Episode 0052 · June 20, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

The Beast of Our Problems

[Unedited Transcript]

Paul Ford: [00:00:00] All right, Richard.

Rich Ziade: Yo,

Paul Ford: do you like YouTube influencers?

Rich Ziade: No. I don’ts not generally speaking,

Paul Ford: It’s not true. You have like five you love in the headphone community.

Rich Ziade: No, I, I’m fine with it. I don’t like the one I, there’s certain ones I don’t like.

Paul Ford: like who?

Rich Ziade: I have a child, I have children.


Paul Ford: it’s a lot. It’s

Rich Ziade: you know, influencers that are like, check it out, look what I can do with it.

A half-filled water bottle and like coins.

Paul Ford: Oh boy.

Rich Ziade: my kids just shed IQ points.

Paul Ford: It is rough tools. It’s like al

almost, like,

it’s like alcohol for children.

Rich Ziade: or like the ones that run into like the middle of a, you know, street in Milan and set up a basketball net and then ask people to shoot into it and then they cheer around. The old man who gets it in, it’s, it is, it is, uh, a lot of it is terrible, but there are some very good informed, there’s this wonderful gardening influencer that I like outta New Jersey.

I forget his name. [00:01:00] I can get his name

Paul Ford: What do you think about?

Oh, okay, fine. What do you, what do you think about Mr. Beast?

Rich Ziade: I don’t know that influencer. Is he big?

Paul Ford: He’s

more famous than like Barack Obama.


Rich Ziade: I don’t know anything

Paul Ford: Well, I’m gonna tell you about him because there’s a good article and we should talk about it.

I’m gonna show you an illustration of Mr. Beast. Holding it up. It, you’re looking at a white guy with light colored eyes, who’s got a big open mouth, you know, he’s in shape.


Rich Ziade: what’s his specialty?

Paul Ford: He is. So there’s an article, it’s in the New York Times magazine and, uh, it’s called How Mr. Beast became the Willy Wonka of YouTube. It’s by Max Reed, who is a genuinely wonderful and thoughtful technology commentator. I’ve known [00:02:00] Max for a long time. Okay. And, um, And so what Max did is he just went in deep on who this person is, how they became so influential and the kind of stuff they do.

So kind of stuff they do would be like, I am going to pay for a thousand cataract operations. And then we’re gonna profile, we’re gonna go, you know, film people as they get their eyesight back.

Rich Ziade: So they’re going to like a third world country

Paul Ford: or No, it’s all around the world, but a lot in the us.

Rich Ziade: Oh, okay.

Paul Ford: And it’s sort of like, and so the deal is like, Hey, I’m monetizing through you millions of fans. Mm-hmm. And I’m gonna take that money and I’m gonna do this amazing stunt. And the stunt might be charity. He did one where it’s like you’re all gonna get dropped on an island and the person who’s the last to leave the island gets the island.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm.

Paul Ford: I bought an island for, you know, a half a million bucks or a million bucks. Okay. I’m gonna, I’m gonna [00:03:00] give it to the contest winner. So contests that are stunt style stuff and then it gets put on YouTube. Apparently he grew up.

Studying YouTube, like as an adolescent. He looked at stats and all he thought about for his entire adolescence through adulthood. He’s, I think late twenties now. Uh, was YouTube, YouTube, YouTube? How do I win? How do I game the algorithm? What did the previews need to look like? You know how it’s always like that type with the big smiley face in the front?

Rich Ziade: Yeah. The still,

Paul Ford: yeah. Yeah.

Rich Ziade: the, the, the, the, the thumbnail is always like, oh my God.

Paul Ford: So that’s this person’s religion. Okay. And so all


Rich Ziade: nailed that

Paul Ford: what, what Max breaks down in a really interesting way, and I think that this is a kind of, it’s a deep point, right? Which is like, all right, so this guy who knows how he is, he obviously prefers moral acts over amoral acts, but the reality is like big charity stunts [00:04:00] drive traffic. And growth is the only goal here. I want to get more followers, I want to get more money from YouTube, I want to do bigger stunts, because that gets more attention. Mm-hmm. And so the incentives of the, that these platforms create. So what happens is like, you know, during the. Trump campaign 2016. There were all these wacky incentives in Facebook, so he had like Macedonian hackers making viral content about how Joe Biden was secretly a reptile, and everybody’s like, click clicking on that.

Right. This is sort of the po, it’s the same dynamic, but it’s the sort of like YouTube approved version, which is, I’m gonna get more and more audience by doing more and more dramatic, ridiculous, but legal things that are ultimately positive. I’m gonna get a thousand people, their eyesight okay.

Around the world, right? And it’s gonna be, and I’m gonna produce it really well and it’s gonna get tens of millions of people are gonna look at it maybe more. And I’m gonna get so [00:05:00] much money from that. I’m gonna plow that money back into an even bigger stunt with even more engagement. Right? And this is fascinating cuz there’s no niche.

It’s only growth. The only goal is growth,

Rich Ziade: right? This is not about, yeah, this is not about a particular program is what I’m

Paul Ford: hearing. Can I say something that’s extremely undergrad, but I think true. And then I want you to beat it up.

This is the alignment of the media industry with capitalism.

It’s the end game.

because it is, it is. Absolutely. Growth focused and content is utterly secondary to growth.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

I mean, I, I, I think what you have here, right, if you look at the, the apparatus of like, Advertising historically, [00:06:00] there’s a bunch of moving pieces to it. There were, and everybody got their, their cut, right?

There was the ratings agencies

Paul Ford: Sure. like

Rich Ziade: their reports were huge because of the, told you which show was number one.

Paul Ford: welcome back. Cotter is number one with a bullet.

Rich Ziade: right. And when a show is number one, You can sort of price it. Now, do you have to price it against some exact algorithm, like a formula?

No. So what you had was ABC saying, Hey, you know what? Our’s gotten bigger and bigger and, and we’re getting the 18 to 35, so we’re gonna charge you this much. Right. So there’s an arbitrariness full circle. Right. And then you’ve got the ad buyers

Paul Ford: there, right there, because you’re describing a market.

Okay. So the market is the ratings agencies like ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standard. What is the quality of the asset? And you have buyers who are advertisers who represent large brands. Yes. And you have sellers who create. Content and then literally, especially in network TV, used to blast it out over big sticks that they put in the sky.

[00:07:00] Okay.

Rich Ziade: which is the, the brokers in between when the Sallys show up and say, I’m gonna get into golf you don’t show you, there’s a particular rate card that comes together

Paul Ford: regardless

Rich Ziade: of how many people are viewing it.

Paul Ford: know what’s funny? It’s just that moment. So you’re talking about the fact that like, there’s a, a merger between the Saudi golf organization and like the pga,

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Okay. So this happened and everyone was really against this, and then it got quiet.

Rich Ziade: Well, money

Paul Ford: Just, and you could feel it. There’s a throbbing force of unlimited capital. Yeah.

Where everybody’s like, no, no, we’re never gonna do this. We’re now,

Rich Ziade: so what you have there, that’s not a market.

Paul Ford: Oh, interesting. You don’t see that as a market.

It’s a

Rich Ziade: No. No. You know what? Look, look, hey, look man, I, I used to run an

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: and I remember telling a very large investment bank, uh, that I was gonna charge them very differently than the nonprofit,

uh, li [00:08:00] Librarian organization that we charged.

Paul Ford: I dunno why. I know, but

Rich Ziade: I was like, we’re gonna do that. Because you need us. We have value to you and I know who you are.

I know who the, like the broker on Madison Avenue, who’s the ad buyer? When the Saudis show up. And say, we really wanna, we’re gonna build a city, we’re gonna dig a ditch in the desert and build a city in it that doesn’t use electricity.

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: And we want to advertise. I know exactly what to charge

This is what is so fascinating about the economy inside YouTube, which is there is no broker.

It is, and this is, goes back to your point. By being wholly focused on growth, there is nobody who’s gonna step in and take their vig. Like, there’s nobody who’s gonna like, ah, ah, you’re, you’re, you’re heading up to tier double A, which means now you gotta come talk to me. There’s nobody. YouTube has said, this is the formula.

Good luck.

[00:09:00] And so this guy, we

Paul Ford: talked about this the other day with like, you know, Facebook, Reddit has a weird marketplace where mod labor is essential for their growth.

And so they’re, they’re currently still, like there’s a mod strike going on in Reddit. Right. So, uh, as, as we’re recording, but Facebook doesn’t, Facebook is just like, You wanna manage a group? You manage a group, don’t make any trouble for me. Yeah, right. It’s just, I, I gave you the box. Shut up. And YouTube, I mean, YouTube, it is a little more complicated.

There are more middle men involved. There are advertisers. You get cuts of things. There are talent agents who focus on YouTube growth wise, and Mr. Beast is his own creation. Mr. Beast has his own staff, his own world?

Rich Ziade: Oh, no, no, no. That’s an empire. He’s built a little empire there, but he need, YouTube is his platform and the pact he has with YouTube, look, I’m sure YouTube has visited him, but the PAC he has is like, look, You make us a penny, you can keep a 10th of it, or whatever it is.

And he is like,

Paul Ford: he follows all their rules.

Rich Ziade: gonna make. [00:10:00] I’m gonna make you lots of pennies. Yeah, lots and lots of pennies and you’re gonna make me

Paul Ford: He follows their rules in the spirit, not just to the letter, right? Like he, he is, he is a creation of YouTube. And I think what’s wild too is you look at these, he’s as big as network tv.


Rich Ziade: I’m not surprised,

Paul Ford: Like, it, it’s just shocking. And then, um, and it’s, this is the first time I’ve seen a serious profile of him in the, in the Times, right? Like, like, you know, if, if, um, I don’t know if like an extra Unsuccess has a story to tell. They can tell that story. Yeah. But, but this guy is like, everybody’s like, oh, what, what, where, where’d he come from?

And meanwhile, I’ve been, I’ve been. I don’t know if I’ve ever watched a full video, but I’ve seen him everywhere for years now and, uh, and this, like

this is not content for me. Okay. Like, just flat out do I like other influencers who stare at the camera and do stuff that I’m, I think is interesting around [00:11:00] like computers or Sure.

Do I want to

Rich Ziade: It’s not, you’re not the

Paul Ford: do I want to see real life squid game? Where like, I don’t like, I personally as a person who was broke, uh, growing up, I don’t like things where lower middle class and poor people have to put on a show to get money in healthcare. I feel that, that, that makes me feel, it’s not just like a, like a, a leftist, progressive thing.

It just brings out a lot of bad feelings for me. Like when I didn’t have enough pairs of pants.

Rich Ziade: yeah. And look to be clear, I’ll tell you something Mr. Beast said that I didn’t do, I didn’t. Cover the cost of a thousand cataracts

Paul Ford: I, this is what’s tricky, right?

Well, but here’s, here’s what’s funny is that he doesn’t actually, he’s like essentially like, I’m gonna take the money from the algorithm and do this with it to himself Yeah, yeah. No, no, no. But it’s, it’s

like, it’s

Rich Ziade: funding his new content with the money he’s

Paul Ford: What he’s [00:12:00] saying is that the attention you give me in the attention economy, I will translate it.

Into altruistic and interesting acts. No, but that’s what he says. Like that’s, the article sort of goes into

Rich Ziade: That’s a good line.

Paul Ford: But that is the dynamic that the audience expects. We recently talked to somebody as we were showing our product. Okay. We have a product called a board sponsors this podcast.

We talked to somebody and we showed it to them and they’re like, this is really great. This would be really, really valuable, and.

We’re like, cool, what would you pay for it? And he was like, pay for it. Yeah. This is a professional with a small business. He’s like, I, I don’t really pay for software. Like, what are you talking

Rich Ziade: I was alien

Paul Ford: Yeah. And, and like for him, he’s in a market in which. Uh, like he’s in the middle of a marketplace and everyone has their hands in his

Rich Ziade: Mm.

Paul Ford: Like he is essentially kind of owns a franchise and people are, he uses services provided by Theran, but he uses third party web services and [00:13:00] everybody’s fleecing him.

And he is just like, yes, it’s how the world works. So like, you’re gonna give me software and then you’re gonna mind my data and then we’re gonna be fine, right? Like, and we’re like, no, we don’t really want to do that. I think most human beings now understand our industry and the content industry to be this like endless extractive cycle.

And it’s depressing, but I think that’s how they see it.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, and so this guy’s coming in and saying the counter, which is, if I make a bunch of money, I’m gonna turn it into doing good

Paul Ford: We’re gonna take, it’s still gonna be the same extractive cycle. It’s fine. He’s gonna buy a nice car. No worries. Yeah, but he, it’s gonna same extractive cycle, except now I’m gonna tell you how it works and then we’re gonna tilt it.

In a way that we all think is really great, which is giving people eyesight.

Rich Ziade: I’m torn about this. Um, uh, on one side I don’t like that a camera is staring at someone like getting their bandages, bandages removed, uh,

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm. Uh,

Rich Ziade: and like, you know, effectively exploiting an emotional moment.

Paul Ford: It was kind of bad when Oprah did it too though, right?

Rich Ziade: was kind of about Oprah it, but at the same [00:14:00] time that person did get the surgery that he otherwise would not have gotten.

There’s an old, uh,

Paul Ford: lot of them are like in the article, like they’re, they’re Mr. Beast fans. They’re like so excited. They’re like, I got my eyesight back

Rich Ziade: many

years ago. I’ll close it with this. Many years ago, uh,

uh, McDonald’s

had started using, Uh, recyclable brown paper bags. There was a day when McDo old enough to mention this It was styrofoam and white. They were bleached paper,

Paul Ford: are, people are actually associate that squishy styrofoam with childhood.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Yeah. Filet of Fish was a blue styrofoam and the bag was white and then they moved on to paper and then the bag went brown.

Paul Ford: It really, but also it was, when there would be photos of landfill, it would all, it would just be McDonald’s trappers everywhere.

Rich Ziade: then, and then you know, the press kind of came out and it was like, well [00:15:00] this is disingenuine. They’re obviously doing this so that they can. Pull at our heartstrings and blah, blah, blah, like et cetera, et cetera. Essentially, you’re a McDonald’s, you’re gonna pretend you care about the environment.

And their response was essentially this, all of our stuff is now recyclable.

which was essentially like, what? How about you look away from our intent and look at the result? And I think, I think about the sky. When I think about this guy, I think about that, which is I could sit here and talk about like the beating ethical heart of McDonald’s, or I could just conclude, you know what, there’s no more styrofoam.

They’re not bleaching paper anymore. Everything is recyclable. Yeah, the food kind of stays in your body an extra seven days. But let’s put that aside for a moment. Um, And that’s good. It’s a good outcome. Let’s put aside

Paul Ford: I’m gonna simplify this for everybody, which is you don’t have time and resources to have ideological frameworks about all the stuff that’s going on. you you don’t

Rich Ziade: Save your time.

Paul Ford: literally [00:16:00] like, Either join a temple

Rich Ziade: garden. Do something

Paul Ford: read one of those, like intro to philosophy books by, you know, a Princeton philosopher and just go like, I’m gonna live my life this way.

Because if you actually try to apply summaries or to all of these situations, there’s so much of everything, you won’t make it a day. That’s what happens to people on Twitter. Twitter. And you watch like the blood come out of their ears.

Rich Ziade: I, I don’t, I I will say last thought, even though I said my last thought was my last thought, I don’t like my kids watching it. I don’t like my kids watching a lot of YouTube cuz it turns their brain into vanilla pudding.

But, um, I don’t like my, my kids don’t know what to make of it emotionally when they’re seeing these people in these incredibly vulnerable moments. Um, yeah, they got a surgery or they got money and they’re crying cuz they have a stack of hundreds in their hand. That’s a, [00:17:00] i, I don’t really. I don’t really want to explain that.

If they see me get angry about it, I’m like, why are you watching that? That’s ridiculous. I would say, and they’re like, what’s ridiculous? Someone just gave someone money and they’re real happy as a result. What’s so, what’s wrong with you dad? Right.

Paul Ford: I had a, I had a funny moment with my son because I don’t know, it’s the same problem. He’s getting into YouTube and he likes to watch the video games stuff and I always worry that like, how far are we away from him shaving the size of his heads and saying like, you know, women were born to serve men.

Like, when’s that gonna happen? Because it’s YouTube.

Rich Ziade: Well I’ll send you certain YouTube channels you can recommend to him. It,

Paul Ford: did. I, you don’t need us to recommend them. YouTube does a really good job. And, and then we, he’s like, Hey, do you wanna look at these garbage pale kid cards with me? Because he’s still 11, you know? And we sat, sat, sat on my lap, and we looked at garbage pail ca and every like fifth or sixth, he’d be like, oh, one’s kind of racist.

Rich Ziade: He would say that. He’d say, uh,

Paul Ford: And I’m like, yeah, okay. All right. Here we are. He’s figuring something out. He’s figuring, he, he, he recognizes the world that he’s in at 11, [00:18:00] and of course he does. That’s what humans do. And you gotta have a little faith that, because this is their world, it’s in a way that like coming home and watching what’s happening on reruns while our parents drank or neglected us in the other room was our world.

Rich Ziade: mean, I was watching a cat chase, a mouse.

Paul Ford: Oh yeah. Tom and Jerry

Rich Ziade: until I was like 13.

Yeah. And I thinking about it, I was like, man, you were a little old for that. Rich.

Paul Ford: There was. There were only three channels and the other stuff was like the news. It was

Rich Ziade: were three channels. Yeah. Yeah. It was

Paul Ford: yeah. And so like you turned out, you know, we’ll, we’ll give you at least a b plus and no worries.

Like, This is their world. They cannot escape from it. And all they can do is process it and then hopefully come to good, healthy, sensible decisions. And they’re gonna need to be able to say things like, oh, that’s kind of racist. Or like, oh God, that doesn’t feel right, cuz it’s always gonna be there. So I think it’s just building the discrimination into the children and them seeing you horrified isn’t bad.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, it’s not bad. It’s not bad. I also don’t take the time to explain it, which I [00:19:00] probably should.

Paul Ford: That’s hard for the kind of dads that we are.

Rich Ziade: we’re,

this podcast is sponsored by a board.com. A board.com lets you collect, organize, and collaborate on anything.

You can drop files in. Bring in links from the web. It’s incredibly smart with parsing stuff into a space where you and your friends or colleagues can work together. Check it out. We’re taking, uh, beta invites, beta requests, and we’re waving people in pretty quickly.

Paul Ford: aboard.com. And if you like us, check us out@zdiford.com, at Twitter on uh, at Zdi Ford and you can send us an email to hello zdi ford.com.

And also, uh, go check out how Mr. Beast became the Willy won of YouTube by Max Reeds from the June 12th, 2023 New York Times. Uh, it’s a very good, very thoughtful piece and I’m glad that we were able to discuss it on this podcast. bye.

Rich Ziade: week. [00:20:00]

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