Do the names PewDiePie, Smosh, or Jenna Marbles ring a bell? How about KSI, Ryan Higa, the Fine Brothers, Markiplier, Shane Dawson, Michelle Phan, or The Young Turks? If you’re not well below the age of twenty-five or don’t spend time with people who are, chances are you’ll be surprised to learn that these are the names of some of the top web celebs starting to give Hollywood a run for its money.
Variety recently conducted it’s annual survey of teens comparing,
… the 10 YouTube stars with the most subscribers against the 10 traditional entertainment stars with the highest Q score among teens, a widely recognized measure of influence by advertisers and marketers … YouTube stars … rate high on all counts; one-quarter of the top 20 list … Pop musicians Swift and Bruno Mars are the only stars to crack the top 10 … Teens’ emotional attachment to YouTube stars is as much as seven times greater than that toward a traditional celebrity; and YouTube stars are perceived as 17 times more engaging, and 11 times more extraordinary, than mainstream stars. (Susanne Ault, Variety, July 2015).
… teens enjoy an intimate and authentic experience with YouTube celebrities, who aren’t subject to image strategies carefully orchestrated by PR pros. Teens also say they appreciate YouTube stars’ more candid sense of humor, lack of filter and risk-taking spirit.” (Susanne Ault, Variety, August 2014).
Web celebs have tremendous reach online, but more importantly, they have made it a priority to forge direct connections with their fans through social media sites like YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Meerkat and Periscope.
Traditional entertainers call themselves actors or writers or directors … Digital talents, who often do all of the above—who learn Final Cut Pro and Photoshop from YouTube videos—call themselves “creators” or “influencers.” They don’t have to respond to executives’ notes or depend on a marketing division in Burbank. They just have to be radiant, humble, and terrific. The singer Meghan Tonjes introduced her set on VidCon’s main stage by calling out, “I love you all very much,” but it went without saying. YouTube, with its culture of D.I.Y. meets B.F.F., is how a generation admires itself. (Tad Friend, New Yorker, December 2014).
The most popular web celebs are now making millions of dollars annually, largely outside the purview of the Hollywood distribution and marketing machine. The bulk of their income comes from YouTube ad revenue and the numbers are pretty staggering.
PEWDIEPIE (aka Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg) has 33.5+ million YouTube subscribers. He’s a Swedish video game commentator whose videos have had over 7.4 billion views on YouTube. Currently, he’s the top earner on YouTube, making over $7 million annually. SMOSH, the comedy duo of Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox, has 19.5+ million subscribers and makes $5.7 million annually. JENNA MARBLES (aka Jenna Mourey), a comedian with the top YouTube channel operated by a female, has over 14.5+ million subscribers and makes $4.3 million annually. (Kate Aquillano and Anna Lanfreschi, HLNTV.com, July 2015).
… says Kevin Allocca, head of culture and trends at YouTube, “When my parents look at YouTube stars and say, ‘I don’t understand why this person is so successful,’ I tell them, ‘You’re looking at it the wrong way. You’re not looking at what they’re truly talented at. It’s in creating bonds with people.’ ” … The good news for Hollywood: There never has been a greater incubator of young talent … (SMOSH: THE MOVIE debuts July 24). The bad news? In a few years, as the lines between linear and digital entertainment continue to blur … Being a YouTube or Vine star will be all the fame anyone needs. (Natalie Jarvey and Benjamin Svetkey, The Hollywood Reporter, July 2015).
In addition to affordable digital production and editing tools, as well as a variety of streaming media platforms, web celebs now have apps like Victorious that make it all that much easier to interact with their superfans.
[Victorious] lets online stars create their own personally branded mobile apps. It brings together their Website and online feeds not just on YouTube, but on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and other sites, while letting them wrap advertising, e-commerce and merchandise sales around their content. It also makes it easy for fans to remix and share content by and about the star with other fans on the app and beyond. (David Bloom, Deadline Hollywood, June 2014).
The tremendous appeal of the digital superstars for the younger set has not gone unnoticed in the offline world. Mainstream talent agencies, including United Talent, WME, and CAA now represent many of them. Madame Tussauds has begun recreating their likenesses in wax. Smosh and Jenna Marbles are two of the first. The studios are casting web celebs for new shows. TV and cable outlets now pick up some of the most successful web series. Disney purchased Maker Studios, DreamWorks Animation acquired AwesomenessTV, and traditional TV and film stars, like Jerry Seinfeld (COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE), Kevin Spacey (HOUSE OF CARDS), Angelina Jolie (FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER: A DAUGHTER OF CAMBODIA REMEMBERS) and Ellen DeGeneres (THE ELLEN SHOW), are finding new opportunities, and new fans, online.
Taylor Swift is a prime example of a new kind of cross-over celebrity, embedded in both traditional and digital media. She’s not only close in age to the demographic and engages deeply with her fans both online and off, but she also has a growing influence over traditional media decision-makers.
… The rise of digital stars — who control their relationship with the audience more closely than any generation of talent that has preceded them — will inevitably change the dynamics of the industry, said Larry Shapiro, senior VP and head of talent at Fullscreen and a former CAA agent. “Hollywood believes in pixie dust. Silicon Valley believes in data,” he said. “Today’s entertainment has to be a combination of both.”(Todd Spangler, Variety, August 2014).