YouTubers Hit Mainstream As Digital Media Become Top Choice For New Talent


You may not have heard of Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee, but these British YouTube stars have more than 11 million subscribers and more than one billion views on Google’s online video service. They are also making a splash in more traditional media.

The 2015 film Joe and Caspar Hit the Road was made with the production team from Top Gear, and after topping the sales charts as a DVD and digital download, will now air on Channel 4’s E4 TV network in April. A sequel featuring another road trip to the US is lined up for November.

For Sugg – the brother of YouTube star Zoe “Zoella” Sugg – and Lee, “straight to DVD/download” isn’t a failure, as it is for traditional films. It’s a canny and increasingly common career move for YouTubers, with other examples including Smosh: The Movie (by comedy duo Smosh); Camp Takota (with Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart) and The Chosen (with Kian Lawley).

Films and TV shows sit alongside book deals, games, branded cosmetics and live tours as opportunities available for the “influencers” emerging from YouTube, Vine, Snapchat, Instagram and other digital services.

“YouTubers are looking to spread their wings beyond YouTube,” says analyst Mark Mulligan of Midia Research. He cites British firm Gleam Futures, which works with Sugg and Lee, as a prime mover. “It has some of the most successful YouTubers yet now it refers to its vloggers as ‘social talent’. They all have massive social footprints and they want to leverage that.”

The industry around this phenomenon is growing rapidly, from talent agencies like Gleam to multi-channel networks (MCNs) like BroadbandTV, Maker Studios and Fullscreen that sign up YouTubers and devise new shows and commercial deals for them.

Meanwhile, digital studios like Vice Media and New Form Digital are making shows and films that attract large audiences online – but which can also transfer to television.

The MCNs and digital studios are investing heavily in their stars and attracting large audiences of young millennials online, but are struggling to make as much money as they had hoped from YouTube ads. Broadcasters fret about those same viewers draining away from their TV channels, but have the commissioning budgets that may solve the digital firms’ financial headache. Such partnerships were a big talking point at last week’s MIP TV programming market and conference in Cannes.

YouTube is also emerging as a commissioner, having launched its YouTube Red subscription service in the US. For that, it funded an exclusive show from its platform’s biggest star, PewDiePie, as well as films and shows from some of his popular peers.

Video-tracking firm Tubular Labs says that in the last month alone, 29 million new videos have been uploaded to YouTube by 7 million creators, generating 50 billion views. It’s from this mass of vlogging, gaming, pranks, cover versions and children’s content that the new stars are emerging. Their names are often unfamiliar to older media consumers, but they have real clout with their teen and twentysomething fans.

MCNs and digital studios hope that this divide can be narrowed if more shows featuring online talents appear on mainstream TV. At MIP TV, for example, New Form Digital was touting its Oscar’s Hotel for Fantastical Creatures show, which mixes YouTube stars with puppets created by The Jim Henson Company. It is one of 19 series made by the company since late 2014.

Vice Media has 30 shows in production and another 100 in development, according to its chief creative officer, Eddy Moretti. “Our model has been we launch a channel online, we create the brand, we create a lot of video for that brand, and find talent … And we’ve been moving that talent, that IP [intellectual property], those videos, to other platforms,” said Moretti at Vice’s MIP TV showcase. Vice is making a daily news show for HBO in the US, while its Viceland channel has been picked up by Sky and Canal+ in Europe.

This strategy of parlaying large YouTube audiences into TV deals is becoming more common. “The intention from the beginning has always been to use the digital channels as a great place to incubate formats and talents, and really develop IP that could be taken into longer-form television and feature films,” says Kelly Day, chief digital officer at MCN AwesomenessTV.

These partnerships go beyond production and licensing deals. AwesomenessTV was bought by Hollywood studio DreamWorks Animation in 2013 in a deal worth up to $117m including performance bonuses. After DreamWorks sold on stakes to Cosmopolitan publisher Hearst and telecoms company Verizon, the MCN is now valued at $650m.

Other deals include Disney’s acquisition of Maker Studios in 2014 for up to $950m including bonuses and Vice securing hundreds of millions in investment from companies including A+E Networks, Disney and 21st Century Fox.

“We are entering a new era in which musicians and pop idols, so to speak, are not the go-to main celebrity for young people,” says Luke Hyams, chief content officer, international, of MCN Maker Studios. “It is the digital celebrities, the digital influencers. And with that comes a bit of a generational divide.” Hyams compared the average parent’s bafflement at their teenage children’s passion for stars like PewDiePie, KSI and Zoella to past generations’ inability to comprehend punk rock or gangsta rap.

“Now it’s video genres that are the things that are causing these generational divides,” said Hyams.

LIVE STREAMING HITS THE BIG TIME

In a week when Twitter and Facebook unveiled new live streaming initiatives, the fast-growing video sector was being tipped for a big year at the MIP TV event in Cannes. Twitter sprang the biggest surprise, striking a deal with the NFL to stream 10 Thursday-night American football matches, paying a reported $10m for the rights.

Facebook is also making a big move into live video, launching new features for Facebook Live, which allows celebrities and media organisations to stream live on the social network, as well as providing analytics so they can understand more about their viewers.

“Talent really drives conversation, and interaction,” says Dan Biddle, Twitter UK’s director of broadcast partnerships, speaking in Cannes. “It’s a drive towards that live moment … Now is better than later because later is closer to never.”

Twitch, whose live streams of people playing games were watched for 241.4 billion minutes in 2015, was acquired by Amazon for $970m the previous year. Twitter launched its Periscope livestreaming app in March 2015, and hosted 200 million broadcasts in its first year, with 110 years of video watched in its apps every day.

The big guns in online video are also alive to this trend. YouTube revamped its live-streaming features in 2015 to compete with Twitch, for example.

Facebook is heavily promoting live video streams in its news feed, at the expense of some other sources. “Facebook has been very aggressively de-promoting YouTube videos in the feed,” said New Form Digital’s Kathleen Grace in Cannes.

Live is also spawning new genres, such as esports – competitive gaming – which has been a big factor in Twitch’s growth. Tournaments for games like League of Legends, DOTA 2 and Vainglory attract millions of viewers, while games publishers including Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts have launched their own esports divisions to capitalise.

Photo via: Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee. Photograph: Rod Fountain/BBC Worldwide

[ By: Stuart Dredge] [ The Gaurdian] [ Read More ]

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