Becoming a web celeb
Read the articles, “Web Celebs 25” and “New Breed of Online Stars” (located in Course Readings)
Write a 250-300 word post to Discussion Board 4: Becoming a Web Celeb
Your Discussion Post must address the Module Objectives and reference the articles and videos.
Your Discussion Board post must include three (3) intext citations from the readings .
New Breed of Online Stars
Rewrite the Rules of Fame
AUGUST 5, 2014 | 09:00AM PT
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 1 of 21
Todd Spangler (http://variety.com/author/toddspangler/)
NY Digital Editor
He may be huge on YouTube (http://variety.com/t/youtube/), but few
in Hollywood know who Shane Dawson (http://variety.com/t/shanedawson/)
is. Not yet, anyway.
SEE MORE: From the August 05, 2014 issue of Variety
The 26-year-old is best known to 12 million-plus subscribers across
three different (https://www.youtube.com/user/ShaneDawsonTV)
YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/shane) channels
(https://www.youtube.com/user/ShaneDawsonTV2), but he’s about to
make a name for himself in film and TV, too. Dawson is directing a
movie commissioned by Starz for upcoming docuseries “The Chair,”
which follows two filmmakers who are given the same script to shoot.
And NBC ordered a script for “Losin’ It,” a sitcom based on Dawson’s
life working at a Jenny Craig weight-loss center, which he is
developing with Sony Pictures Television.
“YouTube opened up a lot of doors,” said Dawson, who is repped by
UTA. “It’s the best place to be discovered, because it’s something that
you personally have done, rather than (you) reading someone else’s
But Chris Moore, (“American Reunion,” “Project Greenlight 3”)
executive producer (http://variety411.com/us/los-angeles/producers/)
of “The Chair,” confesses to being nervous about enlisting a
YouTuber with zero experience to fashion a feature-length film. “It’s
really difficult to make the transition Shane’s trying to make,” Moore
said. “Bringing digital talent into this space can be very risky.”
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 2 of 21
Photo (http://variety411.com/us/los-angeles/stock-footage-photos/) by
Chris McPherson for Variety
There is no doubt a new generation of talent who create their own
content on YouTube, Vine, Instagram and other platforms are
becoming household names among young consumers online. Parents
may be oblivious to names like Cameron Dallas
(https://www.youtube.com/user/TheeCameronDallas) or Jennxpenn
(https://www.youtube.com/user/jennxpenn) because those talents
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 3 of 21
aren’t on Disney Channel or the radio, but they inspire screaming
throngs reminiscent of Beatlemania when they make appearances in
Yet as the careers of people like Dawson mature, this species of
stardom is subject to interpretation. There’s the question of whether
this new breed has the staying power to cross over into traditional
media, but that may not even be necessary, given the increasingly
meaningless distinction between Internet culture and the so-called
It wasn’t so long ago that establishing unknown talents required
aggressively marketing them in film and TV in hopes of pumping up
box office or ratings. But digital platforms have flipped the
conventional formula on its head. Online personalities amass an
audience first, and make money after. And what’s more, building that
audience can be done without Hollywood’s help.
“The viewer is the new studio boss,” said Will Keenan, president of
Endemol Beyond USA, the TV production giant’s domestic digital arm.
“We can’t force content on people anymore.”
Traditional media companies know this all too well. That’s why there’s
been a rash of deals like Disney buying Maker Studios, a large
YouTube multichannel network, in a deal worth upwards of $950
million; and DreamWorks Animation snapping up AwesomenessTV
(https://www.youtube.com/user/AwesomenessTV) last year for up to
$117 million. Now Fullscreen, another big MCN, is in talks with AT&T
and Chernin Group to sell a controlling stake to the two companies’
Otter Media online-video joint venture.
These acquisitions are being made because young adults watch
significantly more online video than do their elders, according to
Nielsen. In the first quarter of 2014, consumers aged 18-24 viewed 2
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 4 of 21
hours and 28 minutes of online vids per week — nearly an hour more
than the average for all adults. TV isn’t dying, exactly, but
consumption patterns are changing.
SEE ALSO: VIDEO: Shane Dawson Talks About His Next Project
No wonder that for every digital star like Dawson, there are others
content to build their careers on the Internet. Many are making
comfortable livings — and then some — by serving their fan bases,
without trying to make it big elsewhere.
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 5 of 21
Shane Dawson photographed by Chris McPherson for Variety
The biggest YouTube star is Felix Kjellberg, a 24-year-old Swede
known as PewDiePie (https://www.youtube.com/user/PewDiePie) to
his 29 million subscribers, whom he delights with daily videos in which
he simply plays videogames while cracking jokes. Kjellberg recently
revealed that his channel grossed $4 million in ad revenue in 2013.
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 6 of 21
“The biggest stars in the space aren’t making the same type of money
that traditional celebrities are,” said Brent Weinstein, head of digital
media at UTA. “But they’re catching up.”
Moreover, there is a “long tail of digital creators” who make higher
incomes than the rank-and-file of traditional actors, Weinstein said.
According to YouTube, several thousand channel partners earn sixfigure
incomes through the vidsite.
WME digital agent Avi Gandhi said he’s seeing an increasing number
of online stars making seven figures a year, with some approaching
eight. As the ad business — which has had 70 years of buying on TV
— starts figuring out that the Internet is a missed opportunity, even
more dollars will pour into the ecosystem. “These digital stars, a lot of
them, have online audiences bigger than TV shows,” Gandhi noted.
Jenna Marbles (https://www.youtube.com/user/JennaMarbles) surely
figures into this elite group. With 13.5 million subscribers, she is
second only to comedy duo Smosh
(https://www.youtube.com/user/smosh) among U.S.-based
YouTubers. Born and raised in Rochester, N.Y., Marbles — whose
real name is Jenna Mourey — still has no desire to do anything other
than regularly post odd, funny and personal episodes on her channel
every Wednesday. The 27-year-old mostly produces the entire show
alone from her Los Angeles apartment.
SEE ALSO: Survey: YouTube Stars More Popular Than
Mainstream Celebs Among U.S. Teens
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 7 of 21
“Everyone is expecting you to use what you’re currently doing on
YouTube to do something else,” she said. “I’m like, what’s wrong with
hanging out and getting drunk and making silly videos? It’s not that I
don’t have the foresight for a larger project. I’m just not convinced it’s
Marbles does have one gig that’s not strictly on the Internet: She’s the
host of SiriusXM’s “YouTube 15” show, which features the top
emerging and breakout songs based on YouTube data of the previous
The goals and aspirations of digital talent vary widely, according to
Sarah Passe, an exec in CAA’s business development group who
focuses on the sector. “If you’re addicted to that social interaction, it’s
more fun to post a video than, say, write a script,” she said. “They’re
used to having an idea and executing it” — and sometimes it’s
challenging to get them interested in opportunities that are farther out.
And just because someone is famous on YouTube doesn’t mean they
can succeed in another sphere, even when that is what they want.
Look no further than Rebecca Black, the Southern California teen who
vaulted to instant fame with her viral YouTube musicvideo “Friday
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfVsfOSbJY0)” — much of the
traffic driven by people mocking her — then faded back into obscurity.
“Just because you have a huge fanbase as a sports star doesn’t
mean you can be a movie star,” said Chad Gutstein, CEO of
Machinima, a gamer and fanboy-focused multichannel network whose
backers include Google and Warner Bros.
Still, talent crossovers from the Internet into TV and other media are
ongoing, and they have been, in dribs and drabs, for some time.
Lucas Cruikshank began making “Fred” videos on YouTube, starring
as a whiny teen with a high-pitched voice in 2008, when he was 13.
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 8 of 21
Nickelodeon cut a deal with him, ultimately producing three “Fred”
movies and the 20-episode “Fred: The Show” series that aired in
Jenna Marbles (http://variety.com/t/jenna-marbles/) photographed by
Chris McPherson for Variety
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 9 of 21
More recently Nick has run shows from AwesomenessTV. The
Viacom kids’ cabler also has ordered a 13-episodes series
“ReactToThat,” based on the YouTube franchise created by the Fine
Bros. (https://www.youtube.com/user/TheFineBros) showing people
from different walks of life responding to viral videos.
Another YouTube property that’s jumped the media divide is Epic
Meal Time (https://www.youtube.com/user/EpicMealTime), currently
with 6.4 million subscribers. The Web series’ creator, 29-year-old
Canadian Harley Morenstein, prepares outlandish dishes (e.g.,
burger-stuffed lasagna, an 84-egg sandwich, a donut casserole) each
week with his brother Darren and assorted buddies.
It’s now a show on A+E Networks’ FYI network: “Epic Meal Empire,” a
16-episode half-hour series that premiered July 26, in which the crew
(http://variety411.com/us/new-york/crew/) invents crazy food
concoctions, based on requests.
SEE ALSO: Digital Stars: Inside the 24-Hour Job on the Internet
Morenstein said the longer TV format helps bring out the nuances of
the show’s personalities. And the bigger budget has meant the Epic
Mealers can super-size their thinking. In the YouTube series, EMT
created a foot-long car made entirely of meat. On the TV show, the
freaky foodies made an edible Corvette the size of a golf cart, with a
pizza steering wheel, rear tires made of Rice Krispies and an actual
grill in the back.
The most amazing part? “Not having to clean up at the end of the
show,” Morenstein said. “We had people for that!”
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 10 of 21
YouTube isn’t the only place where digital stars are finding footholds
in mainstream entertainment.
Logan Paul (https://vine.co/LoganPaul), 19, is a fast-rising digital star
who is as close to an overnight Internet success as it gets. Last July,
he began posting funny six-second skits on Twitter’s Vine, and now
has 4.8 million followers.
“It’s gotten to the point where it has totally consumed my life,” said
Paul, who grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland. In June, after finishing
his freshman year at Ohio U., he drove cross-country — with his
parrot, Maverick, who has his own Twitter account — to West
Hollywood to pursue ambitions of growing his digital brand and
potentially breaking into TV and movies.
He’s already gotten a foot in the door. Next year, Paul has a role in
Fox comedy series “Weird Loners.” In the pilot, he appears as “Naked
White Guy,” a dude who wakes up in the show’s Queens, N.Y.-set
townhouse after a raging party. Executive producer Michael J.
Weithorn had seen Paul’s Vines, and called him in for an audition.
SEE ALSO: Why I Watched Nothing But YouTube for a Month
In the meantime, Paul is making real money as a Viner through
sponsorship deals with brands including HBO, Pepsi, Ubisoft, Virgin
Mobile and Ritz crackers. He’s on a national tour this summer to
promote Hanes’ new X-Temp line of shirts and underwear. His Vine
bits for the campaign include “World’s Worst Matador” and “Modern
Day Shootouts” — designed to show “I can stay cool under pressure,”
Paul said. Like other digital stars, he’s learned to be a hybrid of
entrepreneur and showman: He recently signed a management deal
with L.A.-based the Collective, and is repped by UTA.
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 11 of 21
How much does Paul make? “More money than I made mowing lawns
in high school,” is all he would say. According to social-media ad
Niche, Vine sponsorship deals average in the midthousands
per campaign, but can be worth up to $50,000.
And if a video hub consisting of videos that last no more than six
seconds like Vine seems an unlikely springboard, consider Snapchat,
a messaging service for sending photos that expire in 10 seconds
that’s hugely popular among teens, with an estimated 82 million
monthly active users, most of whom are between ages 13 and 25,
according to research service BI Intelligence.
Last fall, Snapchat introduced a Stories feature, which lets posts stay
up for 24 hours before they disappear. In June, content using the
feature was getting 1 billion views daily — more than double that of
two months earlier.
Logan increasingly distributes videos on Snapchat. He said the 24-
hour timeout adds an exclusivity and urgency for fans to check out
For many digital stars, it’s not about sticking to any one platform.
Many of them have presences on multiple platforms, driving fans from
one to the other. But it’s YouTube that is easily the biggest platform
that’s been fueling the ascent of digital stars. The Google subsidiary
has a first-mover advantage, according to Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s
global head of content. “If you become the place where (creators) built
their audience, there’s a tremendous sense of loyalty by the audience
out of habit,” he said.
YouTube has promoted its star creatives in national marketing
campaigns on TV and other media, aimed at raising awareness on
Madison Avenue that the site has popular content that reaches a wide
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 12 of 21
audience. In April, it kicked off a series of ads featuring fashionistas
Michelle Phan (https://www.youtube.com/user/MichellePhan) and
Bethany Mota (https://www.youtube.com/user/Macbarbie07), and
foodie Rosanna Pansino
(https://www.youtube.com/user/RosannaPansino). This summer, it’s
highlighting Epic Rap Battles and Vice News.
YouTube execs quietly have reached out to Hollywood producers to
potentially play matchmaker with some of the top-tier talent on the
video site, and may selectively invest in original programming,
according to sources familiar with the strategy. Various strings may be
attached to the funding, including exclusive windowing on YouTube or
a share of revenue for content distributed off the site. Asked for
comment, a rep said, “We are always exploring various content and
marketing ideas to support and accelerate our creators.”
The initiative may be partly in response to YouTubers who have
grown to fame on the site — and then launched bigger projects off the
site. Those include “Camp Takota,” the comedy film starring YouTube
personalities Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart that was
released this year and is available for purchase through VHX and
The money digital stars earn doesn’t come solely from YouTube,
which is the only one of the online platforms that pays talent anything.
For many, YouTube ad revenue, of which Google gets a cut, is the
largest chunk of change. But the biggest Internet icons — whether
they’re on YouTube, Twitter, Vine or another social network — have a
host of other ways to monetize their large fan followings.
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 13 of 21
Sponsored content, for starters, is a growing piece of the pie. The
Fine Bros., for example, have created videoclips based on the “React”
concept to promote Universal Studios’ “A Million Ways to Die in the
West,” AMC series “Halt and Catch Fire,” Friskies cat food and etailer
Target also is dipping into the YouTube well. The retail giant is
running an online ad campaign this summer aimed at college-bound
kids, with branded videos on Target’s YouTube channel from creators
including Todrick Hall, Ann Le and Tiffany Garcia.
YouTube-related data and revenue estimates provided by OpenSlate
Live concerts and events featuring digital celebs also have taken off.
DigiTour Media, an L.A. startup that produces concerts and events
featuring YouTube and Vine stars, launched its first music tour in
2011. Last year, DigiTour sold 18,000 tickets to its events. This year,
it’s already sold 100,000, and expects to top 125,000, with events in
45 markets (including four festivals, in New York, Los Angeles,
London and Toronto). In 2015, DigiTour expects attendance to reach
250,000, according to co-founder Meridith Valiando Rojas.
“The touring business is the healthiest part of the music business,”
said Valiando Rojas, a former A&R exec with Columbia Records. “We
realized that there was an untapped opportunity in the social space.”
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 14 of 21
In May, DigiTour, which Valiando Rojas said is profitable, received
just under $2 million in funding from Ryan Seacrest and Advance
Publications, parent company of Conde Nast. Also in the music
space, DWA’s AwesomenessTV, together with music-biz impresarios
Russell Simmons and Steve Rifkind, cut a deal with Universal Music
Group to form Awesomeness Music, a label focused on YouTube
talent. Among those signed to the label are Cimorelli
(https://www.youtube.com/user/cimorellitheband), the singing group of
six sisters from Sacramento, Calif., that started out doing covers of
songs and now has 2.7 million YouTube subscribers.
Books are another source of revenue. Simon & Schuster’s Atria
Publishing Group, in partnership with UTA, this spring formed
Keywords Press, an imprint that publishes books by Internet celebs.
Keywords has announced deals with Dawson and Justine Ezarik
(“iJustine (https://www.youtube.com/user/ijustine)” on YouTube).
Then, there’s the opportunity for the digitally famous to sell their own
branded merchandise to their legions of followers. Mota, the fashion
and beauty vlogger with 7 million subscribers, distributes her own line
of clothing through Aeropostale.
Phan, who has a deal with Endemol Beyond USA to develop her
primary YouTube channel, a fashion-related MCN and other video
properties, sells her own line of makeup in partnership with L’Oreal.
Even after YouTube splashed her face on TV and billboards, Phan
said she still doesn’t think she’s become mainstream. “The majority of
my branding is online, and I am going to choose to stay online unless
the right opportunity comes along,” she said.
Other digital-video sites are tapping into YouTube talent, as well. AOL
in July launched “Follow Me,” a 10-episode series documenting the
lives of digital creators — mostly culled from YouTube. The show,
produced by Fullscreen, will feature stars including Brittani Louise
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 15 of 21
Taylor (https://www.youtube.com/user/BrittaniLouiseTaylor) (1.1
million subscribers); and Ricky Dillon and JC Caylen, two popular
members of online video group Our 2nd Life (O2L).
WHAT IT TAKES
There are specific qualities that determine who becomes a celebrity
online, standing out from the billions of people who also post content.
Sure, being a star in any medium requires having some kind of
charisma and the ability to perform. Being attractive and funny helps,
too. But the key attributes for online success, according to
professional Internet creators and industry execs, boil down to
working hard, consistently delivering fresh content, having an
authentic voice and connecting with a virtual audience on an ongoing
It’s definitely a full-time job and then some, according to Anthony
Padilla, half of the two-man YouTube comedy team Smosh
(http://variety.com/t/smosh/) (18.3 million subscribers) with his
childhood friend Ian Hecox.
“We’ve had plenty of days where we worked for 18 hours straight,”
Padilla said. “We have been doing this stuff for almost nine years. We
make sure to take one or two little vacations every year to clear our
The Smosh guys are affiliated with Defy Media, the digital studio
formed last year by the merger of Alloy Digital and Break Media.
There’s also an element of luck and timing in hitting the digital big
time, Hecox said. “We got started on YouTube very early, when there
wasn’t a lot of content on there,” he noted. “I would say it’s definitely
harder to break through today.”
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Another big difference between new-style Internet entertainment and
old-school TV and movies is that, in many cases, the storytelling itself
is all about the creator. It’s a mindset and a thirst for popularity that
some might call narcissistic. But as long as audiences feel like they
have a personal bond with the talent, that’s fine.
Marbles put it this way: “I have no tangible talent. My talent is (in)
being an Internet friend.”
A thick skin is also essential, said Ray William Johnson
(https://www.youtube.com/user/RayWilliamJohnson), who rose to
Internet fame with his long-running YouTube series “Equals Three,” a
shortform program that riffs on trending topics, which he launched in
2009. This March, he announced he was retiring from the show, and
relaunched it with a new host, Robby Motz, a 20-year-old theater
student who’d never been on YouTube — until now.
Besides liking Motz and believing in his talent, Johnson felt his new
host could withstand the vitriol often leveled at high-profile digital
stars. “It’s hard to perform right out of the gate, and have people call
you the most horrible things humans can call you,” Johnson said.
CAA clients from the traditional media biz often asked how they can
grow their audiences on social networks, Passe said. But that’s not
something that can be outsourced or manufactured. “There are no
shortcuts,” she said. “The people who are good at it, are very good at
it. Ultimately, it’s about them.”
Any way you look at it, Millennials, like their parents and grandparents
before them, are eagerly consuming new and different forms of
entertainment. Baby Boomers had broadcast television; Gen X had
cable TV; and today, there’s digital media. The significant change:
Internet content doesn’t have to be distributed by a studio or a
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 17 of 21
But eventually, there will be a blurring of mediums, according to some
bizzers — a convergence, in which the distinctions of whether
someone is a digital celebrity, a TV personality or movie star are all
“Focusing on the talent is the big thing,” said Erin McPherson, chief
content officer at Maker Studios. With the MCN now part of Disney,
she’s scouting for talent that can cross over to opportunities on film
and TV — including ABC and ESPN, as well as non-Disney networks
— and other digital platforms. The idea is to also work the flow the
other way: so, for example, Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars” team can mix it up
with digital-native creators who know how to win fans in big numbers.
Arguably, traditional stars like Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen DeGeneres
qualify as YouTube stars given the tremendous followings they’ve
amassed on the platform, according to Kyncl. “You will see both
digital-first and analog-first brand building,” he said. “Ultimately, it all
The rise of digital stars — who control their relationship with the
audience more closely than any generation of talent that has
preceded them — will inevitably change the dynamics of the industry,
said Larry Shapiro, senior VP and head of talent at Fullscreen and a
former CAA agent. “Hollywood believes in pixie dust. Silicon Valley
believes in data,” he said. “Today’s entertainment has to be a
combination of both.”
From Shane Dawson to Jenna Marbles: Online Stars Rewriting Fame | Variety Page 18 of 21
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