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The Great Mainstreaming of YouTube: The Traditional Takeover of the Millennial-Fueled, DIY Video Site

Just a few years ago, Hollywood was incredulous that YouTube was anything more than a collection of amateur vloggers, and certainly most didn’t believe that it would change the traditional entertainment world. But they have certainly changed their tune in the last year. Our social media trend tracker shows that as of March 2014, YouTube has become the number one platform teens use, with 89% telling us they use the video site, compared to 80% who say they use Facebook. Since November 2013, YouTube has gained 12% more Millennial users overall, an impressive amount of growth for a network that has been around for so long. It’s the desire to grab the eyes of these young viewers that has led to the massive mainstreaming of YouTube stars and content, which has been percolating for some time, but heated up considerably in the last few months.

YouTube has become a “Hollywood hit factory” for teen entertainment. Smaller companies, like Awesomeness TV, that realized the platform’s potential early have grown massively, big studios are snapping up YouTube studios to get in on the action, and programming is in the midst of  “rapid consolidation.” And there is certainly money in those video uploads. Just a year ago, hearing about real breakout YouTube stars was more rare. Fred, Michele Phan, Justin Bieber, and others made unique moves into traditional media, but they were the exceptions. Now, we, and Millennial consumers, are well-accustomed to YouTube personalities making a break into mainstream stardom. Michelle Phan, an original YouTube star, has been able to translate her online fame offline through a makeup brand, beauty subscription service, book deal, and the creation of a digital network to scout and manage new online talent. PewDiePie, the most popular channel on the network with 27 million subscribers, makes $4 million a year playing video games and providing curse-laden commentary, while top fashion vloggers are pulling in up to $1 million a year, and their DIY advice has launched many into collaborations with established brands. Millennials find online stars more approachable and authentic than professionals and Hollywood A-listers, a reason why these days “any company that has money is approaching YouTubers.” Meanwhile, talent agencies are snapping up top talent left and right, and the deals they are making for their young digital starlets is accelerating the great mainstreaming of YouTube. Here’s a timeline of (just some of) the big events that signify the traditional takeover of the DIY video site so far in 2014, and show all of the new ways that brands and traditional media players are tapping into the network’s star-power:

Jan 2014

  • Dreamworks Animation announces YouTube Nation, a daily show that airs on the YouTube Spotlight page to feature the best and more interesting videos on the site, and help the 1 billion visitors each month to know what they should be watching.


April 2014

  • YouTube begins running TV ads for the first time ever to promote creative vloggers Michelle Phan, Bethany Mota, and Rosanna Pansino. The campaign aims to raise awareness of its unique programming, and raise ad revenues at the same time.
  • Disney acquires YouTube network Maker Studios for $500 million, providing the media giant with a new path to reach consumers who are shifting from watching TV to watching online content, and access to the young creatives who could be the rising stars and future of entertainment. Wired calls the investment “the future of TV.”

June 2014

  • Nickelodeon gives a TV movie to 17-year-old Lia Marie Johnson, a YouTuber who stars as “Terry the Tomboy” on AwesomenessTV. She has more than 900,000 subscribers. (We spoke with Johnson back in January about life after YouTube fame.)
  • Sony’s Astronauts Wanted launches a transmedia travel show HeyUSA! starring YouTubers Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart, which features three weekly videos, relies on fan tweets for suggestions on where to go next, and includes “selfie style” content that the stars share on their own social platforms.

July 2014

  • EpicMealTime—an epically popular YouTube cooking show—makes the leap to TV with Epic Meal Empire on A&E’s new FYI network and Hormel Black Label bacon becomes the show’s “official bacon provider.”
  • Back to school marketing begins in full force, and Target launches a campaign employing major YouTube stars, like Tiffany Garcia and Mikey Bolts, to sell apparel, electronics, and furnishings, featuring them in four YouTube shows that make over dorm rooms and offer decorating tips. The video series lives online so that Target can “be part of the ongoing conversation” and “go where the [M]illennial generation is.”

August 2014

  • Variety announces that the top five most popular celebrities among 13-18-year-olds are YouTube stars, making digital personalities more influential with teens than TV or film stars.
  • Aéropostale rebrands as AERO, focusing on teens’ independence and individuality and AERO teams up with YouTube famous fashion vlogger Bethany Mota for clothing and fragrance collections.
  • Toys ‘R’ Us borrows viral in their “C’mon Let’s Play” campaign, tapping YouTube star Daniel Hashimoto, special effects star and the “coolest dad in the world,” to direct and star in new spots that show the ways that “play becomes real to little kids.”
  • Internet personalities like YouTuber Tyler Oakley (our Q&A with on fame with him here!) win awards and steal the spotlight at the Teen Choice Awards. #TeamInternet and #TylerOakley both become worldwide trending topics on Twitter after Oakley accepts his award for Choice Web Star.

September 2014

  • YouTuber Bethany Mota is September’s Seventeen cover girl, a move BuzzFeed calls yet another sign of traditional media and brands tapping YouTube to “stay relevant.”
  • Disney says they believe Maker Studios is the Marvel or Lucasfilms of the future. The statement adds weight to the concept that the way young consumers choose to get their much of their content—online in short-form—is going to be adopted by traditional brands as well.
  • The digital comedy duo who create SMOSH, a YouTube channel with 30 million subscribers, has created a movie that will be distributed by Lionsgate. The movie is being described as a “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure for 2014” and will star a slew of other YouTube stars.
  • Bethany Mota (yes, her again) becomes the first YouTube star to appear on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. The series’ executive producer Rob Wade explains, “With every day that passes YouTube stars go more and more into the mainstream. Whereas a couple of years ago you might say you’re going into a niche market, there’s no way you can say that anymore.”