MKBHD says yes to Google Glass, no to the Metaverse – TechCrunch
If you’ve ever searched YouTube for a review of the latest iPhone or electric car, you’ve probably come across Marques Brownlee. Since starting his MKBHD channel as a teenager in 2009, Brownlee has amassed 15.8 million subscribers for his in-depth yet accessible tech videos. He’s even scored interviews with Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Barack Obama, and to top it all off, he’s the ultimate professional Frisbee player (the former president even complimented his “incredible jumps”).
But perhaps Brownlee’s most impressive achievement is his ability to stay relevant for 10 years in his online video career without losing his audience’s trust. And as short-form video content becomes a necessity for any creator, Brownlee seamlessly transitioned to TikTok, where he pulled off one of the only good April Fool’s Day pranks.
We caught up with Brownlee at VidCon, where he was helping Discord promote the beta testing of its server subscriptions (watch out, Patreon). In a chat with perhaps the most well-known tech critic — sorry, other TechCrunch writers — the 28-year-old internet star told us about the transition to TikTok, his views on the metaverse, and why Google Glass deserves a redemption arc.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
TC: It’s not easy to make TikToks or YouTube shorts when you’ve made it big on YouTube with 20-minute videos. How do you manage to make shorter content on these new platforms?
MB: I think about it a lot. I see ways that I don’t like to do, like people redirecting other content and turning it into shorthand content. I would much rather create native content for each platform. When we started making short films, it was a challenge. I was like, how can I really reduce that to 60 seconds or less? I think my first three shorts are 59.8 seconds long. We found that having specifically decided to spend some time on TikTok and then learning what works well helped us improve the native elements of the platform.
With so many new creator programs on all platforms, what does your creator revenue pie chart look like?
I’d say it’s about 50% of YouTube’s built-in advertising model and 50% of everything else, including our merchandise store, other offerings we have, etc. But the bread and butter for so long has been videos. It’s just a well-oiled machine. We don’t really think about overhead, we just know that videos can and will perform well, ie…thanks, YouTube!
Even though short video has become extremely popular, no one has yet really figured out how to monetize it. Do you have any ideas on how this might work?
I don’t have an answer, and anyone who claims to have an answer is probably lying. It makes so much sense that short video could explode. The numbers we see are not the same as the numbers elsewhere. You know, 20 million views on TikTok is very different from 20 million views on YouTube. When we talk about video monetization, monetization on YouTube is related to video because the choice is yours [to watch the video]. You saw the thumbnail, you spent time on it, it was on you. This transaction works. But the shorts are totally different. I don’t know how to tie this together and make it a nice and neat monetization solution.
You have remained relevant as a technical assessor for over 10 years. How do you balance staying true to your point of view while remaining accessible?
I try to be as transparent as possible about what I like and what I don’t like. It’s subjective. But whether someone agrees with my preference in a technology is almost irrelevant. I try to put myself in the place of the spectator and say what I would like him to know if he bought the thing.
What tech trends are you most excited about?
I think AR/VR is one of our eyes that all of our eyes are on right now. It’s funny because to me the most interesting beginnings of new technology are when you get a product that’s supposed to help people or provide a new experience, and I think we’re about to start seeing some products that are like, killer app, like really interesting and attract people. We had Google Glass, we had some crazy stuff in the past, but I think we’re about to see a bunch of cool stuff.
What do you think of the idea of the metaverse?
I understand what people see there. I understand why Facebook – or Meta – wants to take a big part in it. But at the same time, it must have a purpose. We have to want to do the new thing for a reason, and I’m always looking for that reason.
Yes, playing video games in VR is one thing, but hanging out with friends in VR and going to work in VR is a harder sell.
There’s a “Ready Player One” type vibe at times where it’s like, “what would it mean if we didn’t have to go to the meeting?” But it’s also not that hard to do what we normally do. I’m looking for a reason to really want to try this stuff. I try new things, because that’s my job. I give him a chance. But I think we might be about to get a whole lot more interesting answers to that question.
Meta’s VR hardware is fun to play, but I don’t want to Direct inside.
It’s just another cool tech to play with, and there’s a lot of cool tech out there to play with already. It won’t get that massive adoption that I’m sure Meta is hoping for.
Do you think AR will be more accessible to people than VR?
This is where I find it easier to see useful use cases. I remember the days of Google Glass, and as crazy as that product was, having step-by-step navigation instructions right in the corner of your vision as you wander through an unfamiliar city is very helpful. Little things like that, which I found really functional, basically. The hardware was old, and that was 10 years ago, so obviously the technology has improved a lot since then. But I think augmented reality is easier for me to see as a future.
Which companies do you think are doing AR well?
Obviously the iPhone and the lidar. Functionally it’s really good, but it doesn’t do anything useful. Yeah, I can put a couch in a room and see what it looks like, but I’m still looking for that “gotta have it” thing.
Is there a technology that you think was useful, but didn’t succeed?
Google Glass is the perfect answer. Ten years ago, walking into a bar with a camera on your face was insane, and now Snapchat has just made a pair of glasses with the camera directly on them. It’s much more acceptable.
There are a lot of privacy debates around wearable technology – do you have any ethical concerns about this type of technology?
Well, you still hope it comes from a responsible company doing responsible things, which is why there are concerns with Meta. That’s all I’ll say about it! But yeah, it’s the same as with your phone – if you do important things on your phone, there’s going to be a lot of important data there, so privacy will be important. We hope companies will do the right thing with this data.
Is there a technology you think more people should talk about?
Non-Tesla Electric Vehicles. They are almost there.