YouTube has redefined “celebrity” and made millionaires out of millennials who’ve yet to leave their childhood bedrooms. This is no longer some secret trend, it’s a reality of the new media landscape. Of course, there is resistance to this reality. It sometimes appears as the barely perceptible shrug of old media who is disinterested, unconvinced, or simply confused.
Historically, change is often viewed as a threat to the established order. (See also: rock and roll, cable television, cell phones and video games.) These shifts can drive new and useful arguments, but also stir resentment, complaint, parody, or even mockery. If any (or all) of these are an indication that a cultural shift has occurred, then YouTube—no less than rock music or gaming before it—is in the midst of enjoying its own historical moment.
To realize YouTube is now part of the mainstream just take a look at how traditional media platforms are turning to YouTube’s new content kings (and queens) to stay relevant and drive business.
Print Goes Video
For their latest issue, Seventeen magazine features Bethany Mota on its cover. The magazine boasts a total circulation of just over 2 million readers. This pales in comparison to the 7 million subscribers to Mota’s official YouTube channel, not to mention the astounding half-billion video views she’s managed to accrue. Seventeen’s choice of cover star, and issue theme, is a clear indication that if the publication is to remain relevant to its core audience, it has to cover what it currently cares about most: YouTube.
Recruiting the Stars
Bethany Mota’s stardom has not just been recruited to sell copies of magazines, but has also attracted the attention of traditional network television. While Dancing with the Stars (aired on ABC) has never drawn true A-listers to its competitive reality show, it has smartly reached out to the YouTube community to boost its ratings. Enter Mota, who can currently be seen competing on the 19th season of the program.
It was recently announced that Grace Helbig, another rising YouTube star (with nearly 2 million channel subscriptions and over 50 million views), will fill the slot left empty by Chelsea Handler’s departure from E! Entertainment Television. Tentatively titled, The Grace Helbig Project, the show promises to give its star a platform on traditional cable television to demonstrate her considerable comedic talents, honed over the years in sketch comedy and improv groups. (She has also been hired by publishing behemoth Condé Nast to host the web series “HeyUSA,” along with fellow YouTuber Mamrie Hart.) Helbig’s recent channel upload, about a new house purchase, is likely a clue into the growing revenue stream her YouTube celebrity has made possible.
Parody as Envy
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then parody might be a clear indication of jealousy. If we learned anything from the playgrounds of our youth, the more you make fun of someone, the more likely it is you like them (or want to be them).
The Los Angeles-based comedy sketch team the Kids Table has a YouTube channel with just over ten thousand subscribers and 800,000 total views. This is pocket change in comparison to the likes of Mota, or Helbig. That fact might explain the troupe’s recent decision to begin satirizing vlog culture with the debut of “Igor’s Anti-Vlog Vlog.” Here he is doing his own version of the ever-popular haul video.
Once upon a time, people would send fan mail through the U.S. Postal Service and sometimes television personalities would devote a portion of their program to read them on the air. If the era of email ended all of that, this has not dispirited John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight. When his program went on a brief hiatus in late summer, he was careful not to entirely abandon his audience. He created an online exclusive video devoted to reading “fan mail,” which, in actuality, were a selection of comments collected from beneath officially uploaded clips of his comedy show on YouTube. Entitled “Fan Mail: Vol. 1,” the clip has garnered over 1.6 million views, so expect more volumes in the future.
If you’re still on the fence about investing in YouTube, you’d better find another place to sit. The fence has already moved. YouTube is infiltrating all platforms. Old media (ABC television and Seventeen magazine are but two examples) is going straight to the source, recruiting YouTube stars in an attempt to enliven its own content and appear relevant. Satirists are taking aim, a sure sign that YouTube is a firm fixture in the cultural dialogue, as is the recurrence of think-pieces in the hallowed pages of The New York Times.
If you’re a proud and stodgy member of the old media guard, there’s good news. You don’t need to be left out, or left behind. Here’s the trick: If the only thing you ever understand about YouTube is that it isn’t going away anytime soon and deserves your attention, then you already know more than most of your colleagues. And that might be just enough for you to survive in this curious age of our own making.
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