Using the BBC shows Doctor Who and Sherlock as examples, we illustrate what happens to television, both the narrative universe and the footage itself, when fans get involved on YouTube. Fans on YouTube are all-in, authentic, true believers, fully engaged with the beloved objects of their fandom, producing content in time-consuming and remarkably skillful ways. Fans of both Doctor Who and Sherlock, for example, imagined and created WhoLock to indulge in the fantasy of their two favorite worlds colliding. In the case of favorite television shows, the result can be an entire fan-generated universe suitable for brands and advertisers to align with and get in front of, to tap into the energy that sustains fervent fandoms.
In the past 30 days, Doctor Who has garnered 7.9 million views on YouTube with 355 videos uploaded about the show. Doctor Who also had its series 8 premiere in this window of time. Sherlock, which hasn’t had any recent major announcements, has had over 1.1 million views in the last 30 days with 250 uploads, but that is likely to pick up as the new season draws nearer.
By comparison, BBC’s Merlin (which has been off the air for nearly three years) had around 33 thousand views across 140 videos in the past 30 days. It is apparent that new official content drives views, but fandom still makes videos even without any new footage available. If we compare Doctor Who with smash hit Harry Potter for the past 30 days, Doctor Who still wins. But Harry Potter still has a healthy 2.8 million views across 89 videos.
Fan communities often imagine narratives that would be logistically impossible to pull off from an official broadcast standpoint. (Such as, characters from one show interacting with characters featured in shows from different networks, or entirely different stories and universes.) Underserved markets on YouTube serve themselves. Not enough LGBT representation? Fans will remix footage to make those stories exist. Want to see your favorite egomaniacal protagonists meet? It happens on YouTube.
The fandom creating crossover vids between Doctor Who and Sherlock is affectionately known as WhoLock. Here is an example from the WhoLock fandom, imagining a world where Doctor Who and Sherlock collide.
The relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson on Sherlock is prime for shipping. This particular video is a compilation of clips that might implicate a love between Holmes and Watson (referred to as Johnlock).
Fans sometimes feel comfortable enough in their favorite narrative universe to change a story entirely to fit their whim. Fans are introspective about the culture and nature of their fandom and enjoy producing content that is even more meta than mere remixing.
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Major YouTubers such as Epic Rap Battles of History have even incorporated Doctor Who into their work.
An original WhoLock musical by AVBytewas featured by @YouTube on Twitter.
The lifespan of content is sustained and often extended by global fandom. BBC shows and other British media imports have found fans in America and just about everywhere else the internet can reach.
Brands and media companies should not just consider what Hollywood is producing, but also what is being produced overseas when trying to find fandoms on YouTube. Geek culture is notoriously borderless and YouTube’s social network component further breaks down any geographic silo.
Turn your attention toward practically any media franchise and you will witness the power of fans creating an entirely new experience for everyone involved. Any new franchise that hopes to attract the kind of reverent fan devotion that surrounds shows such as Doctor Who or Sherlock, must invest the time and resources to look deeply into these quickly growing subcultures that abound daily on YouTube.
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