Why would anyone want to go on the internet to watch somebody else react to watching a video? If you’re not familiar with reaction videos, the concept might seem strange and off-putting at first. But they’re one of the enduring genres of videos in the era of YouTube. They also offer a relatively low barrier of entry for aspiring creators who want to make videos but don’t know where to start.
But there is an art to them, and things it will be helpful to know before popping on your camera and filming your own reactions for the world. So let’s dive in—here’s everything you ever wanted to know about reaction videos.
What Are Reaction Videos And Why Are They So Popular?
Reaction videos are exactly what they sound like—videos of people reacting to other content.
If you spend time on YouTube or TikTok, you’ve almost certainly come across someone recording themselves reacting to a new music video from a popular artist, or a shocking scene in a recent TV episode. Reacting to entertainment media isn’t the only form reaction videos take, though. Sometimes creators will react to viral videos or political announcements. Basically, anything that might inspire a big reaction or a large audience is up for grabs.
The concept actually originally became popularized on Japanese television decades before the internet as we currently know it. It began to gain traction online not long after YouTube launched in 2005. The reasons people enjoy reaction videos can be as varied as the content being reacted to.
To start, watching reaction videos can provide a similar experience to showing someone something you love—or hate—in real life and getting to experience it through their eyes. A 2011 article in The New York Times calls attention to a reaction video from that era in which a young boy watches the big Star Wars reveal in The Empire Strikes Back for the first time. The article notes, “we, the watchers of the watching, re-experience our own lost innocence through the boy.”
Meanwhile, other types of reaction videos might be popular simply because they allow viewers to see a creator they enjoy, or whose opinion they respect, responding to something within their niche.
What Content Makes For Good Reaction Videos?
For anyone thinking about starting a reaction channel of their own or adding reaction videos to their rotation of content, the options are vast. Here are some examples of the content you might consider filming reactions to:
- movie trailers
- music videos
- key TV scenes
- video games
- unique commercials
- new songs
- viral videos
- news clips
- sports moments
- live performances
- your old content
- viewers’ comments
How To Make A Reaction Video
The concept of reaction videos isn’t complicated, and creating them isn’t really, either. But understanding your options and where there might be opportunities to think outside the box and set your content apart from the scores of other reaction videos already flooding the internet can help you get off to a stronger start.
Depending on your desired brand and the type of audience you either already have or want to draw, you may want to consider picking one niche and centering your reactions around that. If your content mostly revolves around video games, you could focus on trailers for new games, scenes from movies and TV shows based on games, and relevant viral videos if and when they pop up. If you’re starting from scratch, you could also go even more niche and only react to, for instance, obscure music videos from the 1980s.
It’s up to you to experiment and see what genre of reaction videos are most enjoyable to you and most engaging for your audience. That may or may not involve chasing trends, although one benefit of opting to react to things that are making a splash in pop culture or otherwise trending on social media is that people will already be searching these terms, and if you move quickly enough, you’ll have the opportunity to draw new viewers to your work.
Most likely, you’ll end up recording your own reactions for your videos. However, focusing on or including others is also an option, and can open up new avenues to explore.
The Fine Bros’ React franchise, which started with their Kids React channel in 2010, centered around showing specific types of people—kids, parents, college kids, etc—all reacting to the same thing. This gave viewers insight into different perspectives, both within the predetermined group, and in comparison to the viewer themself.
Involving other people in your reaction videos can be as simple as calling up some friends or fellow creators with big personalities, differing interests, and unabashed opinions and letting the magic unfold.
Regardless of what you choose to react to, the most important thing across the board is authenticity. Viewers love reaction videos because they feel real, like a candid moment they got to witness from the other side of a screen. That’s why it’s important to choose content you haven’t seen before, so as to capture a genuine reaction.
A few other things to keep in mind going into recording:
- Big reactions get big responses. If your response to something is mild, it’s probably going to lose viewers’ interest pretty quickly. Again, you do want to keep things authentic, but even unimpressed or disinterested reactions can be expressed in engaging ways. If not, it may be time to switch to another topic.
- Build contrast/conflict into group settings. If you’re recording others, try to choose people you expect will have vastly different reactions from one another.
- Know your brand. Will your audience react well to you eviscerating a popular new music video? Will they expect it? Do they prefer unbridled enthusiasm and positivity? Subverting your viewers’ expectations can keep things interesting. However, you also don’t want to push things to a point that contradicts whatever persona you’ve set up.
You may also want to wrap up your video by taking a beat to share your opinions with your viewers after the fact, especially if you’re reacting to something with buzz around it, or something in your niche. This part can be more scripted out, if you prefer, and it doesn’t have to be long. It’s also a great place to work in a unique twist to your videos. For example, you could rate each Super Bowl commercial you watch on a personally designed scale of WTFery. (WTF meaning What the Folgers for these purposes, of course.)
If there’s ever a time to pull out a tripod and a microphone, it’s for reaction videos. While holding your iPhone to record videos can often be good enough, since you should only be filming your initial reaction one time, it likely makes more sense to have a stabilized camera, good audio levels, and a clear picture to make sure everything is captured properly.
You should also use headphones when reacting to anything with audio, so your recording can pick up a clean track. Ideally, you’ll be able to edit the video and audio you’re reacting to into your own video (see the Reel Rejects video). However, keeping it separate not only allows you to adjust your sound levels against the original content’s, it can also salvage your content if you run into copyright issues.
Are reaction videos fair use?
As so many content creators react to copyrighted videos, you may be wondering whether that’s legal—and how YouTube addresses concerns.
Many reaction videos fall under the concept of fair use. This allows copyrighted works to be reused without the copyright owner’s explicit permission. Per YouTube’s own policy, “some activities that may qualify as fair use include criticism, commentary, and news reporting.” While this leaves a lot open to interpretation, the general consensus is that the more you transform your video into something separate from the original work—adding commentary, possibly only showing clips from it, stopping to critique, etc—the more likely it is to fall under fair use.
However, the original copyright owner can still file a DMCA complaint. This could result in your video being taken down and your account receiving a copyright strike. You can dispute the claim if you believe it’s unfair, but it can still cause headaches in the meantime. It’s also important to know that if your channel receives three strikes in 90 days, your account can be terminated.
Your video could also get hit by YouTube’s automated Content ID system, which recognizes copyrighted material in uploaded videos. You won’t get a strike for this, but the copyright holder could either monetize your video for themselves or block it entirely.
Do Reaction Videos Make Money?
Because of this, monetizing reaction videos can be risky, and depending on the specifics of your content, isn’t always recommended. But there are plenty of other ways to make money using reaction videos. Having content that draws a number of views can be leveraged into sponsorship deals. Also, having a devoted fanbase can make affiliate marketing or starting a Patreon logical next steps.
As great as it is to have a plan for monetizing content up front, it’s also good to remember that building a brand and a following will open up more avenues for making money from your content down the road. Fortunately, there’s still absolutely an appetite for reaction videos online. So if that’s what you want to make, focus on creating quality content and the rest will fall into place.