We meet founder Sam Barcroft
Barcroft Media has created videos which have together amassed more than 275 million YouTube views.
And Barcroft TV, the name of Barcroft Media’s YouTube channel, has nearly 300,000 subscribers – more than ITN News. In the week before Christmas, it was the most-viewed channel in the UK – ahead of even One Direction.
Its popular videos range from the sublime (“Close Encounter With Humpback Whale”) to the ridiculous (“My Supersized Breasts Could Kill Me”).
Not bad for a media business that started in a back bedroom in Tottenham.
Founder Sam Barcroft had worked in media agencies for years before setting up his own. Starting at the age of 19 as a picture library assistant at Rex Features (“for about £3 an hour!”), Barcroft went on to work for other news organisations such as the Sunday People and the Daily Mail.
He set up Barcroft Media in 2003, in what seemed like “the next small step in my career”, after going freelance in 2000.
The focus of the business was originally on producing traditional newspaper content and selling it into newspapers, which is something the agency still does, but it was Barcroft Media’s interest in digital media that set it apart from its competitors.
As well as the small income made from advertising on its YouTube videos, it makes the majority of its money from finding exclusive stories and producing bespoke article, videos and photographs for big newspapers, magazines and websites. Traditional print national newspapers, such as the Daily Mail, are still where most of the business’s revenue comes from.
However, the agency’s video production has added another revenue stream without adding much cost. If a news agency has paid someone for their story and already sent a journalist to cover it, it doesn’t cost too much more to produce a video. Despite the cost of a specialist video journalist – something Barcroft has found is essential for good-quality videos – and the time and resources used for editing, the company makes an additional profit by charging extra for online content.
The business has grown to employ 50 people, but if you include casual staff, it’s more like 100, with offices in Shoreditch, New York and Delhi.
Turnover last year was £5m – which goes to show that you don’t have to be the largest business to embrace operating online.
“Our success is down to having a strong set of values, and that we embraced the digital revolution,” he says.
Barcroft recently became the first British video content producer to strike a deal with Chinese social media site Youku.
While Barcroft is keen to point out the company has stayed true to its print heritage and a large part of the business still focuses on the traditional news outlets, much of its growth is down to online media. He thinks all businesses should have a digital presence.
“It’s very important, no matter what business it is. Considering more and more consumption is moving online, everyone should work hard to ensure they have a digital plan,” he says.
Barcroft says growing into producing more TV content is one of the next steps for the business. It has produced series for Discovery, TLC, Channel 5 and National Geographic Channel, and recently sold a series, Preposterous Pets, to Animal Planet.
Being a smaller business benefitted Barcroft Media at first because it could be responsive to rapid and dramatic changes in the media business environment, he says.
“We’ve all become so much more focused on the media. It’s more important than it was a generation ago. But the business model for media companies has changed dramatically. There are big newspapers that are struggling, but the long-term health of media-based business is good. The smaller businesses will be able to be more successful,” he says.
One thing Barcroft becomes particularly animated about is finding new talent. Many businesses are wary of taking on apprentices, saying they lack skills or are not work-ready, but this is not something Barcroft has found.
“We have a team of very dedicated apprentices here,” he says. “We run a media apprenticeship scheme which is very important – particularly embracing local talent.
“It’s hard for young people to get the opportunity to do work experience in some industries, particularly media. That’s why it’s rewarding, because they’re very enthusiastic. It’s vital for creative industries to get involved with the young talent that’s out there,” he adds.
OK, and now here’s the video of the teeny tiny dog that you saw above – one of Barcroft’s greatest hits: