“These digital stars, a lot of them, have online audiences bigger than TV shows” - Avi Gandhi, WMESince FELLT Industry went live on June 11, we have devoted quite some coverage to digital talent and notably, YouTube, an incredibly exciting arena.
We talked about Australia's top beauty and style vloggers and also Hollywood’s new digital brat pack, pegged on the news that new Hollywood digital studio startup New Form Digital (which is backed by, among others, Imagine Entertainment’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer) had inked a deal with 14 YouTubers to fund a series of short films.
We also interviewed Dan Porter, the head of digital of Hollywood power agency William Morris Endeavor, who talked about the agency’s increasing investment in digital and the opportunities the agency is exploring for the nearly 100 names in its digital talent lineup.
“I think what's so interesting about digital talent - and I think this is going to impact the way that we look at fashion and sports - is that everyone assumes that building an audience on YouTube or being a digital talent is like being a farm team, to eventually cross over into television” said Porter. “That it's like a way to find the next generation of television stars or something like that. And I think that it's really not always true. I think what you're seeing on these digital platforms is that people are creating whole new media. They're expanding the amount of media that's consumed. They don't necessarily need to cross over into television and build hugely successful audiences in those media”.
Overnight, amusingly, it was announced that comedian Grace Helbig, one of WME’s digital stars, has just inked a deal for a hybrid comedy/talk show pilot for the E! network.
And Helbig isn’t the only YouTuber in the news this week.
The cover story, ‘Rising Stars’, canvasses the “rash of deals” between the Hollywood establishment and some of YouTube's largest multi-channel networks. Two cases in point - Disney paying up to US$950million for Maker Studios and DreamWorks Animation’s acquisition of AwesomenessTV for up to US$117million.
“The viewer is the new studio boss. We can’t force content on people anymore” Will Keenan, president of Endemol Beyond USA, told the magazine.
“These digital stars, a lot of them, have online audiences bigger than TV shows” said WME agent Avi Gandhi.
If memory serves us correctly, in an earlier version of the story that was sighted by FELLT Industry, Gandhi was in fact on the record that, in his experience, some digital stars - no names mentioned - are now earning seven to eight figures a year.
It’s no longer a direct quote, but the paragraph (which we screen capped) now reads: “WME digital agent Avi Gandhi said he’s seeing an increasing number of online stars making seven figures a year, with some approaching eight”.
In the same issue, Variety published the results of a recent survey of 1500 US teenagers, which found the five most influential figures among Americans aged 13-18 are all YouTubers, eclipsing mainstream celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence and Seth Rogen.
Fast Company also dedicates quite some coverage to YouTube in its September 2014 edition. There are a couple of extensive features on the subject that are well worth a read: Rebooting YouTube, which looks at the platform's “increasingly complicated ecosystem” that straddles Hollywood, Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley and Inside YouTube’s Fame Factory.
Who will be the next breakout YouTube star to score a major deal?
WME’s 2014 Digital Talent lookbook could be a good place to start looking.
As far as FELLT Industry is aware, this roster doesn’t live anywhere online. It was flicked over to us prior to the interview with Dan Porter.
So here it is (below), as the names appear listed on the document in order, across various categories (some repeated across multiple categories).
Given the recent merger with IMG, presumably more names will be added at a subsequent date.
The document singles out for specific mention 36 names, presumably the agency’s biggest hitters in terms of social media reach and/or earnings potential.
Those with their own breakout pages and detailed rundowns of their social media channels and subscribers/followers include Helbig, Rudy Mancuso (18million fans); satirical Brazilian channel Porta Dos Fundos (14million); The Fine Brothers (11million); Michael Stevens (8million) and Los Angeles-based graphic designer/blogger and author Joy Cho, who has 13.5million followers on Pinterest alone.
Not to mention teen Californian goofball heartthrob mates Nash Grier and Cameron Dallas, who are kind of like the Matt Damon and Ben Affleck of Vine – just without any evidence to date of scriptwriting talent.
Grier is the most-followed personality on Vine, with some 23million+ fans across his various social media channels. Dallas, reports WME, amassed a social media audience of nine million in seven months.
Fashion blogger Bryan Grey Yambao also gets a standalone page profile in the lookbook (and FELLT Industry chuckled to see ourselves quoted in same via an earlier incarnation as news.com.au's Fully Chic blog in 2008, when we referred to Yambao as “one of fashion 2.0’s biggest superstars” and a “phenom in the fashion blogosphere”, both grabs used by WME).
Yambao is one of very few digital players repped by WME to have a negligible YouTube presence (4000 YT subscribers - in contrast to over one million followers between his Twitter and Instagram) to make it to the standalone pages of the lookbook, giving you perhaps an indication of where the agency thinks the biggest potential for its digital players is likely to be - the broadcast arena.
Although Yambao has spent recent years focussing on the relatively static world of personal style blogging , he is great television talent.
In fact it was his hilarious, early YouTube videos which played a key role in bringing him to the attention of the fashion world. Specifically, a 2007 tribute to Marc Jacobs (below), at a time when Jacobs was being widely lambasted for the tardiness of his signature line shows, prompting Jacobs at one point to threaten to quit New York Fashion Week for Paris. Jacobs saw the video, wrote to thank Yambao, setting the wheels in motion for what would become Yambao's big career break - the naming of a Marc Jacobs handbag in Yambao's honour in 2008, which set the fashion media ablaze.
Yambao would later be tapped by Jacobs as the anchor of a documentary about Jacobs' work.
Yambao has since appeared on two seasons of America's Next Top Model as a cast member and in October, will appear in a new series called "Bryanboy Goes to College" on Condé Nast Entertainment's new multi-channel video platform The Scene.