Maddison and Riley McKibbin can still remember — with much amusement, as memories go — one of their first disasters as producers of beach volleyball videos on their eponymous YouTube channel. Not that it seemed like a disaster at the time. They rarely do. Riley probably thought it was a stroke of genius when the wind had muffled up the sound of one of their early videos, and rather than redo it, he simply recorded a voiceover, trying to match his cadence on screen.
“You can really tell,” Madison said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “It’s like an old, bad movie, like they’re speaking English words and it’s Japanese.”
“There were some bad decisions that were made for sure,” Riley added, laughing.
That’s the beautiful thing about being first in an industry with a large fanbase and what was at the time, and still sort of is, an almost entirely untouched gold mine of digital media: Even when bad decisions were made, they didn’t seem bad at the time. They seemed innovative, because the crux of their content was innovative, something that had never really been done before.
When the McKibbins were initially tinkering with the notion of retiring from indoor volleyball, which they played professionally overseas – Maddison finished in Greece, Riley in Italy – and switching to beach, they did what anybody in this current generation would do: They searched YouTube.
They found what nobody in any future generation will now find: Little to nothing. Nothing that was great, anyway. There were some out there. But Riley, now 31 and coming off a career-best AVP season, knew he had found a hole.
Why he knew that he and Maddison thought they could be the answers to that problem is still a mystery to them. Riley had no prior experience editing film. Maddison had little, though he did at least have a camera. An early issue there was that Riley couldn’t even turn the thing on.
In spite of that, Riley said, “we somehow thought we could fill that void.”
They have. And they have done it to such a spectacular degree because the foundation of virtually every video posted on The McKibbin Brothers YouTube channel has remained the same. Whether it’s a hilarious voiceover edit, a tutorial on jump serving, or a supremely well-done vlog: They’re telling stories that ought to be told.
“The thing is,” Madison says in their video following filming the 2020 AVP media day, “all these people aren’t just beach volleyball players. They have these passions outside of beach volleyball, which are so differentiating, so spread out all over the place, which makes them them, sometimes these volleyball questions — they get asked every single media day.”
They do things different. They don’t ask Alix Klineman what it’s like to transition from indoor to beach. They get her rolling on cooking, and food, to the point that Klineman, one of the more reticent individuals on Tour, actually asked the McKibbins to let her talk more.
“Actually, I have one more,” she said. “I can really just keep going.”
Nobody had ever gotten that story, because nobody had ever bothered. The McKibbins saw the void there. They were unqualified to fill that void. They didn’t care. They filled it anyway.
“It’s been a long learning process and during that learning process we’ve discovered different avenues we could take it,” Riley said. “So it moved just from doing beach volleyball tutorials to workout videos to some blogs to some mini documentary kind of videos. It’s been a pretty crazy, great learning experience.”
They’ve discovered the videos that are most fulfilling to them. The slow-motion replays of matches throughout the season are entertaining, and there is some benefit there, but there isn’t character building. No storytelling. There isn’t the reward of stringing together a narrative, drawing new fans into this sport, as a Formula One docuseries called “Drive to Survive” did for them.
“That’s something me and Riley realized about our content recently,” Madison said. “The ones we’ve been super excited for, you can see it. The ones where we’re like ‘meh’ you can tell as a viewer.”
“It’s almost like YouTube knows how much energy and how excited we are about the videos that we’re making,” Riley said. “When we’re super excited about a project, the views show it. When we’re throwing up filler content to hit that Wednesday quota, YouTube knows: ‘Nope, we’re punishing you. You only put in 75 percent effort’ and we’re like ‘Dammit!’”
They’re back to their metaphorical drawing boards. They couldn’t elaborate on the specificity of future projects, because they don’t know the exact direction of them just yet. There are vague ideas, visions — something big out there. They just don’t know precisely what it is.
“Our main goal is to start innovating again,” Riley said. “I think one of the reasons we had such great success in the very beginning was because we spent a lot of time writing and trying to make the content at least somewhat entertaining.”
They’ve accomplished that much. They’ve filled one void, and they’ll surely find more as their abilities evolve and the perimeters of their limits as storytellers and creators expand.
There isn’t a team in beach volleyball better suited to do it.