YouTube might have been created as a place to share home movies but it’s now become a platform dominated by professional production companies. The most popular clips tend to be movie previews, television shows, sports segments and even ads that first aired on networks. Joe Public might be uploading the largest number of videos to the site, but it’s the professionals who, not surprisingly, are winning the views. But that doesn’t mean that a few amateurs haven’t managed to turn their YouTube appearance into the beginning of a beautiful career. Michelle Phan’s make-up tips have turned her into a spokeswoman for Lancome while a number of other talented amateurs have also managed to use a video camera to build an audience. Sometimes though, there’s a little more to even those self-starters than meets the eye.
YouTube’s biggest success story has to be Justin Bieber, now a mainstream pop idol. The teen star was discovered on the video-sharing site in 2007 when Scooter Braun, a former marketing executive at record label So So Def, stumbled upon one of Bieber’s videos while searching for a different artist. Braun tracked him down, contacted his mother and invited the then-13-year-old to record a demo tape in Atlanta, Georgia. A month later he was picked up by Usher, who outbid Justin Timberlake, and eventually signed with Island Records. After a strange haircut and a big marketing push, Bieber has gone on to become one of the world’s biggest pop stars.
This really was a rare YouTube success story. Although Bieber had taken part in a singing contest the year before, there’s little evidence that he had had any professional training before being picked up by a music company. The only promotional efforts appears to have been limited to his mother’s prayers for a Christian company to sign him.
That isn’t true of Rebecca Black who has now picked up even more YouTube “dislikes” than Bieber. Both Bieber and Black were blessed with pushy parents who helped to shove them up the video charts but while Bieber had to make do with a home movie to accompany a mediocre song, Black’s mother shelled out $4,000 to vanity label Ark Music Factory to produce and promote her daughter’s song “Friday.”
For better or worse, it worked. The song might have become infamous for being bad, but it’s also picked up more than 167 million views and was covered in an episode of Glee. In March, 2011, Forbes estimated that advertising revenues from YouTube alone would have brought in more than $20,000 and sales on iTunes could have generated another $26,700.
How long the success will last though is a different matter, and the use of a professional company to produce and promote the video has caused its own problems. At the beginning of June, Ark tried charging $2.99 to watch the video and by the middle of the month the original clip had been taken down pending a copyright claim by Rebecca Black.
Fortunately, YouTube isn’t only producing the world’s worst songwriters. The site’s biggest earning star is believed to be Shane Dawson, a wannabe comedian and actor whose channel has picked up more than 110 million views and with over 2.5 million subscribers is the most popular on YouTube.
Dawson’s first videos are believed to have been video homework assignments but he’s since gone on to produce a series of spoofs and parodies populated by a host of comedy characters. His channel now lists a professional entourage that includes a film and television agent (supplied by William Morris), a film and television manager, and a merchandising and branding agent. In 2009, advertising income from his YouTube videos was estimated at more than $300,000, and he’s now working on a pilot for a television show based on his characters.
Like Shane Dawson, Lucas Cruikshank is another young comic actor who has managed to use YouTube to build an audience, this time for his Fred channel which shows sketches in the life of a fictional six-year-old called Fred Figglehorn. In April 2009, the channel became the first to pick up more than a million subscribers. Cruikshank has since gone on to film Fred: The Movie which aired on Nickelodeon in September 2010. The television station has now created a franchise for the character and has started work on a sequel.
Cruikshank’s rise hasn’t been completely smooth though. His first channel, JKL Productions, was set up with cousins Jon and Katie Smet. That channel now states that Lucas has left the group and deleted all his videos. “We didn’t get in a fight,” his cousins add.
All of these YouTube stars are selling themselves. MyKeepon, a small robot that dances and responds to touch, has been developed and sold by Wow! Stuff, a marketing company that uses social media sites to look for new ideas. The device, which originally cost $20,000, had been developed by scientists to help autistic children communicate. The UK marketing firm contacted the US developers and is working on a £35 toy version to be released by Christmas. The company’s use of social media sites, including YouTube has won it a National Business Award, fourteen of its products have picked up global distribution through Toys R Us and according to the Daily Telegraph, it also been invited to work with the retailer on product development.
So even if you can’t sing, tell jokes or act like a six-year-old with anger management issues you can still become a success on YouTube.