Recently I’ve been to looking at what’s popular in model trains videos over at YouTube, trying to see if we can adapt any new evangelizing ideas to Z scale. I’ve been surprised at what ranks high in the online video world when it comes to model trains. As YouTube is the second most popular search engine out there, it’s a valid place to look.
The most watched model train video currently on YouTube, with over 13 million views, features a trio of LEGO trains crashing in to each other under a Christmas tree.
The next most viewed model train video is the official video for Miniatur Wunderland of Hamburg, Germany with over 11 million views.
One video features a couple hundred dollars’ worth of LEGO trains set up on the floor at Christmas, crashing in to each other. The other features perhaps the most intricate and well-designed model railway ever built which after their planned update in 2020, will reach a total cost over 20,000,000 Euros to build. Not disparaging the LEGO video, just noting that it’s 2 million views more popular than Miniatur Wunderland’s video with much less effort.
The next set of videos is, in some ways, even more interesting. Here we look at a video from a UK hobbyist (YouTube name InterCity82) opening a train set based on the animated movie Toy Story, and compare that to a conventional product video from KATO USA.
This hobbyist’s video (above) eclipsed the KATO USA video (below) in popularity with over 1,000,000 views compared to just over 5,000 views for the KATO USA video. Now I think this UK modeler is fun and quirky, maybe this is why his videos are popular. In fairness, our UK friend’s videos don’t always hit these high numbers, his low view numbers for some of his other videos are in the 5,000 to 10,000 range, on average still well above KATO USA numbers.
More interesting is that our UK modeler has over 12,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel as compared to well under 1,000 subscribers to KATO USA’s channel.
KATO is a global model train company that we’re all familiar with, so how is it that 12x the number of people out there are more interested is subscribing to our UK hobbyist’s channel?
I’ve focused here on KATO USA but YouTube subscriber numbers are similar for other large train manufacturers: Athearn has 1,117 subscribers, Bachmann has 2,209 subscribers and Lionel has 1,060 subscribers.
The problem, I think, with all these numbers is that you can draw conclusions… lots of them, probably too many to come to a definitive conclusion. If figuring out how to drive a brand, product or concept was easy; marketing people would never get fired.
My main motivation for writing this article comes from wondering if model railroading can become more popular to a wider audience and specifically, can we successfully utilize avenues such as YouTube to grow Z scale? A common response is to say that kids (and adults) are so busy with smartphones, iPads, assorted tablets and game consoles that model trains seem a bit old-fashioned in comparison. Maybe, but then along comes a model railroader in the UK who has 12,000 YouTube subscribers and a video with over 1,000,000 views. That kind of tanks the “it’s old-fashioned” theory.
Another theory (my last for the day) is that this UK modeler has two important elements behind his 1,000,000 view Toy Story train video. First, it’s Toy Story, there’s a huge built in audience right there. Second is his enthusiasm. He really seems to enjoy making model rail videos and more important, you get the sense that even without his 12,000 YouTube subscribers; he’d still love the trains and spend time with them. His enthusiasm is genuine and that comes across in his videos.
A great franchise tie-in and enthusiasm, that’s the ticket. Maybe we need a Polar Express Berkshire locomotive starter set in Z scale, presented in a really fun and enthusiastic way. I like it! Yes, it would drive purists to the brink but it might also bring in a new audience, or maybe it would just get another marketing person fired. This is tough stuff to figure out.
As always, please feel free to chime in below in the comments section.