By Michael Varrati
Behind the scenes with YouTube’s latest bet in original content.
Upon arriving at the offices of “YouTube Nation,” the last thing I expected was to be witness to a robbery. Yet, I was on the premises for no more than 10 minutes before I crossed paths with a crime that could only be described as “positively funky fresh.”
For viewers who have already tuned into “YouTube Nation,” the idea that a little wackiness might be ensuing at their headquarters is probably not a big shock. A quickly developing trademark of the show features host Jacob Soboroff integrating himself into clips and music videos, and on the day I visited production, Jacob was shooting some scenes as a dancing bank robber that truly redefined what it means to hoof it from the law.
For his part, Soboroff, a former “HuffPost Live” personality, seems to have no reservations at cutting loose for the sake of the show, and that attitude is one that prevails across the board at “YouTube Nation.” Executive produced by Steve Woolf and Zadi Diaz, the show (the first daily series produced by DreamWorks Animation and the first daily program to use the YouTube brand) is a frenetic window into the world of YouTube, connecting audiences to a curated “best of the web,” and allowing YouTubers to shine a spotlight on their own.
The show, which, at the time of my visit, is just entering its second week on-air, already runs with an efficient and effervescent energy that in no way indicates its relatively new status. This is owed, in large part, to Woolf and Diaz, who have lived with this project for many months, testing various iterations and concepts to finally deliver something to the YouTube community of which they could all be proud.
“We’ve done a lot of different iterations of the show,” Woolf explains, “We had a bunch of people in to see if they fit as a host. We tried using someone different every day, to see if we could keep it fresh that way. I mean, that’s not all. We tried many different ways of looking at it, including different writing styles, different ways of showcasing the clips we use. We tried BuzzFeed-style shows where there was nothing but text, and there was no host. We tried all of that stuff to zero-in to the point where it actually felt right.”
Luckily for Woolf, Diaz, and viewers alike, “YouTube Nation” found its face in the energetic and lively Soboroff. The electric host, who formerly worked with “HuffPost Live” and currently also maintains a show on Pivot, connects with his audience, because unlike many on-screen personalities who are mired in traditional television presentation, Soboroff, whose origins are with YouTube, understands what it means to be on the other side of the screen.
“It’s not like I’m a TV host who’s trying to sneak into the YouTube world,” he tells me, “I literally got my start in my career from YouTube in 2006. Because of that, I consider myself a ‘YouTuber’ and part of the community. I never really went the route of the content creator and did my own channel in that way, although I do have my own channel. If you look, starting in October of 2006, you’ll see I was posting silly stuff, as well as content for blogs here in Los Angeles. I hope everyone in the YouTube community knows that’s where I come from.”
Also quick to differentiate the incursion of Hollywood ideals on the YouTube community is Woolf, who adds, “We also want to be extremely mindful of the YouTube creator community. The last thing we want is for them to perceive this as, ‘Oh, just another thing where the Hollywood people come along and try and tell us how to do what we already know how to do.’ We were very conscious about that fact, and wanted to be as respectful and inclusive as possible.”
…and in simply being mindful, the show may have found its greatest triumph.
“YouTube Nation” succeeds because it is committed to, and respects, the content it showcases. But even more so, it is forum that celebrates the world it comes from…a show for YouTube fans made by YouTube fans.
If witnessing Soboroff’s playful morning dance number didn’t cement this fact for me, sitting in on the afternoon pitch meeting run by Diaz more than drove the point home.
“The rats who play Connect Four are cool,” said one team member about a video, “But what about the grizzly bear video?” Meanwhile, another was arguing the merits of a clip that utilized Photoshop, while another still was praising a “Star Wars”-stylized music number. It was a dizzying exchange, with titles going on the board and being struck down just as quickly. The pitch for what videos make each episode is fast, furious, and passionate. But, it’s also extremely fun. I could tell, even in my status as a fly on the wall, that the people gathered in that room loved every second of the process, and it’s that love that makes all the difference in the execution of “YouTube Nation.”
With such prevalent energy all around, one begins to understand that while the show is still in its early days of public consumption, the months of work it took to get there has been fueled by commitment and creativity unparalleled. The fact that it can now be seen by the world it large, it seems, is just the icing on the cake.
“The first moment of the first show going online was really cool,” Soboroff says.
“Working here for months, secretly, and finally being able to let everybody see it, getting those first reactions, it was all about that.”
“Getting to the point where we’re live is simultaneously incredibly relieving, but also horribly anxiety inducing,” Woolf says, with a laugh. “We feel pretty fortunate that it’s been well-received. It has been overwhelmingly positive.”
“It’s awesome,” Soboroff adds. “It’s just cool to finally have somebody other than us to talk to about these shows. And, really, that’s the whole point.”
As expected from all I had seen throughout the day, their enthusiasm was more than infectious, and they left me feeling like we all should be so lucky to be living in a YouTube Nation.