Ryan and Sylvia are the husband and wife team behind Singapore’s #1 independent YouTube channel Night Owl Cinematics (NOC), which has over 450,000 subscribers and more than 90 million views. As part of their business expansion they have moved into their first dedicated office where I caught up with them to talk about how they make money and whether being a YouTuber is a sustainable career option. Listen to the podcast or read on below:

After three years working from their living room Ryan admits it was time for the NOC team to “stop working on the floor of our home”, so he and Sylvia made the bold business decision to move into a dedicated office.  All white walls, wooden floors and sponsored furniture the company’s new HQ is a cavernous studio space on an industrial estate near their actual home in the east of Singapore where a full time team of five, soon to be nine, work.  But what do all these people actually do?  Surely being a YouTuber just requires a webcam and an opinion?  According to Ryan half work on production and half on business expansion, which is exactly what I’ve come to talk to him and Sylvia about.

MOORE'S LORE NOC #2MOORE'S LORE NOC #3Ryan is the first to admit they never had a business plan. NOC started making videos as practice for their intended wedding videography business but when those videos started to gain an audience their intentions changed. Companies started asking NOC to create videos for them and these days corporate video production is actually their largest source of income not, as you might expect, YouTube ads. Third in their list of revenue generators are talks and seminars where they are asked to reveal the secrets of their YouTube success.

With three revenue streams NOC have already diversified beyond most people’s expectations of a YouTuber but there’s more says Sylvia; “we have been building our talent base and a lot of them are female, as you know, so the next possible expansion would be a fashion line that would be headed by one of our NOC girls.”

The next possible expansion would be a fashion line that would be headed by one of our NOC girls.

If you’re not already an NOC fan the Night Owl Cinematics Girls a.k.a. #NOCgirls are essentially Ryan and Sylvia’s friends and they appear in many of the couples videos. It just so happens that their friends are a particularly attractive bunch and have a gathered a significant online following in their own right. I ask Sylvia who is going to design the clothes? “We are very objective when it comes to this, what we are strong in is marketing…a designer will be hired by our business manager so what we’re going to focus on is the marketing and the branding.”

Despite having no previous marketing experience or qualifications, or budget, Ryan and Sylvia have done an incredible job building their brand and fan base in Singapore so I ask them why they think they’re succeeding where other, more qualified and better funded organisations fail? Ryan says, “we don’t try very hard to go viral, we just do what we like and what we enjoy. The bottom line is passion is very important, more so than any objectives”. Sylvia continues, “I guess, because we’re not professionals we see things from an everyday-person point of view and therefore people relate to us, maybe?” Maybe. But is Singapore a big enough market for them or would they like to expand around the region? “Right now we are trying to build our foundation here in Singapore, once that is firm we will think about creating more internationally acceptable content but there is a significant amount of foreigners who already like our videos. We just had a Spanish guy tell us he likes our videos”, says Ryan bristling with pride. Sylvia cuts in, “we started this channel by Singaporeans and for Singaporeans, therefore Singapore is still our main focus.”

We don’t try very hard to go viral, we just do what we like and what we enjoy.

It seems that the couple have an innate understanding of what young Singaporeans want to see so I ask them where that insight comes from and how they use it to develop content and products? Sylvia says it’s basically demand driven; their fans are very vocal and they literally tell NOC what they want, which is one of the benefits of digital. “Things happen in real time”, notes Ryan.

NOC aren’t part of a Multichannel Network (MCN) like Maker Studios, Fullscreen or Singapore’s Click Network – why? Sylvia claims it’s because they work with a wide range of customers and don’t want to be restricted by somebody else’s expectations; they relish being independent and simply don’t need to be managed by someone else.

NOC aren’t afraid of finding their own business but what’s interesting is that, rather than creating more content, they’re moving into merchandising. Ryan says that’s because it’s more profitable than production, which requires a huge amount of work to create a unique product every time i.e. it’s not scalable. Merchandise is also physical which means it can’t be replicated digitally. But wouldn’t they prefer to be getting paid big bucks to work within the traditional film or TV environment like some of their US contemporaries are starting to do? “We used to,” nods Syliva, “but then we got offers to make movies and we decided against it”. They seem to prefer the pace of YouTube rather than working on one TV show or movie with the same cast and crew for months on end.

NOC’s focus really is on fun and they don’t ever want to lose that. Ryan is highly confident he’ll be doing this in the long term and even says he wants to pass the business down to their kids (when they have them). My final question then is what advice they’d give to the next generation of content creators…

I try to make my work my passion so I don’t feel I’m working so I am able to sustain for a very long time. Also seizing the opportunity, don’t wait, just do it.

Ryan Tan, Co-Founder, Night Owl Cinematics

If you don’t dare to try you’re just going to sit and admire people.

Sylvia Chan, Co-Founder, Night Owl Cinematics

Both agree there is no such thing as overnight success and there is no room for complacency, which is why they are still trying and experimenting every day. Keep up with their efforts via the links below:

Picture Credit: DAVID BURILLOhttps://flic.kr/p/9FiR7k

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Written by Neal Moore

Co-Founder & Content Director at award-winning content agency Click2View. Filmmaker and blogger at Moore's Lore Media.

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