Ask most tweens and teens how they typically watch TV and they’ll likely say online, whether it’s on their computer, tablet, or mobile device. Viewing shows on the web has become the norm for this generation and their preference to consume content on portable devices is changing the nature of the entertainment industry. To further understand this shift in Millennials’ viewing habits, we chatted with Brian Robbins, a TV veteran and the creator of AwesomenessTV, a professional YouTube channel that launched earlier this summer and has seen much success in reaching youth with a slew of short form programming. Brian explains why web content appeals to this generation (hint: they’re online already) and the future of TV where web series can attract as big of an audience as — if not bigger than — broadcast networks. And with AwesomenessTV’s first scripted series, “Runaways”, which premiered this weekend, broadcast channels better beware!
“Runaways” is a seven-episode murder mystery show where two high school students go missing and their classmates are interrogated about their disappearance. Although it’s only airing online, the show has as much promise and is as high quality as any teen soap on TV, reflecting a trend that we expect to see even more.
For more information on AwesomenessTV and how it all began, check out our overview of the YouTube channel.
Ypulse: What was the inspiration for “Runaways?” We’re seeing a lot of dark teen shows (like “Pretty Little Liars,” “The Vampire Diaries,” etc.)…did the popularity of these on TV influence “Runaways” at all?
Brian Robbins: We’ve had experience over the years with teen dramas including “Smallville” and “One Tree Hill” and when we started AwesomenessTV, it was on our agenda to do a teen drama. The writer of “Runaways” came to me early on in the development of AwesomenessTV with the idea and I just loved it; I loved the mystery and I thought the way we can do this show lent itself well to our short form programming. The series unfolds through a suspect style of storytelling as well as flashbacks that become more in depth. The viewer gets to meet the characters more and more through this method and it gets twisted.
YP: Speaking of which, “Runaways” is a little more mature than the other content on AwesomenessTV in tackling subjects like murder, drinking, and sex. How do you see this fitting in among the rest of the shows on the channel?
BR: I kind of feel like it’s darker than the other programming, but I think it still appeals to the same audience. We have a lot of comedies and a lot of reality shows on Awesomeness. I think this is the type of show that a lot of moms would like to watch with their daughters.
YP: The quality of “Runaways” is comparable to any show on a broadcast network. What was the process like of creating a short form show with a smaller production value?
BR: The writer, director, and I developed the show several months before Awesomeness launched. Clark Mathis was a VP of mine and shot a lot of our shows and then came on to direct for us, so this was a great collaboration of people who have worked together for a really long time. Clark and I knew we could create high quality programming on a tiny budget and we wanted to prove that. We spent less than one-tenth of what we would normally spend if we were making a pilot for one of the networks, but with the quality, talent, and everything in the show, you would never know that. We think it has broadcast quality and we’re about to shoot the second season.
YP: Oh wow! Can you tell us more about the plan for this season and next season?
BR: Yes, so “Runaways” will air every day for a week straight [starting August 31st]. We showed all seven episodes of season one to the cast and they were blown away! When you do something like this, you’re not sure how it’s going to turn out. They were like “oh it’s a web series” and then when they watched they were like, “oh we’ve never been in something this good, this is amazing!”
Then after the seven episodes air, additional content will run for several weeks — police files that are uncovered from the two runaways’ (Kaylee and Mason’s) webchat. They used to iChat each other every night before they fell asleep in their bedrooms. The police uncover these chats that someone was recording, so we will run several weeks of the chats in between seasons one and two, which will air in November.
YP: That’s a great way to keep fans engaged and a strategy we’re seeing among many broadcast networks to keep fans talking about a show during the offseason.
BR: Exactly. They’re really cool, they’re very voyeuristic and you’re kind of like wait I shouldn’t be watching this, this is someone’s private conversation…
YP: How do you think tweens, teens, and young adults are shaping the television industry?
BR: Well my own sons for example don’t really watch TV anymore. They watch some shows on TV, but not in the way TV was meant to be watched. They don’t know what time shows are on or what network they’re on. They have a handful of things they watch on DVR or online or on their iPhone or iPad, but truthfully, when kids come over for a sleepover, they’re on YouTube watching videos. To them, a YouTube star is as big as any other star.
YP: Completely and AwesomenessTV really celebrates social media stars. Speaking of which, Kurt Hugo Schneider, who’s well known on YouTube, wrote “Run to Me,” the theme song for “Runaways”, right?
BR: Yea, it’s an awesome song and he directed the video for the show. For years on “Smallville” and “One Tree Hill” we had great theme songs and we thought “Runaways” needs a theme song, so it should be a YouTube musician. So we went to Kurt and he liked the show and agreed to it, and it’s a fantastic song!
YP: In starting the channel from the ground up, how have you achieved so much attention so quickly?
BR: It is a combination of things — the breadth of programming has a lot to do with it. We’re programming a variety of shows seven days a week. We’re using talent from YouTube, television, and new talent, and it’s an interesting combination of new and old media. We’re bringing a lot to the table and we’re really hitting a wide teen audience, not a niche teen audience, and we offer something for everyone. We haven’t hit a home run, but we’re hitting a lot of singles and doubles. I would rather have a show that gets a 50,000-75,000 views a day every day, than one viral video that get 5 million views and then it’s over.
This stuff is exciting — we love the YouTube platform and the fact that we can reach an international audience the minute we put something up. And our audience is really engaged online. I actually think it’s easier to reach them online than it is on television. We were eight weeks old and we went from 0 to 115,000 subscribers and are closing in on 20 million views. At this trajectory, we’ll have audience bigger than most cable networks in six to 12 months and that’s exciting.
YP: How do you come up with content for Awesomeness and how are the fans influencing what you’ll air in the future?
BR: We have a team here and we brainstorm every day, but a lot of it comes from the talent and our audience. The great thing about YouTube is the real time feedback that you can’t get anywhere else through comments. The analytics are also great — you know who watched what, how long they watched, if they go from one video to another, etc. and you can really learn a lot from that. Plus, we engage with our audience through social media, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or Instagram, so we really have a dialogue with our viewers.
The other great thing about us compared to network TV is that we say we’re going to do something and we just do it. There’s no year in development or going through all these departments and having everyone sign off. This is about having a passion for making something and going out and making it, and then putting it on and letting the audience decide if we’re right or wrong. And that’s what really separates us from regular television — we can react really fast and they’re just not set up to do that.
YP: Besides “Runaways,” do you have plans for other scripted series, as well as other shows on AwesomenessTV?
BR: We’re actually in development for a number of other things — we’re going to make a huge announcement in a couple of weeks on the next scripted series and it’s going to feature some major YouTube talent.
We also have a show coming out with celebrity puppets, which I think our audience is going to flip for. It’s total pop culture — they’re finger puppets and it’s going to be hilarious! We also have a show call “Baby Gaga” — it’s an infant baby that can talk, kind of like the E*Trade baby. There’s going to be a whole roll out of more media and fashion stuff over the next few months too.
YP: And finally, what’s the biggest trend you’re seeing right now among tweens and teens?
BR: There are so many. On the fashion side, I’d definitely say it’s DIY, not only in terms of clothing, but your room and just expressing yourself. We’ll have some more shows that will address this. At the end of the day, teens want to watch shows about themselves and we want to be a place that caters to this audience.