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Im­pres­sions in the tril­lions, views in the bil­lions and dol­lars in the mil­lions: why home­made video con­tent is a force to be reck­oned with.

VOGUE Australia - - Contents - By Noelle Faulkner.

Im­pres­sions in the tril­lions, views in the bil­lions and dol­lars in the mil­lions: why home­made video con­tent is a force to be reck­oned with.

“THAT’S ONE OF THE AMAZ­ING THINGS ABOUT OUR CHAN­NEL; IT’S MORE A COM­MU­NITY”

To most, ‘video on de­mand’ refers to stream­ing ser­vices such as Net­flix, Stan, ABC iView and the like, and yet the phrase has been the bot­tom line for YouTube for 12 years. Con­tent at the click of a mouse that amuses, in­forms and en­ables pro­cras­ti­na­tion and nine-to-five es­capism – the trailer for a new Jennifer Lawrence film one minute, an hour of Dog TV (a chan­nel made purely for dogs, with 37,000 sub­scribers) the next. De­spite the fact that one vlog en­try con­sis­tently earns more views than a Game Of Thrones episode, YouTube cre­ators re­tain a cer­tain stigma; be it a teens-only or low­brow cast. And yet, brands are throw­ing mil­lions at them as we be­come more en­gaged with video than any other form of me­dia on the planet.

Ear­lier this month, VidCon was held in Aus­tralia, a con­fer­ence ded­i­cated to video cre­ators and their fans that last year in Ana­heim at­tracted up­wards of 30,000 at­ten­dees, the ma­jor­ity of whom were aged 13 to 17. Founded in 2010 by nov­el­ist John Green (of The Fault in Our Stars fame) and his en­tre­pre­neur vlog­ger brother Hank Green, known col­lec­tively on YouTube as VlogBrothers (three mil­lion sub­scribers), as a way for the YouTube com­mu­nity to gather IRL, VidCon has grown from a ‘geek meet’ of 1,400 to an enor­mous global event cov­er­ing every cor­ner of video #con­tentcre­ation. VidCon in­ter­na­tional ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Ju­lia Maes says that it is typ­i­cal teenage fan­dom mixed with ac­ces­si­bil­ity that spurs the crazy crowds.

“Peo­ple over­look or don’t re­gard teenage girls as hav­ing voices worth lis­ten­ing to. But it’s ob­vi­ous, based on the pop­u­lar­ity of on­line video, that they do.” This, Maes notes, is a small part of VidCon’s busi­ness model – show­ing brands that teens do spend money on tech and make-up and clothes and fash­ion and food and that th­ese in­flu­encers are the golden geese. “Brands are start­ing to look at VidCon be­cause that’s where those dol­lars are.”

If you’re over 25, you might think that YouTu­bers aren’t on your radar, but it’s likely they al­ready are. Be­sides our daily feeds, Fox­tel, ABC, Net­flix, Stan and the free-to-air broad­cast­ers are all look­ing to YouTube, In­sta­gram, Snapchat and new con­tenders Mu­si­cal.ly, Live.me and YouNow for next year’s stars. No longer is web video a time-waster; it’s a se­ri­ous ag­gre­ga­tor for the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try.

“We’ve had a hand in new forms of sto­ry­telling across on­line plat­forms for a very long time now be­fore YouTube was even a thing,” says Mike Cowap, Screen Aus­tralia’s in­vest­ment man­ager for on­line con­tent, who over­sees Skip Ahead, an on­line cre­ator grant launched in 2014 in part­ner­ship with Google. Take Skip Ahead re­cip­i­ents Su­per­wog (766,000 sub­scribers) for ex­am­ple, whose TV-length pi­lot scored more than 500,000 views in 24 hours, a mil­lion in three days and had of­fers within a week.

The most streamed se­ries on ABC iView, The Ka­ter­ing Show (101,000 sub­scribers), is a web-born foodie spoof whose cre­ators are now work­ing with NBC in the States; Ade­laide’s Rack­aRacka (four mil­lion sub­scribers) has been named in the ‘Top 10 Famechang­ers’ by Va­ri­ety; and later this year Fox­tel will launch The Slot, a YouTube-sourced com­edy show.

“That’s not to say TV is the end game,” says Cowap. “But it’s a hot­bed for tal­ent be­cause th­ese cre­ators are bring­ing an au­di­ence they’ve built on YouTube, mak­ing them very pow­er­ful ex­ports.”

More than any­thing, the rise of DIY en­ter­tain­ment is smash­ing the whoyou-know-not-what-you-know Hol­ly­wood cliche, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to gen­der, eth­nic­ity and cul­tural bar­ri­ers. “Peo­ple from di­verse back­grounds don’t need to wait for a con­ser­va­tive broad­caster to com­mis­sion them,” says Cowap. In­stead, cre­atives can fi­nesse their craft and build their au­di­ence and force broad­cast­ers, agents and record la­bels have no choice but to pay at­ten­tion. In a way, YouTube is democratis­ing show­biz.

This was the case with SketchShe, a Syd­ney trio who were shop­ping a fe­male-framed com­edy to tum­ble­weed re­sponses. “We set out to make a TV show and found it so dif­fi­cult to get our foot in the door,” says Shae-Lee Shack­le­ford, a writer, di­rec­tor, pro­ducer and re­cip­i­ent of the Gen­der Mat­ters grant from Screen Aus­tralia. “Some­one sug­gested we go on­line and it was within a month or so when we went ridicu­lously vi­ral.” SketchShe’s ‘Bo­hemian Car­sody’ and ‘Mime Through Time’ videos earned them al­most 300 mil­lion views across var­i­ous plat­forms, a global fol­low­ing and open door in­vi­ta­tions. “It helped us form our voice and learn what worked,” says Shack­le­ford, not­ing that YouTube is sec­ondary to Face­book in views, due to the share fac­tor. Now SketchShe is be­ing courted by brands want­ing to col­lab­o­rate. “That’s our bread and but­ter. We’ve be­come our own mini ad­ver­tis­ing agency,” says Shack­le­ford, laugh­ing. “It’s funny be­cause it’s kind of re­verse-en­gi­neered the in­dus­try, peo­ple come to us be­cause they want to reach our au­di­ence.”

Ar­guably the most po­lar­is­ing tribe of the plat­form are the vlog­gers, who, thanks to an hun­gry le­gion of fans, have more weight as celebri­ties than ‘celebri­ties’. One of the bright­est lo­cal stars is Wendy Huang or ‘Wengie’, who at the time of writ­ing had 8.4 mil­lion sub­scribers. “The great thing about YouTube and the new me­dia is we don’t re­ally get a choice as to whether we’re pop­u­lar or not,” she re­cently told 60 Min­utes. Un­like the Hol­ly­wood star for­mula, Wengie has gar­nered a pas­sion­ate fan base from her warm-and-fuzzy first-per­son de­liv­ery and teen-friendly con­tent; it’s as if you were hang­ing out in her bed­room.

Melbourne cou­ple Jamie and Nikki Perkins (1.5 mil­lion sub­scribers) have a sim­i­lar ap­proach, open­ing the door to their fam­ily home after they found

fame from up­load­ing Jamie’s op­u­lent mar­riage pro­posal to Nikki. They’ve made a liv­ing shar­ing their fam­ily’s highs and lows to a wide au­di­ence of mums and 20-some­things, but Nikki, an ex-model, also found her­self a role model to young women of colour. “Nikki con­stantly gets emails from girls of her com­plex­ion say­ing: ‘You’ve made me love my com­plex­ion!’” says Jamie. “That’s one of the amaz­ing things about our chan­nel; it’s more a com­mu­nity.”

“It’s about be­ing gen­uinely your­self,” com­ments Cana­dian-born, LA-based Gigi Loren Laz­zarato, aka Gigi Gor­geous (2.7 mil­lion sub­scribers), an A-list YouTu­ber, named one of the 25 most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple on the in­ter­net by Time and the first trans­gen­der face of Revlon. “I think be­ing authentically my­self is why peo­ple grav­i­tate to­wards me. Be­ing un­apolo­getic, own­ing what you be­lieve in and speak­ing your truth works for longevity in any­body’s life and ca­reer. But also, you need to in­ter­act with fans and keep the con­ver­sa­tion go­ing.” Gigi has been up­load­ing beauty tu­to­ri­als and vlogs since 2008, counts Katy Perry as a megafan and ear­lier this year pre­miered her doc­u­men­tary

This is Ev­ery­thing at Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, which doc­u­mented her tran­si­tion, ce­ment­ing her as one of the big­gest LGBTIQ cham­pi­ons on YouTube. “YouTube has brought so much pos­i­tiv­ity to my life,” she says. “It is a huge sup­port sys­tem for me, know­ing that peo­ple have my back, care about what I have to say and that I can help oth­ers.”

But what is it about vlog­gers that is so en­thralling to mil­len­ni­als and the iGen­er­a­tion? For starters, in­ter­net stars such as King Bach, Brit­tany Furlan and Joey Grac­effa are noth­ing like Hol­ly­wood stars. “The level of in­ti­macy that ex­ists be­tween the cre­ator and the con­sumer is un­matched by any­thing in en­ter­tain­ment,” com­ments Tyler Oak­ley (7.9 mil­lion sub­scribers), a pro­lific Amer­i­can YouTu­ber, pod­caster, writer and youth and LGBTIQ ac­tivist, with his own show on Ellen De­Generes’s El­lenTube plat­form. “Movie stars maybe make one or two movies a year. You go to the theatre, you leave. You don’t think about that movie star for the rest of your year. A TV show, maybe you think about them for two months while the show’s on air, and then it’s in your liv­ing room with friends or fam­ily. With a YouTube star, it’s one on one. You’re inches away from your screen. With head­phones in your ear. The in­ti­macy is so close to be­gin with.” Hence the im­pact, trust and in­flu­ence an In­ter­net star can flex. “It feels like your friend is shar­ing favourite thing with you.”

For young peo­ple, an­other of­ten-over­looked ben­e­fit to cre­ator plat­forms is the men­tal health sup­port pro­vided by the on­line com­mu­nity. If you have a cam­era, you have a voice and if you have an in­ter­net con­nec­tion, you can find your tribe. “I never thought about it when I started out 10 years ago, I was just try­ing to be an id­iot on the in­ter­net,” Oak­ley says with a laugh. “But I started get­ting mes­sages from peo­ple say­ing: ‘In­stead of hurt­ing my­self tonight, I spent my night watch­ing you.’ Or: ‘You’re the first gay per­son [I know].’ When I see things like that, it blows my mind.” He adds: “In a so­ci­ety that some­times tries to di­min­ish a lot of dis­en­fran­chised voices, liv­ing un­apolo­get­i­cally is an act of re­sis­tance within it­self. And when peo­ple see some­one, be it a gay man or what­ever, do­ing that on YouTube, even if it’s just mak­ing silly con­tent or talk­ing about pop cul­ture, it can be very pow­er­ful.”

Con­sid­er­ing the num­ber of suc­cess sto­ries, the vi­ral lols, the films, books, TV se­ries, al­bums and artis­tic ca­reers that have been launched off the back of home­made con­tent cre­ation, the cul­tural im­pact is im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore. “It’s hap­pen­ing. It’s grow­ing and this is how peo­ple are be­ing en­ter­tained now,” says Oak­ley. “If you don’t get the grav­ity of the ac­com­plish­ments of peo­ple on YouTube, it’s not be­cause it’s hard to un­der­stand, it’s be­cause you’re not try­ing to un­der­stand.”

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