Entertain: Vancouver Film School channels potential students

Vancouver Film School (VFS) director of marketing Stephen Webster is proud of the school's YouTube channel - with 20,000 subscribers and nearly 18

Vancouver Film School (VFS) director of marketing Stephen Webster is proud of the school’s YouTube channel – with 20,000 subscribers and nearly 18 million views, it’s the number one subscribed school
channel on YouTube and the 10th most subscribed channel of all time in Canada, fluctuating somewhere between 60th and 80th worldwide.

Webster attributes this success to a single rule laid down early and rigorously adhered to: no advertising. ‘We were not allowed to use any marketing materials on our channel,’ he says. ‘First and foremost, it has to entertain people.’

Back in 2006, Webster was looking at ways to get the school into the minds of potential students – and to get current students and grads noticed in the industry – and turned to YouTube. ‘Of course we made this really lame attempt to create a viral video, and of course it didn’t work,’ he says. Webster posted the clip on the then-fledgling VFS channel, where it got a few hundred views. ‘For all intents and purposes, it was an advertisement. Even though we had funny scripts, great actors and film crews lined up and we could shoot a really good commercial, this wasn’t going to cut it.’

With the marketing ban in place, the focus turned to content, of which VFS has plenty. All student films are labeled as ‘presented by Vancouver Film School’ and branded with the school watermark and copyright slide, but beyond that everything rides on the quality of the content. And not only are people watching, but they’re interacting, too. VFS collects all viewer questions into short response interviews with the filmmakers, which are in turn posted to the channel, creating a dialogue with viewers.

‘It’s very much a pull-marketing strategy in that we put out the video, people look at it, they’re entertained and they say, ‘How do they do that? Where do they do that? I’d like to do that,’ and invariably it leads to leads for us,’ says Webster.

Maximizing on community participation, VFS held a global scholarship competition this spring – the first ever open to all 19 local YouTube country sites – in which entrants posted videos and viewers voted to give free VFS tuition to three winners out of 10 finalists. Over 500 submissions were received.

VFS continues to meet its core audience on the edges of entertainment technology with its Joost partnership. While it’s not yet as successful as the YouTube channel, Webster has noticed significant increases in viewership since the web-based TV network came out of beta trials, and expects it to keep growing.

‘The reality is that people are going to the Internet to get their entertainment,’ he says. ‘We do a show of hands at every orientation here, and I can tell you, the hands up that watch television are decreasing at a phenomenal rate. People are getting their content online, and they’re looking for new ways to get it.’
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