TV and cinema are under threat across the world. Not only are young people watching less of both, but they are less aspirational to the younger generations who create and consume entertainment content online. When YouTube launched in 2005, it did so with “Me at the zoo” -- an 18-second video of one of its founders in front of some elephants. In 2016 it has become synonymous with young people creating their own brands of content and places where other young people can go to watch, listen, and engage in debate about the video, the creator and -- crucially -- themselves.
So a new model of content and consumption has grown on online platforms, from the obvious -- YouTube and Facebook -- to those designed and shaped by the creators and consumers themselves to suit their sometimes extraordinary habits: Seven-second videos on Vine, self-destructing messages and animal masks on Snapchat, live broadcasts of “me: right here, right now!” on Periscope. With that new model, comes a realisation of value -- creators no longer do things for free.
In 2011, YouTube commenced a $200m co-investment in the creation of a set of original channels where both mainstream producers and fledgling creators (who became known as “YouTubers” in a helpfully branded genericism) collaborated to create new channels with content that was published exclusively on the platform. Brave Bison (known as Base79 at that time) co-created five of these channels. At this time, there was already burgeoning talent on YouTube such as Alfie Deyes (PointlessBlog), Dan Howell (DanIsNotOnFire), and Zoe Sugg (Zoella) who suddenly saw not only their personal stock rise as producers sought stars to front their original channel offerings but also found themselves floating in a rising tide of money both from original channel investment and money from early adopting brands that saw the opportunity to engage more with online audiences in an environment where advertising was achieving less.
In November 2010, Callum McGinley (Callux) launched himself as a Call of Duty gamer and general social fun-ster publishing random encounters with people on Omegle and Chat Roulette, and the like. Callum grew that channel, played live on Twitch and collaborated with his friends Olajide “JJ” Olatunji (KSI), Alastair Aiken (Ali-A) who had also developed dedicated followings through playing Call of Duty, FIFA and Minecraft amongst other antics. These contemporaries saw the opportunity presented by commissioning and marketing budgets and morphed themselves into brands with Brave Bison/Base79, Maker Studio, Fullscreen, Machinima, Mediakraft and the other multichannel networks that helped create the commercial market around that talent base.
Today, Callum, JJ and Ali have created the global phenomenon of social video creation alongside their superstar contemporaries such as Harry Robertson (Wroetoshaw), Jenny Mourey (JennaMarbles), French prankster and anti-establishment hero Rémi Gaillard, Snapchat ground-breaker Jerome Jarre and the world’s most popular YouTube channel creator Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie). With a combined social reach of 77 million fans and 310 million average monthly views he is attracting two-and-a-half-times that of Super Bowl XLIX (115 million) or the finale of M*A*S*H (125 million), two of the most viewed broadcasts in history.
Rémi Gaillard (NQTV) started his media and pranking career in France before Le YouTube was born when he slipped onto the pitch in full team kit and inserted himself into the post-match celebrations for the 2002 Coupe de France, including the cup winners’ meet with then-president Jacques Chirac. Today Rémi is one of France’s favourite sons, and has bypassed television and used online video to do the unthinkable and export French humour to the world.
In Spain, a country afflicted with 47% youth unemployment, young creators such as Rubén Gundersen (El Rubius), Miguel Pérez (Mangelrogel) and Álvaro González (TheAlvarro845) have forged their own destiny. The Spanish market has seen creators ally themselves more closely with talent agents, managers and content networks than elsewhere in the world. Exclusivity over them and their images as well as their work is commonplace and feels somewhat like the “Old Hollywood” studio system where actors were bound by a controlling framework in the time before Charlie Chaplin broke the mould with United Artists. Spain may be following a trajectory that matches its economy, but its online fascination is the same.
My children do watch television, but they don’t get passionate about -- or lost in it -- the way they do with StampyLongNose (aka Joseph Garrett), VSauce (aka Michael Stevens) or the FailArmy viral video channel. With few exceptions, they can’t find their favourite social video stars on TV. Some appear in shows as guests, but almost none have chosen to make that leap into what 20 years ago would have been the glittering prize.
To anonymously quote one creator, “Why would I want to go into TV? I can’t act, I already have a global audience and I don’t want a boss.”