The Daily Texan sat down with UT alumnus Burnie Burns, who is the founder of Rooster Teeth, one of the 15 most viewed YouTube channels. The channel has a near cult following of video gamers, but it is most known for its series “Red vs. Blue.” Burnie will appear alongside Machinima Network and BlackBox TV for “Blood, Sweat, and Online Videos: How to Achieve the Digital Dream,” a panel about how to achieve digital success.
The Daily Texan: Tell me a little bit about what you’re expecting at the panel at South By Southwest.
Burnie Burns: A big part of SXSW is that it’s interactive, and it does have educational purposes. It’s a conference that covers a lot of territory. Just staying interactive, you’ll go to one panel and see someone who’s talking to people who trade crochet patterns, and you’ll go to the next and it’s about how to be a Facebook competitor. So you know, we want to make sure that online video in particular is represented there because it’s a growing industry. And we want to give people some headway. I’m especially happy that we’re part of a panel at SXSW that’s free, so you don’t need tickets to go.
DT: Why do you think “Red vs. Blue” was so famous?
Burns: Well, I think one of a few things was that the timing was good. Back then there wasn’t a lot of web content that was online. In fact, when we first started we had to educate people that there’s a video this week, and guess what? There’s going to be another video next week. But there wasn’t that type of video back then. It was mostly silly, dancing babies and stuff like that. Those things are still around, but they didn’t have the serious content back then.
DT: When did you start to realize that it was possible that it could be a job instead of a hobby?
Burns: The problem a lot of people have is that they tell you that you can’t monetize video, that you can’t do it online. But we were pretty successful at it right away in 2003. I knew it was going to be a viable project really quickly, but I just didn’t know for how long. So how long was the big question. So that’s why it took me a couple of years before I quit my “day job” and dedicated myself full time to making entertainment.
DT: Did you have a particular moment when you went, “Wow, I’m really lucky to be doing this”?
Burns: There was a moment that came really early on, and that’s when we went from 3,000 views on the first video to a quarter of a million views on the second video, and by the end of that first month, we were doing a million views every time we put something online. It was really quickly.
DT: Is it hard to come up with so much material so often and stay funny?
Burns: It is, but that challenge is part of the fun — trying to keep your feet on the post and trying to stick with characters that people know and love, but still give them fresh material so it doesn’t get stale. And that’s been a lot of fun and a big challenge at work to have 10 years of making this content.
DT: Tell me a little bit about your experience at the University of Texas.
Burns: The biggest thing about UT is the size of it, right? So sometimes the education that you can achieve is well beyond the walls of the classroom. One of the key things that I learned here is that it’s a city unto itself. So just like the real world, there’s a lot of resources at UT that people can find, locate and be successful just by having a little bit of drive and ambition to discover where these things are.