The most viewed video on Clicknetwork is also the only one that no longer exists on the channel. Titled Xiaxue’s Guide to Life EP56 – Kissing a Girl, the video of same-sex kissing incited controversy when it was published more than 10 years ago and the online content production company was instructed to take it down by the MDA, now known as the IMDA (Infocomm Media Development Authority). Such edgy, risqué content was characteristic of Clicknetwork in the early years after it was founded in 2007, with series broaching topics considered to be more taboo at the time, like plastic surgery and tattoos, as well as the use of expletives and crude humour by very engaging and sometimes foul-mouthed hosts.
It was raw, uncensored and authentic – all of which bucked tradition and were considered rare in home-grown television, given that YouTube was still relatively new back then. Naturally, Clicknetwork garnered a following and eventually grew to become the first YouTube channel in Singapore to hit one million subscribers in 2017. The digital media industry has accelerated since then with many more big players gunning for a slice of the pie, but Clicknetwork has continued to hold its own as one of the top channels here.
Over the years, however, the channel has gradually shed its provocative persona for a more innocuous one. Today, one would have to dig deep into the archives to find the sillier, more frivolous reality shows like Numbnuts, where two hosts compete in crazy challenges with the loser performing an often-terrible forfeit, and Chick vs. Dick, a battle of the sexes show where the viewers get to decide the winner. These have made way for more informative, yet still entertaining content like Tried and Tested and Hack It, which feature product reviews and useful tips for daily situations, respectively.
In a way, the channel has matured along with its audience and its founder. Gillian started out as a TV producer in Singapore after establishing her production company Munkysuperstar Pictures in 2003, but having always been a creative type, she began to feel restricted by the medium. Four years later, the then-27-year-old decided to enter unchartered waters and venture online with Clicknetwork as a subsidiary of Munkysuperstar Pictures.
“At the start I had no vision,” admits Gillian. “I saw it as a hobby and just kind of did what I felt was interesting and fun, and didn’t really run it like a business.” While those videos found an audience mostly among teenagers, they were not making any money. Thirteen years on, the 40-year-old says the goal of the channel is to put out content that has more value and more depth, while at the same time turning a profit.
“Our audience have grown up with the channel and are slightly older now, in their 20s and 30s. I think people are more sophisticated and don’t just want to watch a silly thing any more; they expect to gain something from watching a video. So we try to make it educational but also still interesting.”
Now that Clicknetwork’s content is “a lot more safe”, Gillian says the IMDA no longer censors them. Instead, in a rather unexpected turn of events, the company works with the statutory board to create content. In the last two years, Clicknetwork launched three web series in partnership with the IMDA: No Sweat, a health and fitness series; Daddy Diaries, a parenting series; and Girl Band Called Girl Band, its first scripted comedy series. Gillian says both parties have found the response to the series very encouraging and are in talks to collaborate on more shows later this year.
She also has not stopped pushing boundaries, albeit in different ways. With the proliferation of more online content like streaming platforms, Gillian has had to find fresh, creative ways to stay relevant. She has diversified the company to do more than just videos and created businesses not on YouTube. After seeing how well No Sweat was doing on Clicknetwork, she decided to grow it by rolling out fitness merchandise as well as the No Sweat Fitness app. Developed with Tyen Rasif, personal trainer and host of the series, the app offers customised workout programmes with a paid subscription.
“There will always be competition out there, but over the years the thing that’s getting harder to deal with is the power that the big platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram have,” explains Gillian. This power refers to the platforms’ frequently changing algorithms that affect the visibility and viewership of creators’ content, resulting in a volatile environment. “In the past it was really favourable for us but now a lot has changed. If your business is so dependent on their graces, it can be dangerous.”
She shares that there are also plans for No Sweat fitness events like fairs and workshops, which will be done with the help and expertise of Bigfoot Events, the events management arm of Munkysuperstar Pictures. “Rather than put all our eggs in one basket, we want to branch out and see where it takes us.”
Go with the flow
Perhaps it is this quality of adaptability in the face of change that has fuelled Gillian’s success for more than a decade. Unlike most business owners, she has never had a business plan. “I guess I just find that they’re kind of useless,” she reveals.“I’m really not a planner and I’ve never been one to set goals. I just go with the flow and I am always motivated to do better.”
This motivation comes not from money or fame but from two things: A constant craving to create as well as a sense of responsibility to the people she works with. “I’m the leader of the team and I feel that I have to keep driving everyone in the right direction and to make sure everyone is doing well,” she says. “You’re really only as good as your people.”
It may come across as counterintuitive, but Gillian says she is also not “super ambitious” and does not feel a desire to scale the company exponentially. She has been approached with opportunities to do so, but still prefers to keep things the way they are. “I feel satisfied with where I am and I just want to concentrate on doing what we’re doing,” she says. “With things expanding, I always feel that if it’s going to change things too much then I’d rather not. I don’t want it to change the meaning and whole reason why I started in the first place.”
While the style of videos on Clicknetwork may have evolved, Gillian’s passion for visual storytelling and making videos is still at the core of her work and her ethos has remained the same from day one. “I only create things that I personally find interesting or that my team and I resonate with – I would never produce something I would not watch,” she asserts. “As I grow older my interests and tastes have changed, but the joy of creating content has not. I still very much enjoy that process and seeing things come to life.”
Fashion direction Johnny Khoo
Art direction Audrey Chan
Photography Joel Low
Fashion styling Jacquie Ang
Hair Christvian Goh/Arx, using Kevin.Murphy
Make-up Melissa Yeo, using Chanel Beauty
Photography assistance Alfie Pan
Fashion assistance Shannahlette Jenn Lim
Location Looksee Looksee