think initially everyone thought they could play algorithms to their own benefit. And I think I had a little bit of experience with SEO, with Google, and Google would change their ranking algorithm. And so you quickly learned after a while, you might spend months crafting and mastering one algorithm. And if all it takes is some dude or some woman in some office to hit a button and it’s like, everything you’ve done is gone. So, I think there were lots of other content creators who are much better at kinda playing that algorithm. But I decided to kind of just do my best to ignore it as much as possible, which I think is probably why, people that I started with are millionaires and I’m not. So I’m not the best person to give advice on this, but I think that it was another task. It’s a whole other creature to say, let’s be creative and create content, something that’s entertaining or fun or funny. And hey also, can you be super smart with algorithms and try to guess what they’re going to do? That’s like a whole other job. And to me it was like, I don’t wanna suck too much joy out of what I’m doing.
MH: When you say it’s a whole other job, it actually is now, is it not?
SR: Absolutely, it’s really interesting. And I find it really funny because I’ll do a lot of brand work and that’s kind of our bread and butter as well. Brands will come to me and ask me to make branded content for them. So just do what I’m doing except wrap around the brand itself. And it’s really cute. That sounds so condescending but that’s what I mean. When agencies will say, well, listen, we know that based on this and this and this, and I’m like, you guys, you know what? That was like two months ago and good luck to you.
MH: Right, so no matter how hard you try to fight the algorithm, you really are just instead choosing to focus on creating great content in the hopes that someone likes it.
SR: Yeah, I mean, I’m trying to be savvy about it as well. I mean, Twitter is my big platform currently as far as engagement goes. And even though I have more followers on Facebook, Twitter is much more engaged. I try to be smart about it. I try to sort of learn a little bit about it, but there’s so many incredible variables out there. You can sort of look at your Twitter audience engagement charts, and they have a great chart in their analytics. It’ll show you each day and the time of day. And if it’s a darker square, that means there’s more people engaging with your content. However, that’s only based on the content you put out and the content that everybody else put out as well. It doesn’t matter how good your content is if there’s something else out there or other things out there that are suddenly competing that weren’t competing before that, that skews the numbers.
MH: So you’re saying that if something’s blowing up on the web, you hold back on releasing your own content?
SR: Oh, absolutely, if I can. Like reading the room, absolutely. You have to kinda like go, well, you know what? This isn’t gonna play right now. There’s been a couple of times when I wanted to make fun of something, I’ve got a video ready to go and then something happens in the news and it’s like, nope, I’m not gonna put that out because that now looks insensitive. Even though I made it two days ago and this thing that’s happening now didn’t happen until this morning, it doesn’t matter, it looks insensitive because the social media is kinda like right now. There’s just so many variables. I like to compare it to David Hasselhoff is who I like to compare it to.
MH: Oh really, which David Hasselhoff though? The Nightrider David Hasselhoff or the burger-eating David Hasselhoff?
SR: I think just prior to the burger-eating Hasselhoff. In ’94, I wanna make sure I’m getting the year right, he was ready. He’s like, now listen, I’m a massive star in Germany. And I can attest to that. I remember being in Munich in a record store in ’92 and going through and looking for different cool imports and there’s like hardly anything. And then the Hasselhoff section was like three rows. It was massive.
SR: And I was like, this is great. He did this TV special. And he spent tons of his own money in it. He’s really fairly clever in the sense that he bought Baywatch rights and all that kinda thing and I mean, he’s clever. So he’d made this big splashy, ridiculous TV special booked, got his time booked for the networks and blah, blah, blah, put it out. And it literally went on the air the exact same time as the OJ Simpson Ford Bronco Police Chase. So nobody watched.
MH: Except in Germany,
SR: Except in Germany. Even in Germany, they probably didn’t watch. It didn’t matter how hard the Hoff danced in that special, no one was gonna watch. So that’s what I always sort of think to myself. You can make the best thing in the world, but if nobody sees it for whatever reason, they don’t see it. Someone once said before, life is marketing and I agree.
MH: Well, with that in mind, you have taken everything you’ve learned in this social media content creation world and applied it to that marketing. One of my all time favorite videos, and I think it may have been my first Brittlestar experience, was the American next door neighbor asking the Canadian, what does Canada have to be so proud about for Canada Day?
– Canada Day?
– Yeah. Kinda like July 4th for you guys.
– Yeah, but we do July 4th because we had lots of stuff to celebrate. We got Eagles and freedom and KFC. What do you have to celebrate?
– Did you just say what do we have to celebrate?
– Yeah, I –
– Universal health care. So if you break your leg, you can still afford a snack while you wait in the ER. The metric system. But to be fair, everybody else has that except you. Maternity leave, because we think if a woman carries around another human for nine months, she might need some time off. Poutine.
MH: Almost every friend I have has watched that video. And almost every friend I have when I say, did you know that’s a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial? They go, what?
SR: I know.
SR: It was like a huge inflatable KFC thing. There’s a story about Colonel Sanders like it’s just …
MH: But it was discreet.
MH: And it was a real eye-opening experience for me to understand that intersection of content creation and marketing. Where does it sit today as far as the industry is concerned, particularly under COVID-19?
SR: Brands are getting savvier, they’re getting smarter. I think they realize that for them to take advantage of social media content, they have to connect with content creators and then kind of weave their brand into that content as opposed to an endorsement. It’s not like you just get me to hold up a bottle of energy drink and go, go drink this. People are like, who cares what that guy drinks, it doesn’t matter. But if I make a video that’s in my style that people have come to expect and hopefully enjoy, and then I happen to have this energy drink woven into that story, suddenly it makes the energy drink seem cooler, or it seems like it’s more naturally part of something.
That KFC video you were referring to, their national sales spiked just under 10 percent that weekend. I’m personally responsible for the deaths of millions of chickens probably. I’m so sorry for that. I doubt any of those chickens are listening now though.
With COVID-19 and such, we were asked to do a number of videos, branded content videos regarding the pandemic and the lockdown and that kind of stuff. And you have to really walk a careful line of not being too preachy or not being too cloy. It has to be authentic. I think that’s one of the weird things about social media is that it’s such an intimate relationship. People are watching, usually on their mobile device. And that means that they’re holding your head in their hands, in the bathroom, in the bed, in their living room. And it’s a very, very intimate relationship. So you can’t betray that trust. You can’t just suddenly be a [expletive]. I was like, yeah, all of the money for our merch goes to me. So you wanna know where your money goes? It goes to me.
SR: But there’s still honesty there. There’s an authenticity to it.
MH: Then let’s take what we’ve learned from the past and the role that technology has played in making who you are today and extrapolate a future. If the iPhone 3G was a device that made it possible for the world to consume content while waiting in line at the bank machine, 5G is going to bring us speeds that are 100 times faster than 4G that have a latency of 100 times less than 4G. So we’re going to get incredible speeds that are near real-time or virtual real-time at one millisecond, depending on the configuration. How does that change the role of the content creator?
SR: I was actually thinking about this this morning. I was thinking about how, like, at the beginning of the pandemic, I started to consume tons and tons of news. And I realized I was like, I was over consuming stuff. It was too much and I couldn’t properly process everything. And so I thought, okay, I’m gonna get the print publication subscription to a newspaper instead. So I got the Globe and Mail delivered to the house now and for a good sort of two months, that was my source of news. I was like, I’ll read the news, this is all I need to know. And then after that, it was like, okay, I feel like I’m already behind. I feel like I’m so far behind. There’s stuff happening in between newspapers that makes tomorrow’s newspaper seem kinda obsolete. It’s a lovely autopsy of what happened two days ago, but it’s not really providing much information that I feel I should maybe be on top of to prepare myself or whatever. And I don’t even know if that’s realistic or not. And I think it might even be foolish or foolhardy to think that I need to know everything or that somehow I can prepare for something that’s happening on a national or international scale. But I was thinking this morning that the speed at which we work is something that we’d have to rapidly adapt to.
So for example, for my content, despite the algorithm, and actually because of the algorithm, people will sometimes say, are you still making videos? I put out four videos last week. And they all did over 100,000 views. So they were all essentially somewhat successful, at least in my realm of success. I said to my wife that I’m doing this spot on December 14th, and it’s like, I need to just take two weeks, at least off where I’m just not creating content. And I honestly don’t know if I’m gonna be able to do that because the technology is moving so quick. And as you’re saying, with 5G coming in and stuff, I think that that delay is almost entirely erased. So there’s no point of someone creating content and then putting it out into the world and that everyone gets a chance to digest it, pause, react to it. It’s now like things are happening now and you react to them now and we move on to the next thing.
I remember reading ages ago in like ’98, when MP3s were sort of really becoming popular as far as people being able to sell independent music. And this musician did this study to see if you could be an independent musician on downloads alone. And he did a study for about a year and he said, I have found that I can make enough money as an independent musician if I release one album every week, then I can do it. And so it’s unrealistic, but at the same time, I think we’re just adapting and changing. I think we have to adapt and change to that pace. And I think technology is just like wiping out any geographic distance between us, any sort of time difference. So if something happens to someone in Vancouver today, I will know about it. But the really good example is when earthquakes happened in California. I’m aware within 60 seconds that it’s happened. I don’t need to be, but I am. So is that time gonna be even less, you know what I mean? I don’t know.
MH: If it’s a case of everything just arrives much more quickly and you as a content creator will have to put out content almost immediately, I suppose the days of waiting a couple of days is obsolete. What then of the further future? Because this kind of technology is going to augment our world. Augmented reality is going to become a thing. It won’t be long before we have regular looking eyeglasses, like the ones you’re wearing now and as am I, that will beam that content of an earthquake alert directly to our eyeballs. How does a guy in your shoes think about leveraging technologies such as that where we can replace things in the real world, black mirror style, we can superimpose anything we want over our world?
SR: I mean, I think for my role or someone who creates content similar to me or creates any content, meaning the widest definition of that word, I think the role becomes an interpreter, someone to process that information. I think what’s interesting is that technology is probably gonna end up giving us more shared experiences than we currently have now. Technology has an ability to bring us together and make us care about things that really, without the technology wouldn’t have any impact on us whatsoever.
So I think it’s the job of me as a content creator to kind of hopefully show people this is worth caring about, or this is still worth caring about, but you don’t have to do anything because you can’t do anything about this. I don’t know if that’s a realistic goal or not, but I mean, that’s where I hope I’m at. I feel like I’m heading in that direction as far as content goes now. And maybe as I get older, I have this illusion of wisdom, but I sort of feel like my job now is to sort of hold up what’s happening in the world and say, look at this, isn’t this amazing? Or look at this, isn’t this stupid? And try to be as inclusive in that message as possible. And I think that technology speeding up is just going to mean I have to do that faster. I think honestly, it will get to a point where it’s like, I’m gonna have to react in real time. Maybe not me specifically because I might age out of it. But I think people are gonna have to react in real time to things that happen, if the earthquake’s happening, I can maybe double screen and I can show you my reaction to what’s happening right now to this. Is that good? I don’t think we have a choice if it’s good or not. I think it’s gonna happen until we adapt and reshape it. And it’s not like people are gonna just give up on technology because it feels like there’s, we’re in a race in a sense, it feels like we’re in a race and you don’t wanna give up your advantage.
MH: It sounds a lot like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart usurping the role of the conscience of the nation, where the news media had abdicated that kind of responsibility. John Mulaney has got a great line, talking about first responders and how comedians responding to the political, the social and the epidemiological crises that we’re dealing with that comedians are not the first responders, they’re the last responders. And that you’ve got a role to play in talking to people about what’s going on in the world around them.
SR: I think there’s a value to that. What’s interesting there’s a content I’ve been creating recently has taken on, like I started doing these sort of fake PSA style things where there’d be some sort of misdirect in the beginning and then kind of turn it into a bit of a message.
MH: We all want to do what we can to get through this and return to normal life as soon as possible. That includes social distancing and wearing a mask when required. But what about installing the COVID alert app on your phone? An app designed by the government to notify you if you’ve been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19, that may feel like a step too far for you and with good reason. And that reason is you’re delusional and probably not very smart.
SR: There’s a need for that. You think back to people in Canada like Rick Mercer, or if you look in the States like Jon Stewart or John Oliver now as well, where you get people who are digesting things where you’re like, I don’t have the time. All I’m doing, I’m busy swimming right now. And I don’t have time to try to figure out something that’s happened at the end of the pool. I need someone who’s just who can see it all say, listen, this is happening. It’s important to have that. I mean, I hope I do an okay job. And then I get lots of lovely people saying that I have been helping, which is good. I’m not a religious person. We don’t go to church, all that kinda stuff. But I think it has the same value for some people is when you go listen to a sermon and you go, okay, someone’s kind of talked a little bit about the world and I’ve applied that fortune cookie style to my life. That’s the value in that kind of thing. And I think that’s not a bad thing.