Before going into the goal of this meeting; discussing and providing feedback on the many suggestions made by members of our community, he reiterated why we at this time had to move towards employing people on a freelance basis.
As WildEarth did and does not have committed revenue we had to go through a process of lay-offs. This process started well before the IndieGoGo campaign. This campaign, as you all know, was a roaring success, but does not constitute an ongoing revenue source. Therefore, we cannot in good faith now offer people permanent employment and thus had to continue by moving to a freelance-type engagement with them. This will make sure we do not commit beyond what we know we can make good on, and also allows the guides and other crew to work for others when not with us. (Tristan joining WanderingThru, and James joining Anderson being examples.) We will continue to offer current, and past, guides opportunities to guide with us in the future and hope they will continue to accept these.
For now, we have offered people (not just guides) contracts until the end of January. Not because we expect to stop broadcasting then, but as we will need to make changes to prepare us for the future, we cannot tie us or our crew down too far ahead. Once the direction becomes clearer we will offer opportunities beyond January.
For the remainder, please bear with us as this will be a long post in order to be as clear as possible about our consideration of the many suggestions provided by the community. Probably our longest post, ever! Because there were so many suggestions, we grouped them into categories for the discussion. Thank you to all who did send us your input!
Subscriptions are problematic as they are a contract between us and the subscriber and if we would not be able to deliver on this because not enough people had subscribed to cover our cost, we would be in breach of that agreement. In our situation, where the content (safaris) still has to be created at the time of the subscription payment and not having large cash reserves (two things that are very different for e.g. NetFlix) this is a significant risk and one that could lead to WildEarth being closed down altogether. Also, past experience and surveys have shown that it would significantly reduce the size of the audience and cut off those who could not afford a subscription. Therefore, a subscription service is not an option at this time.
In view of the size of our audience advertising will not bring in significant amounts of revenue, while at the same time it will have a strong negative impact on the viewing experience. As our safaris get long viewing sessions, revenue from advertising that only comes up when loading a page, or at the start of a video does not correlate with the time viewers spend with us. Therefore, ads would need to be in the video so that the longer someone watches, the more ads they see. This will break the experience and create a lot of unhappiness (imagine an ad coming up just as a guide arrives with Thandi and her cubs…). Also, with the size of our audience, even plastering ads over the content every ten minutes would not make a significant revenue contribution compared to the cost of producing our safaris. Therefore, it is not an option for us at this time.
Donations, including Patreon
Donations are different from subscriptions in that they are not based on a contract to deliver something. There will, of course, be an expectation of getting something in return for the donation (e.g. being able to continue to watch LIVE safaris), and we would do our utmost to deliver on that, but there is no legal contract to do so. This would remove the risks that are tied to subscriptions, and are explained in the previous paragraph. Patreon is an intermediate between subscriptions and donations and allows for offering perks while keeping the main content free. It does, however, take a significant percentage of the money coming in (as do IndieGoGo and other fundraising platforms as that is their business model).
We have always stayed away from asking for donations from viewers to keep us going based on some bad experiences in the past and that people historically have considered that what is on the internet is supposed to be free. Times have changed though, and through on-line subscription services like NetFlix and tipping of content providers on e.g. Twitch, viewers helping to pay for online content has become more acceptable. Organisations like PBS in the US are also (largely) funded from donations.
We have, therefore, reconsidered and will soon be providing an option for our viewers to contribute to on an ongoing (or once-off) basis. We have not fully worked out the best way of doing this, but expect it to become available soon.
Not For Profit company and grants
It is important to note that as WildEarth is not a Not For Profit organisation, such donations, while perfectly legal, are not tax-deductible by the donor. We do believe WildEarth needs to remain a for-profit company as it is the most sustainable way to build a viable, long-term business.
Our outreach to schools and hospitals, however, has no profit intent. We do not generate any revenue from this, nor do we want to start charging school classes or hospitals for participating in our safaris. And to keep providing local, mostly rural, schools with the internet as we’ve done in South Africa. This does limit how far we can go with this, in our view, core part of our mission. We are looking into housing this outreach in a not-for-profit company in order to be able to allow people to provide tax-free donations to this specifically. (e.g. 501(c)3 in the US) in support of this.
We will reach out to our community soon to ask for support with setting this up and then following that with reaching out to organisations that could provide grants. There is no need for action yet, but we will call upon you in due time.
There are in essence two ways to do this. The easiest is through platforms like TeeSpring but they take a large part of the purchase price to manufacture the goods, operate their platform and ship the goods. The other way is to manufacture goods ourselves and then use a fulfilment centre to handle the shipping of the goods. This would get us a larger share of the revenue but also come with a lot of work, and the need to buy goods upfront without knowing if or when they will be sold.
The second option is something we are considering and will likely do in the future. It would also allow us to sell items made locally e.g. beads made by Maasai women, ship them in one batch to the fulfilment centre and have them do the logistics while we sell them on our own site.
For now, we will continue to use platforms like TeeSpring and will be offering a range of goods in time for the Christmas period.
‘Viewer generated sales’
This would mean viewers who are offering the raise money for WildEarth by selling goods as many have offered. The challenge here is that we cannot endorse such sales. If we did endorse it in some cases, there would be fraudsters or chancers (not from our community) who would try to piggy-back off that and sell goods claiming to give money to WildEarth, but don’t. This is already happening where people are using our logo and name for copycat shops on TeeSpring and other platforms.
Note, we do not think our community would scam buyers, but others outside of it might well try. The only way we can protect buyers and supporters is to make it clear we do not endorse any such sales so they know that any that find are misrepresenting themselves.
If you do want to sell items and donate (part of) the profits that is fine, and you can say to your buyers you are giving some of the money to WildEarth. What you cannot say to your buyers is that you are selling items ‘on behalf of WildEarth’ or that your sales are endorsed by WildEarth.
Ellen Degeneres, Today show, etc
It is probably too early for this and would better be done once we’ve got our plan ready. While what we do and why we launched a crowdfunding campaign is clear to all of you as our existing fans and community, but it would not be easily understood by Ellen’s or the Today Show’s audiences, especially within the probably very limited time they would be able or willing to assign to it.
Therefore, let’s park this for now and wait until we’ve defined and started executing the plan for the future. With a proper promo, press release, pitch deck, etc that would be the time to get exposure to bring in new viewers and clients.
The time will come to shout this from the rooftops, but that time is not yet here.
Interns and volunteers
WildEarth has and will continue to offer intern opportunities as a way for young people to learn new skills and help them get some job experience. While, depending on the circumstances, this could result in a lower cost, this is not the main goal of providing these positions.
Using volunteers would reduce costs, and some people may even pay to come work for a while in Djuma. The reality is that such volunteers, mostly from more affluent backgrounds and countries take away a much-needed job from someone who is most likely in a less fortunate position. In countries like South Africa, where the unemployment rate is 29%, this is not an appropriate way of operating. That is not to say that there aren’t cases where it could be justified, but not as a structural approach aimed mainly at reducing costs.
Charge physical guests a levy on their stay to support WildEarth
This is not feasible as lodges are separate companies and also their guests are not necessarily aware of or interested in WildEarth.
WildEarth also cannot start directly offering safaris on Djuma as that would put us in direct competition with them. Expeditions, however, are a way that we are able to offer a combined Djuma/WildEarth experience as we rent their accommodation and then work together with them on providing guests with a great and unique experience.
Partner contributors (around the world)
In order to address the time zone problem with Africa (see town hall #1), we need to find a way to get contributions from all over the world. At the same time, we see hordes of young aspiring filmmakers from around the world who are not able to break into the industry. There is a real opportunity here to work with these people as freelancers to provide us with great LIVE content and at the same time help themselves by getting some experience and build a portfolio. This is a win-win where we would get access to authentic and great content at an affordable rate, and they would generate an income and get experience.
We intend to work with people who are from those areas, and who know the areas and characters. We will still need experts to provide context and background, answer viewer questions, etc. For Djuma this means we will also continue to work with existing guides for that reason.
These contributions will still be done LIVE as LIVE provides a unique, direct and strong way of connecting people with nature; our mission. Sharing a moment with an animal, while learning the animal’s name and background from an expert guide, as it happens is how empathy and strong connections are forged.
Time-shifting of sightings
A second way of addressing the time zone issue is to time-shift sightings.
How we envision doing this, is through using sightings that happened a short while ago, but have the ‘witness’ discuss them LIVE with the expert. In this way, the sharing of the experience still happens LIVE and in real-time and allows for interactivity with viewers.
We see this as a great addition to our LIVE sightings as it will allow us to include great sightings we might have missed LIVE (e.g. when there might be two happening at the same time). It will also allow us to e.g. include some daylight content from Africa in TV shows where we currently can’t.
We expect to start some experiments with that early next year to also get feedback from our community of viewers.
Superchat on YouTube
We cannot do this as it would lead to a situation where we would be expected to answer questions or requests from those who pay, rather than based on the quality of the questions and the relevance to what is happening on the screen. This would create a very awkward situation and reduce the quality of our interactivity with our community, which we cannot do.
We know Twitch well and have been in touch with them, and have broadcasted on the platform, at different times. The reality is that our type of content does not really fit with what Twitch is looking for. That said, we do think that in future when we will hopefully move to a more around-the-clock offering with some time-shifted sightings as per above this might change and there would be a fit. At that time we will try again as we feel the Twitch audience, being mainly made up of young urban people, is a good one to target and attempt to connect with nature through using a format and platform that they are familiar and comfortable with.
TV show licensing
Interestingly, this was not suggested by anyone but we included it here as it has been our main source of income from the past decade and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable, or at least immediate, future.
It needs to be noted that the problem is not that TV channels do not want LIVE wildlife content, nor that the quality of our shows did not meet expectations, but that we could not deliver what they wanted (daylight content) at the time they needed it (prime-time).
Therefore, a crucial part of this journey is to find a way to expand our offering to where we can deliver this to them. Expanding means adding content, while keeping what we already have in Djuma.
We feel confident that with the help of our community we can do this as a way to connect more and more people with nature.