Hollywood is a notoriously difficult place for young, on-screen talent to find success. Actors fight to get the best agents, pass around head shots, and rush to cattle-call auditions filled with similar-looking folks characterized by age, gender, hair color, build, and so-on. Success is often defined by booking a few gigs, getting to know key casting agents, staging a one-person play, landing a recurring role – ultimately getting recognized for the breakout performance that launches them to stardom.
While there are many success stories from this path, it is remarkably difficult for people to stand out, much less for studios and filmmakers to identify transcendent talent in a sea of sameness. This, is the old model.
The media giant who over the past decade has been rapidly evolving and driving new forms of storytelling and viewing behavior. Thanks to YouTube, there is more content available than ever before, and while that should make it more difficult to stand out, it allows anyone with a camera and computer the chance to create, publish, and gain a following. Given this, a solution has formed that no one expected – neither talent, nor studio – for both becoming and identifying the stars of tomorrow. Talent can be assessed in self-produced three-minute videos, risk-measured through followers, and concepts tested through engagement.
The democratization of content has led to a new age of celebrity. In the past year, we have seen it break a new trend where this burgeoning talent made its way into traditional platforms. Issa Rae, for example, started sharing her unique point of view through her self-produced web series – The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, which took off in 2011. Fast forward today and Issa has cemented her status as a bonafide star with her hit HBO show, Insecure – an adaptation of Awkward Black Girl, about a quirky young African American woman navigating relationships and life in Los Angeles. HBO, a network not known for wasting dollars on heavy pilot loads, is able to safely launch a new property with the same accolades it has come to expect from stars such as Larry David, John Oliver, and Julia Louis Dreyfus.
Netflix took this trend even further in its deal with Colleen Ballinger, a.k.a. Miranda Sings. Colleen’s oddball character gained a massive YouTube following by singing popular songs with a notable and tongue-in-cheek lack of talent. Their new series, Haters Back Off (taken from Miranda’s famous catch phrase she throws at internet trolls) is a half-hour comedy about Miranda’s quest to become famous on YouTube. It is also a first in that it takes a popular character we are used to viewing in the YouTube influencer format and dives deeper into her life offline. We can see what goes on before she hits record – a level of self-reflection that not only shines a light on the line between persona and reality, but also makes a smooth transition between one platform to another.
Issa Rae and Colleen Ballinger are just a couple of cases of social influencers crossing over from self-produced social content, to large, more traditional media – but they are not alone. Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment bought rights to influencer Zach King’s debut novel, “My Magical Life” and two subsequent two novels, while YouTube star Tyler Oakley now has his own segment on Ellen DeGeneres. This proves the trajectory to the big screen is no longer limited for influencers. Their unique content and followings have created new paths that can take them further than they imagined possible for themselves.
For a company like Netflix, that spent $5 Billion on content in 2016 and is increasing that budget to $6 Billion in 2017, the idea of looking to YouTube for new talent makes a whole lot of sense. Content acquisition takes a tremendous amount of vision, and risk, and YouTube stars come with a large, incredibly dedicated audience who are sure to follow their favorite YouTuber’s journey to the big screen. The sheer volume of compelling stories, characters and personalities available on YouTube today is a wealth of opportunity for studios looking to discover the next big hit.
This same rationale applies to brands looking to connect with exciting properties and personalities. YouTubers have proven valuable assets to brands looking to launch new products, drive promotions, or target new customers. But connecting with a star on the rise can pay dividends for brands looking to build affinity with their fans. The same level of vision and risk applies to any brand’s marketing mix, particularly when it comes to an entertainment strategy.
Talent is all around us. As such, brands and studios need to look no further than their smartphones to discover the next rising star. Perhaps for brands looking to build a lasting relationship with their audiences, starting the search for talent or ideas on the smaller screen is in their best interest, as that is where success is being redefined.