Younger generation of chasers being swindled for weather and storm video

Jan 14, 2011
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I'll first say that I do not have ironclad proof of the rates some brokerages are charging broadcast clients, but I've heard from enough reliable independent sources that the following is plausible enough to be of concern.

If a broker is selling your video to networks for $150 or less - including even generic snow/rain video, you are being royally swindled. If you are being paid that amount for good tornado video or any type of compelling shot, the level of deception and conning being leveled at you is almost criminal. You are being taken advantage of by both the networks and your broker. Those kind of rates cannot come close to covering your costs of operation, which means you are personally subsidizing the profits of multi-billion dollar corporations who easily could pay you 10 times more.

Don't be conned into thinking that is good money. It is peanuts, it is insulting to you and to every photographer.

I no longer rely on ENG revenue for chasing, thankfully. But I do feel for the newer generation that is being led to believe that making less than $800 total for every national news network on the planet leading their primetime shows with your footage is "good money". How will you feel when the next generation of predatory brokerages starts charging national networks $50 or even $20 and all the new and naive student chasers (through no fault of their own, I don't blame them) raving about how "great" that money is?

You have to also think long-term. You can easily make $150/video by working on getting your Youtube channel monetized and exclusively posting video there, which will earn money for years to come. Not every video will go viral, but if one out of 20 does, you will do better than the absolute joke of the rates you are being sold on now. Every copy that you sell for $150 will torpedo your Youtube copy if it does end up doing well. These days, with a good-performing Youtube channel, you may be better off in many cases to not sell to networks or third parties at any price if it means a permanent competing copy is going to be available for viewing on competing sources.

Your video leading the nightly news broadcast of a major network should demand a premium price, not less than the janitors are being paid to clean toilets at a gas station. I know that with the rise of viewer video and cell phones that competition is worse, but the networks have the money to pay a premium for what is often leaps and bounds better quality material from a chaser. Look at all the news studios being renovated. Look up how much it costs to fly a Bell JetRanger for traffic reports. They have the money to pay for content, it is their primary product that earns them revenue. Holy cow, they are often leading nightly news with your video and you're getting $150 for that?

Part of the con is to make you feel like "it's better than nothing". That is pure manipulation. These vultures don't have your best interest at heart, only their bottom line. $150 to do ANYTHING for a multi-billion dollar corporation is appalling. That's a minimal consulting fee for a 30 minute phone call, not driving across the country for days on end to capture compelling footage for a primetime broadcast. You have to stand firm and if you don't make a sale, you don't make a sale. I pass on a dozen sales a year! Let them use the vertical shaky video from Joe Blow on his front porch if that's what they want.

Sell to who you want, through who you want. It's your choice. But at least be aware at how badly you are being taken advantage of by people who make their living and even their fortune off of your hard work, while you take a financial loss. It's easy to think that $150/video is good money when you're young and don't know any better. I guarantee once you grow older and realize the value of your time and what you are giving away, and the fortunes made by big corporations off of it, you will be absolutely livid at what has been done to you.

If I was in the position of someone who has been conned like this, I'd end my brokerage contract as soon as it was up and look for someone else that has the spine to stand up to the vultures in the industry (and isn't one themselves) to get me respectable rates.
 
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^^^this this this! The problem I have encountered is that the folks selling/ giving away their video did not see the revenue possibilities-and then when they realized what they could be making they didn't care. They seemed to be more interested in social media "likes" for whatever that's worth (absolutely ZERO). IN short, they wanted a minute or two of fame and don't care about the money...it's sad.
 
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Is this because the dumb millenials are getting swindled and corporations are taking advantage of their stupidity, or is it just that supply has driven the price down? I don't know how much of this is because of the former. I think everyone and their mom having a smartphone capable of taking 4K video contributes to this quite a bit. Quite often on a lot of chase days the best video is coming from farmer Bob who is cluelessly 10 yards away as it hurls the roof of his barn at him, who then proceeds to give his video away for free to every major network. I do agree that the video that media platforms are buying is worth more than they are paying for it, but not sure how much of that is attributed to younger stupidity, supply of video for free, or broker's swindling their clients.
 
Jan 14, 2011
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From what I have heard from multiple sources, brokerages in question are intentionally giving networks dirt-cheap rates to disrupt/gain dominance in the weather/chasing broker market, and using unwitting chasers to that end who don't know what video is worth. Even with a glut of cell phone video, the business model will only sustain if there continues to be a supply of new chasers to take advantage of. Viewer cell phone video is disruptive but not insurmountable to ENG.
 

James K

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Interesting info.
I would have no idea what it'd be worth! $150 .sounds. like a decent amount....good to know its not.

I have nothing weather-related on YouTube, other than a thunder/lightning-storm from years ago, and some snow/trees swaying in the breeze from that 'bomb cyclone' thing this year (in both cases boring stuff .lol. ). If I ever got anything 'good' like a tornado, I wouldn't be looking to make money, or even get tons of "likes". I'd post it simply because I think storms are fascinating/cool to watch.
 
Mar 18, 2018
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This is something I knew I should charge for, but I honestly, don't know the rate I can safely charge. I have looked some, but was unable to find "recommended rates". Is there a place where I can find such average rates (and then adjust based on quality, etc).
 
Jan 14, 2011
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My broadcast ENG rates:

Generic weather b-roll (snow/rain/fog etc): $250-$300/network, 30 day license max, no Youtube
Severe weather (lightning, hail, general tornadoes, flooding): $350-$600 per network, 30 day max, no Youtube
Premium severe weather: dramatic tornadoes, icy roads action, large hail, hurricanes, close lightning, dramatic/unusual lightning: $600-$1500 or more per network, 10 day license max, no online copies

My stock footage rates are here:


These might vary a little from chaser to chaser, but I suspect those of us who have been doing this for a long time have settled on numbers around these. I don't negotiate much on these numbers if at all. If someone insists on lowballing, I pass and say to them good luck.

If you chase regularly, whether you want to sell video or not, you WILL be approached for offers for video purchases. It's how I got started in stock and ENG -they contacted me first, I then learned as I went.

Disclaimer: I'm not suggesting you adopt these rates. This is to give you an idea of what I have received for video historically and what I still charge.
 
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The generic video does not sell well these days. Higher end video does, especially if you are the only source. Hardest days to make a sale are in the Plains on big days when there are a lot of videos coming in, but even more so due to the lowballing brokers. But even then, I will not lowball to make a sale. I rarely sell anything during Plains chase trips. Most of my sales are winter and Midwest.
 
I’m guessing I fall into this younger generation of chasers (late 20s). In my 15 years of documenting weather and roughly 10 on social media, I have only once been contacted to sell my footage. I’m usually not in a hurry to post-process footage, nor do I have the ability to do it quickly, so by the time I’m able to release anything to the world, it’s “old news”. The one time I guess I did have an opportunity was earlier this year during a snow storm in St. Louis. I went out with my wife to walk the ~quarter mile from our apartment to the highway just to see what traffic looked like. I took two pictures with my cell phone of the mess I saw and posted them to Twitter. I was approached by several media outlets for use of the pictures (for free), and after giving it some thought, I said yes. Why? Because I put zero effort into capturing those photos. It was nothing remarkable (IMO), and I took them with my cell phone while walking in my neighborhood. I couldn’t have cared less about any fame that it would have got me (I knew it would be nothing), and I don’t care about any funds it would have earned me. The only thing that made me second guess my move at the time was what I’ve seen here and elsewhere about this exact topic.

Earning money from chasing or capturing footage of weather was the farthest thing from my mind when I started chasing. It wasn’t until 2013 when I started to wade into the “chasing community” that I realized people can (or, use to) make money from their footage. I started doing what I do because I think storms, tornadoes, and whatever other weather can be breathtakingly beautiful at times and I want to capture that. And because I think what I see is cool, I feel the need to share it with others that might feel the same and that weren’t there to witness it in person. I will never seek out money for my footage, and I’d be willing to bet I won’t change my mind on that. If I happen to be contacted by a media outlet wanting to use my work that I put effort into, then sure, I may work out a deal. But in the end, I don’t care about earning money from it and I don’t care about “likes”.

Completely innocent and curious inquiry: For a typical chaser, their footage is their footage; thus, is it not theirs to do with as they please? The value someone puts into something they make is always going to be dependent upon the individual. Sure, there may be a market value for a certain type of footage, but it is still up to that individual to determine what it is worth. Therefore, Joe Stormchaser could give their footage away for free all day if they want to. Now, for those who get upset by that fact, is it simply the principle of the matter? Or is it because if Joe Stormchaser gives away their footage for free, then Jane Stormchaser, who has similar footage and wants to make money, is going to lose out because any media source is obviously going to go with the cheaper option?
 
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Everyone can do as they wish. My aim is to educate everyone so that decision can be an informed one. If someone decides they want to give footage away even after knowing what the typical going rate is, he or she is free to do it. I would guess that most people could use a few extra hundred dollar or even thousand dollar bonus from capturing something newsworthy. The networks can certainly afford to pay it.

My rates are based on what I figured to be a fair compensation after considering my expenses. For example, I spend money on better gear so I can have a better end product. I also chase more during winter weather, something I would not normally do as much of. I rarely make anything from Plains chase trips, I do that for the same reason I always have: I love chasing.
 
Everyone can do as they wish. My aim is to educate everyone so that decision can be an informed one. If someone decides they want to give footage away even after knowing what the typical going rate is, he or she is free to do it. I would guess that most people could use a few extra hundred dollar or even thousand dollar bonus from capturing something newsworthy. The networks can certainly afford to pay it.

My rates are based on what I figured to be a fair compensation after considering my expenses. For example, I spend money on better gear so I can have a better end product. I also chase more during winter weather, something I would not normally do as much of. I rarely make anything from Plains chase trips, I do that for the same reason I always have: I love it.
I do appreciate all the work you put into information like this and copyright laws, Dan. Everyone has their reason for doing what they do, and I absolutely respect those who do try to make money from their footage. I imagine it adds more work to chasing than people think, which is why I don't bother seeking it out. It bothers me when I see people bash and mock (usually on social media--not here) those who give footage away for free or cheap. I'm sure there are those who know they can make money but just do it for the quick hit of "fame", but I'm sure there are a lot who just don't know what they can make from what they have.
 
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Keith LaBotz

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From what I have heard from multiple sources, brokerages in question are intentionally giving networks dirt-cheap rates to disrupt/gain dominance in the weather/chasing broker market, and using unwitting chasers to that end who don't know what video is worth. Even with a glut of cell phone video, the business model will only sustain if there continues to be a supply of new chasers to take advantage of. Viewer cell phone video is disruptive but not insurmountable to ENG.
Hey Dan. Agree with you it's discouraging to see pricing take a hit when it hurts our bottom line. Yes, there are skeezy operators churning and burning ignorant chasers and it should p.o. anyone with a conscience, but that's also a mechanism in every market helping to keep prices down. Truth is, you and me reward that same ethic every time we shop at Walmart. Personally, I really loathe the media but I have to say there's NO COLLUSION on buying videos at the cheapest possible price. Can't turn markets back to previous conditions any more than we can convince people to embrace older technology - the best thing is to move forward and figure out whether we can do something different or better to avoid price erosion. Otherwise, time to get creative and find a new way to pay the bills. That doesn't necessarily have to come directly from chasing either. So yeah it sucks, but that's what markets do and we all love it when we're on the buying side, right?
 
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I don't blame those giving video away at all, most don't know what they're doing. In fact I see them more as the victims of the process. My objection is with the people taking advantage of the naiveté - that is, the brokers and the media outlets themselves. They are exploiting the fact that people don't know the value of photos and videos. I don't believe that most make that decision fully knowing what they sign away.
 
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Keith LaBotz

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I don't blame those giving video away at all, most don't know what they're doing. In fact I see them more as the victims of the process. My objection is with the people taking advantage of the naiveté - that is, the brokers and the media outlets themselves. They are exploiting the fact that people don't know the value of photos and videos. I don't believe that most make that decision fully knowing what they sign away.
Totally with you on protecting the innocent Dan. There's your new business opp: Dan Robinson - Newbie Agent
 
May 6, 2017
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I don't blame those giving video away at all, most don't know what they're doing.
With 20 years working in the news video and stringer biz, I have a lot of info on this topic running SCV.

One of the problems in the past has been people just looking to get famous and give their footage away. They don't need or want the money but want to be on TV and it was more of a bragging for them no matter how bad of a chaser they were, they just wanted the fame!

Another problem is chasers just willing to undercut other chasers because their broke or missed the target all together and will screw the whole market over just to make a sale. Dan and I saw this problem first hand back in 2008 when someone faked a tornado video just to make a sale. Faking video? Yes this still goes on to this day from some chasers. I know of others claiming their video of Hurricane Michael was in Mexico Beach where the worst of the Cat Five hit when they were not even in Bay County but further east in another town in Gulf County but they call their videos Mexico Beach just to try and sell video since they Fd Up.

I have seen first hand chasers screw over chase partners on a chase in the same vehicle with different brokers going back to over to 2004 and before and could tell you some crazy stories that will be in my book some day. Seriously, if your friend is driving and fronting the expense to cover the chase is bringing you along to see the storms, how could you "FUNK" them over to make a couple bucks on a video sale? I have seen this so many times so I'm not calling out one chaser but a bunch of people over the last 20 years!!!

My rule has always been the guy driving and risking their ride and fronting the expense gets first shot at video sales for 24 hours. You want to "FUNK" over your chase partner that just paid for your broke a$$ to chase, you should be called out on this forum. I have a long list of people but not saying who.

Whatever you do, if you have THE VIDEO of the day, don't sell it or let your broker sell it cheap and for "FUNK" Sake sell it with unlimited usage, or even worse sell it as a bulk rate package deal where you don't even cover travel or gas money. I've had chasers come to me and say that they were not even to cover travel expenses and I tell them their broker sold their video in a bulk rate deal where they made the lions share and they ended up with $250 for HURRICANE VIDEO when our crews are walking away with three to six months or more of their day jobs salary.

I have said this time and time again, chasing videos and sales are just like when I worked in the music business a few decades ago. Most of the videos will be a one hit wonder wherein 24 hours nobody gives a "Baby Ruth" 48 hours later. But if you are good, you will get the next timeless classic and get the video equivalent of the next Dark Side Of The Moon or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or even if your not in chasing but catch something insane like the airplane freaks that got the Air France Flight 4590 Concorde Paris Crash video like
a major one hit wonder song like Chumbawamba
Or the album by Evanescence, Fallen

And last but not least, Copyrights!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Register Your Video!
 
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Long post on an array of points here, just a heads up...

This is part of why I don’t have a broker. It’s a trade off, as I understand having a broker can help get your videos out to more stations/outlets quicker, but since I deal directly with media outlets, there's no middle man. I get 100% of the revenue.

I would like to discuss how much videos are worth. Prior to about five years ago, when social media was younger and phone technology poorer, storm videos were much harder to come across. Go back to prior to 2010ish and I’d say compelling tornado videos were downright rare, unless you had connections to a storm chaser/reporter/videographer.

I don’t think storm videos are worth as much as they once were. It's easier than ever to get close to storms, more and more people get closer each year and with social media, even John Doe who captures a tornado on his tractor can share his footage with the world in just minutes.

On the flip side, I do think that many chasers are taken advantage of by brokers, and/or low-balled by news stations or simply talked into giving away footage for free.

Having worked in the asset collection segment of The Weather Channel via social media, I learned that the amount of free footage given away is staggering. Intentional or not, that drives down the price of what may actually be very compelling, valuable footage. In the midst of a storm, if someone has really compelling video, the station will pay up (hundreds of dollars, even for a 30 second clip) I also worked at two smaller, local TV stations and most of the smaller markets have little to no budget to purchase these assets. It's the bigger stations and obviously major networks who have the funds to pay. (A lot of times the big networks will purchase the rights to storm footage and cascade it down the pipeline, assuming there are no restrictions in the licensing agreements)

I think the best approach is a compromise. Don’t ask too much for video, or you will get turned down. Even after making several hundred dollars on Dodge City footage via TWC, I literally got laughed at by an unnamed TWC meteorologist for asking for $200 for a 30-second video of the Chapman tornado the next day. Why? the influx of video coming in couldn’t justify the price and even though I was a recent employee, a seasoned chaser and sold similar footage for more than twice the price just the day prior.

Know the value of what you have. That’s why candid conversations like the one @Dan Robinson started here are important. There are some times in which you have really great footage that no one is willing to pay you the appropriate amount for. In that case, post it to social media, YouTube, etc., but make sure you have a prominent watermark on the footage.

If you're not a veteran chaser or don't have tight connections to major news outlets, maybe you take $100 for a video every now and then, rather than shoot 10 videos without making a penny. However, if you're selling every video for $100, then you're probably getting taken advantage of, unless your videos really aren't that compelling. Again, it's a judgment call. If you sell footage and become a household name with media outlets, you can negotiate much more aggressively. It does take experience to know what you’re getting into. Don't expect to make big dollars right away, just as if you were an amateur photographer, people aren't going to pay top dollar for your wedding photos on the first day of your business. Build your portfolio and prove that you have the ability to shoot really remarkable storm footage if you want to make a large profit.

If you have truly unique storm footage, then it’s a different story. Most of my chasing revenue has come from chasing during the off-season, now that I think about it. Selling footage from lesser known summer tornadoes in the northern Plains is arguably easier than selling footage of an Oklahoma tornado in May. There is so much competition that it's usually not easy to make a quick sale, unless you have connections or a broker.

This is just my perspective and maybe it's skewed a bit, since my goal of chasing is not solely to make a profit. If I channeled 100% of my energy and resources into selling storm footage, then I would undoubtedly be more aggressive in terms of trying to make money.

Realize that the news cycle is 24/7 now. Stations need to fill time, but remember that so much footage is out there on social media these days. Yes, stations will pay for compelling footage, but with hours of coverage to fill, they’re not going to simply pay up $1000 for every single storm video. As a company, eventually, that’s not a profitable approach. Yes, 10+ years ago, when the news cycle was less continuous and little or no social media, stations could justify paying big bucks for compelling footage, but now it’s just not the same. Plus you have drones, allowing for people to get closer to disasters than ever before, and with better technology, some stations themselves can send out meteorologists, reporters or freelancers to get footage that might have seemed priceless and rare to a non-chaser a decade ago. The landscape is changing. Inflation is probably not keeping up with how the value for storm videos may be falling, due to reasons mentioned before. The falling price can be offset by higher quality footage (4K) or getting super close, but that makes it that much harder.

There are also cases in which I think it's perfectly okay to give away footage for free. I always let the National Weather Service use and share my photos and videos, as long as it's for non-profit use, such as education, storm summaries and/or research.

If I post a relatively low resolution photo of a storm from my phone on Twitter and a local TV station wants to share it, guess what? Sometimes I will say, go ahead. If the photo really isn't worth much, it would be silly not to. As long as you have a watermark and you're getting credit, I don't see the issue. Now, if you have a larger outlet trying to do the same, especially The Weather Channel, then the answer is no. The reason they are reaching out is that they know you have something of value, but they want to get it for free. I will usually politely respond by encouraging them to contact me via e-mail or DM if they wish to discuss licensing options.

I do think that we should also discuss YouTube ad revenue in more detail.

I‘m personally skeptical of YouTube’s ad revenue value, unless you’re a chaser with a reputation for compelling/viral footage on YouTube. Maybe my opinion is skewed by lackluster results from uploading storm videos to the platform.

I’ve been uploading Plains chase video since 2014 and it’s rare that I even get 1,000 clicks on a tornado video. Maybe I need to use tags better? Maybe I should be spamming the link over social media? I don't have many followers either, but it usually takes a viral video, big name recognition or aggressive advertising to build a large following. The only footage I've had that went semi-viral was Pilger, but that still has under 20,000 views as of this post. Even my Dodge City close range tornado footage didn’t do anywhere near as well as I would have expected. The reason is that the web is over-saturated with storm footage now. What can set you apart is if you're one of the few chasers on a storm, or you got insanely close when most others were not able to.

Also, YouTube has had its own fair share of issues with demonetization.

I personally don’t want ads on my videos on YouTube. If I was consistently getting 10s of thousands of clicks or more, then maybe my attitude would change. It’s the same reason why I don’t have ads on my website. If you're well-known for storm footage, it's a completely different story.

Again, my perspective may be a bit skewed. While I do like making money, it's not one of the main reasons why I document storms at this point in my life.
 
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Youtube is a long-term strategy. My channel did not make meaningful revenue for the first 3 years. Persistence is key. Finding a niche also helps. Posting raw video up of single events probably will not get many views unless it is really crazy stuff. Making a story out of it (with voiceovers for example) has more of a chance of getting traction. Fast-paced, action-packed compilations of your best work also have a good chance of success. Instructional or informative videos can also do well. A big point is to make your videos palatable/useful/entertaining for the general public, not for the storm chasing community. The chase community is too small to make a channel successful by itself. You need to tailor your content for a world audience (or at least the US). "Pecos" Hank's channel is the gold standard IMO.

Even with a good strategy, some videos can take years to start going viral. Some of my million-view-plus videos make no sense to me. I sometimes don't know which ones will do well. I also have videos I was sure would do well that ended up falling flat. I have 485 videos on my channel, and only 13 have passed the million view mark. I am trying different things all the time to see what will work. All in all, it has been worth the effort for me.
 
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Youtube is a long-term strategy. My channel did not make meaningful revenue for the first 3 years. Persistence is key. Finding a niche also helps. Posting raw video up of single events probably will not get many views unless it is really crazy stuff. Making a story out of it (with voiceovers for example) has more of a chance of getting traction. Fast-paced, action-packed compilations of your best work also have a good chance of success. Instructional or informative videos can also do well. A big point is to make your videos palatable/useful/entertaining for the general public, not for the storm chasing community. The chase community is too small to make a channel successful by itself. You need to tailor your content for a world audience (or at least the US). "Pecos" Hank's channel is the gold standard IMO.

Even with a good strategy, some videos can take years to start going viral. Some of my million-view-plus videos make no sense to me. I sometimes don't know which ones will do well. I also have videos I was sure would do well that ended up falling flat. I have 485 videos on my channel, and only 13 have passed the million view mark. I am trying different things all the time to see what will work. All in all, it has been worth the effort for me.
I think persistent is a key word and that it is sometimes odd how certain things gain traction.

I launched my website in 2013 and it's odd how some of the most viewed articles have nothing to do with storm chasing in the Plains. I think that relates back to search engine optimization (SEO) and that's probably an area I could be more effective with on YouTube.

If you have a website/YouTube Channel/social media page, find something unique to post. Tell an interesting story. If you can communicate well, particularly to the general public, that also helps.
 
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Keith LaBotz

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I've always liked Hank Schyma's and Skip Talbot's work. They work hard at producing a quality product for the viewers - good story-tellers, teachers, and they are relatable. They're also willing to do a little shoe leather. The money and the audience is out there, but you gotta be producing something unique and of value or its just noise as most storm footage is.
 
Jan 16, 2009
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All good points and not a lot I can add other than I would think twice about posting a photo of a tornado if you also have good video of the tornado. I have had instances where I post a photo then multiple people want to use the image across their platforms and since it is "just an image that do not sell anymore" I say yes. Then when I go to sell the video though my broker a few are content with the free image and do not buy the video. Just a thought ....
 
Nov 18, 2006
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You must also think long-term. You can easily make $150/video by working on getting your Youtube channel monetized and exclusively posting video there. Not every video will go viral, but if one out of 20 does, you will do better than the absolute joke of the rates you are being sold on now. Every copy that you sell for $150 will torpedo your Youtube copy if it does end up doing well. These days, with a good-performing Youtube channel, you may be better off in many cases to not sell to networks or third parties at any price if it means a permanent competing copy is going to be available for viewing on competing sources.
Just what are the going rates for YT video views these days? My channel was de-monetized a year ago when they changed their standards (of course it was during a year I uploaded nothing because I was saving it all my for my upcoming web series so my numbers were anemic) and I am not sure I want to take the effort to win it back.

I've heard from other chasers its as pitiful as $5 for 50,000 views.

From the time my channel was monetized through 2009-2017 I seemed to average about $10 per 10,000 views. 10,000 views is pretty easy. RPM seemed to go up as the video went more viral and better paying ads seemed to be placed on videos.

If the ends justify the means I will put more effort back into my YT channel but the general consensus is for many its barely worth it anymore. I've recently gotten one of my facebook pages to qualify for monetization, so I'll see how that compares and if its not bad I've been thinking about dumping YT altogether and just streamlining everything on fb.