I don’t know if Celebrity 2.0 has been thrown around at a bunch of new media conferences. It’s sounds a little douchey, so it’s possible. But I was thinking about the concept earlier today when I discovered (like millions of other people) a YouTuber who hit it big with a song he covered, performed it on Ellen, landed a gig producing for Timbaland and then quit to sign with a YouTube production company I was already familiar with called Maker Studios.
Not too long ago, I read about how young people were using YouTube as a search engine and how they would rather watch online video than read content online - even when learning something new. At the time, I couldn’t relate to wanting to absorb information via video when I could just read it. Reading allows for skimming. And internet personalities seemed to flame out when the recession took hold. Remember Julia Allison? I imagine she is being quarantined somewhere for consumption or that cough Nicole Kidman had in Moulin Rouge. Indeed, lifecasting and Youtube celebrities seemed ridiculous. But then my sister Hilary (you should really follow her on Twitter) introduced me to the Shaytards.
A lot of the talk around the Youtube Partner Project focused on brands and celebrities, but the real stars of Youtube are people like LisaNova, KassemG and the Shaytards. You can read in Wired about how they’ve created their own studio system. While the focus of this article is comedy, the Youtubers with the largest and most loyal followings are lifecasters. What’s interesting is that the biggest audience for a lot of these lifecasters is teenagers – especially teenage girls. The most successful lifecasters on Youtube are the Shaytards. For those who know me - I know I talk about the Shaytards a lot (because they and people like them are the future of entertainment), but here’s a summary:
- It started when an Idahoan granite countertop installer and part-time radio DJ Shay Carl Butler decided to vlog every day of his 29th year – shooting, editing and uploading a new video every day of his life and his family.
- The name actually comes from a video where Shay danced in his wife’s unitard – not offensive!
- He quickly built a dedicated following (almost 1 million subscribers), the vlogs are into year 4 now and get around 160,000–200,000 views each – big events (like their Christmas vlogs and milestones can get over a million views each.
- The family went from being broke in Idaho to swimming in Youtube cash (content creators cash in on advertising once they hit a certain number of views) and living in LA when Shay became a founding partner in Maker Studios, which seems to be a smashing success and has opened a second office/studio space in NYC.
- To give some context – Playlist Live, an annual Youtuber gathering/conference, had Youtube as its primary sponsor in the past. This year Youtube was a secondary sponsor – because Maker is the primary sponsor. How does Maker make all this money? Maker provides a carefully selected stable of Youtubers with access to a studio, editing, a recording studio, royalty-free music, directors, a dedicated ad sales team, etc in exchange for a cut of their ad revenues. Unlike other networks (except Revision3), Maker makes all stats and earnings data available to content creators.
- Maker has started creating sponsored ad content using their artists’ own channels. Here is something Shaycarl did for T Mobile. Nothing too special (in fact, it’s a pretty brutal Toyota Swagger Wagon ripoff) but this really is the ultimate influencer grab. The artist excitedly tell his or her audience about the opportunity, gives the behind-the-scenes in their regular vlogs and then launches the video on their channel. The audience appreciates that the brand is supporting one of their favourite vloggers – someone they consider a friend.
- Recently they put together a deal with Weight Watchers – Shay and his brother (his whole family pretty much started their own channels, moved out to LA, and became part of Maker’s different verticals) shot an interview with Charles Barkely that aired on his channel. And no wonder brands are going directly to content creators – they can guarantee views.
- If you only watch one Shaytards video, make it this one. It’s the one Google trots out at press conferences when they want to prove that Youtube content can have greater depth and isn’t all AFV-style videos. The baby born in it has been on camera every day of his life so far. Just meditate on that for a minute.
Annnnyway, I am addicted to watching this family. And it’s not like they do anything fascinating. They are just a nice, normal (Mormon!) family. Anderson Cooper had them on his show a month(ish) ago and accused them of doing nothing more than uploading home videos. This made me think for the first time that Cooper is an Old, because the appeal of these videos isn’t that they are a complete product - it is that they are part of an ongoing project that will seemingly NEVER END. The vlog goes up every day without fail. It’s like 49 Up times a million. In real life, I recoil in terror at small children but from the safety of my couch, I have watched the four Tard kids mature and go back and forth between being shy and outgoing and exemplify the connection between personality and birth order. It’s fucking fascinating.
Overall, my media consumption habits have changed drastically in the last 3-6 months. I have considered getting rid of cable, and not because I can download the cable shows I want to watch.* Most of the shows I PVR have gone unwatched. Now when I get home and turn on the TV, it’s to watch YouTube videos from my subscribed channels. The content is more interesting than what’s on TV, and I actually care what happens to the people I watch.
I really believe we are in the last stretch of time when an amateur can make it on YouTube. Because of Maker and studios like it (not to mention celebrities who have realized YouTube can be a cash cow), production values have steadily crept up and newer users with full-time jobs and the copy of Windows Movie Maker that came bundled with their Dell laptop have trouble breaking through. If you are at all charismatic and have ever thought about vlogging, NOW IS THE TIME.
I’ll be putting together a list of my favourite vloggers soon. I’d love to hear who yours are.
*My love of reality TV and the great joy I get from livetweeting it will prevent me from ever getting rid of cable. So I pretty much am paying over $100 a month to have strangers favourite my cutting remarks about My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and the Miss USA pageant. I am mildly disgusted by this, but also not really because I count this as “writing”