Michelle Phan's New Icon Plans A Worldwide Splash

One billion views can’t be wrong, and that’s what Michelle Phan brings, impressively, to her new Icon network, which launched today in the U.S. and U.K., backed by Endemol Beyond and the Endemol Shine Group. Asia and Western Europe come later this year.

Like a lot of stars on YouTube, the whole world doesn’t know who she is. But for those who do--and those number into the millions--a Phan-backed suite of channels on YouTube and other places (including Roku and Twitter’s new Periscope)  is a major, major deal.

But then, in Phan’s 28-year-old life, virtually everything she does is a major deal. She has her own makeup line from L’Oreal, a music line, a new book, YouTube channels with 7 million subscribers and a devilishly clever on-line merchandising business, Ipsy.

If Icon is like other Phan projects, this is going to be rich, and she’s going to get richer.

Re/Code reported last year her various pursuits bring in $84 million a year in revenue. That’s not bad for a woman who in 2007 couldn’t get a job in the fashion business (no experience) and turned to YouTube because that’s what all the kids at her community college were watching.

Now she is one of the best-known YouTube personalities there is—a curious honor since people who know YouTube often don’t know much about the larger media world out there, and vice versa. Mainstream media continues to be mainly mainstream stupid about where their future pieces of bread are going to be buttered. 

Probably many of us who used to feel some separation between selling and entertaining don’t see all that much to admire about YouTube beauty channels, including the sprawling StyleHaul collection of channels that, number, oh, just pick a number. (It currently claims 5,200 networks and collectively, 19 billion views. That’s today.)

According to data collected by Pixability, 700 million beauty videos are watching monthly—and only 2% come from YouTube channels maintained by cosmetic companies. There have been 959 million views of videos about nails alone.

So Icon seems to be in a good, crowded place where a brand name matters and demand seems insatiable. Features on Icon include:

“Pretty Little Pranksters” with celebrity makeup artist Jamie Greenberg, and a bunch of visiting “digital dignitaries” getting make-overs

”Trash to Fab,”  a dumpster dive for fashionable junk with Ann Le of AnneorShine

“Skinside Out,” a video series about how eating better can help your skin, with Anisa Noor, a skin expert

“Everyday Luxe,” a travel/beauty series that starts in June

...and other series that give advice about lipstick and show off new products, featuring well-known YouTube stars.

Endemol and Phan dress all of that up, claiming to be an “online global destination for the empowerment of viewers through inspirational premium content, conversation and community.” And, of course, that’s all true, in its own way. Empower away. There’s nothing to dislike about that mushrooming empire of beauty sites, but it is one of the weirder example of disruptive media. Who could have predicted it? Beside Phan, that is?

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