Saturday, May 2, 2015

Fans love YouTube & YouTube loves its fans

A quick post today after executing a blogger's version of a surgical strike at North America's first YouTube Fan Fest.

Fan Fests invert the time-honoured entertainment industry tradition of making it all about the stars, and instead use the event to 'give back' to the people that helped the celebs get to where they are. It's not like the spotlight isn't still on the stars -- of course it is -- but Fan Fests are one of those genius marketing moves that simultaneously promote products, services, and people while allowing the hoi polloi onto the red carpet.

Toronto's Yonge Dundas Square was 'Fest central and as such became the gathering place for the crowd of about 10,000 who came to the outdoor plaza on one of those days when the weather couldn't have been more co-operative. But who were these 10,000 people, and what were they there to see? The answer, in short, is that they're the new face of the mainstream media audience, and they converged on the central downtown Toronto square to see social media's version of mainstream entertainment: YouTube superstars.  

Phalanx of YouTube fans assembling for
first North American FanFest 
Gigantic Bethany Mota billboard hovers high
above the YouTube FanFest crowd, Toronto,
May 2015

Not that long ago 'Internet famous' meant a small but dedicated following for people who probably couldn't have or wouldn't have made it via regular media channels. Today it means the likes of Bethany Mota and Jenna Marbles, who have millions of followers and hundreds of millions and a billion plus views respectively. So this is not about the marginal, it's about what the mainstream now looks like. It's mass media that just happened to originate online, made by people, not industry; like this video, whose 6 million views represents just a scintilla of Jenna Marbles' 1 billion and change YouTube views.

Unlike TV audiences, YouTube audiences play a role in the programming, almost every step of the way. They can tweet directly to their favorite YouTubers, they can ask them questions, and actually receive answers, they can make suggestions for things they want to see in videos, and presto, those suggestions make their way to the screen. 

So why not a big outdoor event that simultaneously thanks the fans and serves as a giant promotion for specific YouTubers' channels and for YouTube in general? And why not make it free? And if you sense a mushy line between programming, promotion, celebrities, and fans, it's because the line really does have the consistency of melted margarine.

On the one hand YouTube serves up the new face of the mainstream in the form of Marbles and Mota at its Fan Fest, and on the other hand it caters to specialized audiences, who, when considered at a global scale, can make big enough stars out of people doing what would otherwise be considered non mainstream content. Two cases in point are Jasmeet Singh aka JusReign and Lily Singh aka Superwoman (no relation, as far as I know). Both are Canadians of Indian descent, with substantial global followings for their sketch comedy style videos that lampoon their heritage. JusReign has about 70 million YouTube views and Superwoman has close to 700 million YouTube views. Judging by the number of Indo-Canadian fans shrieking and selfie-ing with these 'Tube titans it's evident that the online video platform is able to serve a specific audience better than any conventional broadcast platform ever could. 

Related Posts: 

YouTube: When the going gets weird...
Beauty & the blog: or how a quirky girl is beating the brands at their own game
The Stars of YouTube: Buffer Festival 2014
YouTubers in 2015: The appeal of the Annoying Orange
YouTubers in 2015: A King of Trivia & A Girl Next Door Beauty Blogger
Why PBS moved from 'owned & operated' media to YouTube
How bloggers with selfie sticks became brand allies