Wednesday, April 11, 2018

eyes black, big paws and we took you right from your mother's home

More videos to peruse on the Channel Awesome controversy:
The main Not So Awesome document is now 73 pages long; at least three new accounts have been added. So many it's finally time to go through the document, account by account.

We begin with Allison Pregler, or Obscurus Lupa, detailing her experiences with the site.
  • "We were not employed by CA, CA simply embeds videos on their site. Outside of the anniversary movies, no contracts were involved. The only people paid are the people involved with the Chicago crew."
So here, we have all the contributors to Channel Awesome being, at best, independent contractors producing their own content, and using the CA website as a content host, at best. But if they were just a content host, then that's where it should have ended, right? Each contractor is responsible for advertising their own content, and life goes on.

But that's not what happened.
  • "The biggest of their numerous problems is Mike Michaud, the site's CEO. There were two other CEOs when they started, Mike Ellis and Bhargav Dronamraju, both of whom are no longer with the site. The name Greg occasionally appears in this document. This is Mike Michaud's brother, who handles the scheduling of producer videos.
  • "Mike owns the IP of the Nostalgia Critic character and is a majority shareholder in the company."
Let that sink in for a moment. Someone who is entirely disconected from the artist owns the art. This isn't new at all, but it's very disappointing, because if Doug Walker doesn't own the Nostalgia Critic character, then nothing he does with it will hold. As we saw when, at the end of "To Boldly Flee", he effectively killed the character off...and then "chose" (or was forced--in hindsight, likely by Mike Michaud) to continue making Nostalgia Critic videos.
  • "On two separate occasions, women were confronted angrily by either Mike Ellis or Mike Michaud being blamed for something a guy they knew did. One of those instances resulted in the producer leaving (see Lindsay Ellis section).
Was there ever any attempt to research what happened in these instances, or did they just not care?
  • "Frequently if a guy spoke up it was ignored, if a woman spoke up they were labeled troublemakers. Mike would frequently try to bully them. Most of the women felt very uncomfortable talking to him; it was a repeating pattern that he would be more aggressive toward someone speaking up if they were a woman. At least three of us were kicked off the site for that very reason, when male producers who did the same thing are still on the site."
So right off the bat, we have misogyny, dismissive treatment, aggressive mismanagement, bullying, condescension, and delusions of grandeur. Great.
  • "More details in Sean and Holly's sections, but CA was aware of sexual harassment from Mike Ellis for at least two years and did nothing. When he was finally let go it was for other legal reasons. They were also aware of a prominent producer who was grooming female fans and coercing them into sex and failed to take action for years."
This is extremely damning. It's made worse by the fact that while a toxic, misogynistic work environment will never cause sexual harassment or active grooming of females at the workplace, it certainly can't help.
  • "All communication was done via a Skype chat with all of the producers. We did not communicate through email, and Michaud would disappear for long periods of time. No one wanted to talk to us."
Now, to me this is also key, just from a record-keeping standpoint. Even in small companies, meetings should have notes. If there are any concerns, questions, or problems down the line, it is very helpful to refer back to something already in print and archived as part of the company papers to answer those concerns or questions.

And while on Skype, there are two ways to communicate--in text, and in voice--I'd be willing to bet that most, if not all, of these 'meetings' were voice only. Which means that while it is possible to record what was said for later reference, it is even now a cumbersome process, and back then, it may well have been worse.
  • "The people we were told to talk to were Michaud, Rob, and Holly (HR). When Holly was fired, it was just those two. Mike was so against being involved with or doing anything that he eventually became 'silent CEO', which meant it was just Rob, who didn't want the job. Any time we came to him with complaints, he would call us children behind our backs."
There are legal and understandable ways to be a silent partner in a business. It's done all the time. 'I will pay X to start this company, and in return, I will have no direct management duties, and receive Y percent of profits for Z stated time.' Done. Save...they didn't do that. Michaud apparently wanted the ability to bully and harangue people into doing what he wanted, but he wanted no other contact with anyone 'working' for Channel Awesome. That's both childish and unprofessional.
  • "Doug is not considered anything but talent, yet frequently is part of business calls and the like (including ones highlighted here). He also is occasionally part of company decisions. He is more involved with [the] business than he likes to let on, and is also involved as a human being and face of the company."
  • "They were so unaware of anything going on with the site that Rob thought someone asking for an interview was a producer."
This is where it becomes tricky being Doug Walker. On the one hand, it's very easy to blame Michaud and other early CEOs for all the mismanagement that occurred, but with this statement, Walker becomes complicit in that mismanagement. IF he was included in business meetings and calls, then he is PART of that business. IF his input is requested for company decisions, THEN he is part of that company's management team.
  • "Communication was the WORST. They would never tell us anything, it was like pulling teeth to get answers from anyone. Frequently we would find out things after the fact and have to come to them to find out what was happening."
Communication is key in any company, whether it employs two people or two million. If you can't openly communicate with upper management, then you have no input or understanding of how the company operates. If there's no oversight over management's actions, then you get Exxon or Enron. No one wants that.
  • "Blistered Thumbs producers were never told the site was shutting down. They found out when they saw the announcement on the front page. Several producers were let go without being informed."
And to say that this is wildly unprofessional is to severely understate the case.
  • "When I joined the site, I was given a list of rules to follow (mostly common sense things, like don't post hate speech, etc.). The section saying where to find the company policy was labeled 'coming soon'."
Do I even need to point out that Obscurus Lupa joined months, if not years after Channel Awesome was formed? That the company rules still said coming soon is baffling and wrong.
  • "At a later point in time, when I'm creating Radu Reviews, I'm randomly told I need to ask them permission to do new shows (They had a rule in place for events such as filming a new show with your friend as the host, for example, but not anything like what I was doing). So I ask Rob for permission, and he seems to have no idea why I'm asking."
Because there is zero communication at all times at Channel Awesome, apparently.
  • "Years later, Phelan is astounded to find out this list exists, because no one who came onto the site before me got these rules or were told about them."
  • "The rules were arbitrarily enforced and usually if they wanted an excuse to get rid of someone anyway. At one point they sent a written reprimand to Welshy that was meant for Sad Panda because they couldn't tell the difference between them."
Because of course they couldn't. Because why should upper management concern themselves with actually knowing what's going on with their content producers?
  • "Phelan received a reprimand for tweeting a joke making fun of the Demo Reel twist by saying he was going to reveal Phelous was Sub-Zero the whole time. He was told to apologize to Doug personally."
I don't even understand this. Why would he have to apologize to Doug for making a Twitter joke about a show that was, even in the best light possible, terrible?
  • "Doug knew nothing tech-wise to the point of endless frustration. He didn't know how to record commentaries, he would just have people in Chicago sit close to the camera and record it on the on-board mic. When he had to record the Moulin Rouge commentary over Skype, he asked me to sit in and record it. I was not part of the Moulin Rouge crossover, he just wanted me to press record and sit there. Phelan called him up and explained, step by step, how to use MP3 Skype Recorder, which requires a simple press of a button to use. He ended up calling Nash and having him record it."
Okay, granted, having a titular head (without "real" power, admittedly, though even that's in question) of a tech-based company be No-Nothing Bozo the Wonder Critic would be frustrating. I think it's a small point with the rest of it, though.
  • "During my earlier days on the site, we would have to fight to get slots for the day, but especially during the holidays. Doug proceeds to hog the slots with his lazy Disneycember vlogs."
Which I'd blame more on scheduling than Doug personally, unless he scheduled the videos--which it's pretty clear from earlier statements, that isn't something he was capable of doing.
  • "They considered conventions a waste of time, despite their contradictory belief that they should do all their advertising locally. They hated that we went to MAGFest because of a bad experience Doug had their once, despite the fact that we all paid to go there on our own dimes."
And this is just baffling, too, especially if the business wants to support local businesses and keep advertising local. A table in the information alley--or even better, if the business offers merchandise that will tie in well with the theme of the convention, the merchants' room--is dead cheap compared to the price of even a fifteen-second television spot.
  • "They never wanted to pay anyone. One of the DVDs they held a cover contest for fans where they asked for "Drew Struzan style" artwork for $100 (plus a link to their [deviantArt page] on the cover). They were shamed into upping the price to $300. Skitch did the soundtracks for the anniversary movies for next to nothing, and Michaud was furious when he tried selling the music because he was under the belief it belonged to them."
This is what contracts are for. A maker of content can sell the rights to a receiver of content for a limited time, in perpetuity, or simply have the rights revert to them upon publication of the single-use project for which the contract specified. In cases where music or art was used without contract, the assumption is that rights revert back to the maker of content upon publication. This isn't rcket science.
  • "Every decision felt self-motivated and uncaring towards other producers. It was The Doug Show."
In many ways, it sounds like Channel Awesome still is.

I'll pick up the Indiegogo segment tomorrow; I think that's enough for today.

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