You’d be hard-pressed to think of a popular YouTube creator in the US who hasn’t done something outside of the world’s biggest video site. YouTubers are doing everything from live stage shows (Tyler Oakley continues to travel the world with his stage performances), to TV series (Grace Helbig’s now on E!; “Epic Meal Time” has become a network TV show called “Epic Meal Empire”; and beauty creator Ingrid Nilsen has been a judge on multiple “Project Runway” episodes), to writing books (it would take up too much space to list those examples here).
This is because brands, TV networks, and even film studios in the US have realized that YouTubers mean big business. With subscriber numbers in the millions, they carry hefty fan bases made of up of people who trust them — and that is powerful in the world of consumer products (entertainment included).
As MIP Digital Fronts approaches, you have to wonder whether this power has been recognized in YouTube creators outside of the US. Are they being sought out to star in film and TV projects? Publish books?
The simple answer is yes, but not so much as their US-based counterparts. Though film studios haven’t quite been knocking down international YouTubers’ doors (they haven’t exactly in the US, either), a handful of big, online creators have shown up on television. A large European MCN, Divimove, for instance, has had its YouTube creators appear on popular TV series like “X-Factor” in countries such as Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.
To be specific, Italian ‘Tuber Leonardo Decarli held backstage interviews on “X-Factor,” produced by FremantleMedia, while Dutch creators David Harms (a gamer) and Monica Geuze (a vlogger) showed up as interview subjects on “RTL Z,” a business/financial news show in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, “TV Total,” where YouTuber DorFuchs (real name: Johann Beurich) appeared, is a late night comedic talk show. Overall, the TV opportunities being given to international YouTubers are largely as interviewers or interview subjects. It seems that international TV networks/production companies believe host-type roles suit YouTubers best.
As Divimove co-founder, Philipp Bernecker, explains, “YouTubers perform best when they’re not given a script and stage directions. Acting is not necessarily the way to go.” Vlogging talent doesn’t seamlessly translate to acting talent, after all, and that may stand in the way of a lot of TV opportunities for YouTube creators outside of the US. Still, that doesn’t mean these YouTubers have completely shied away from scripted series. “Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten” is a long-running German TV soap opera of which YouTube rappers Celo & Abdi are big fans, hence their cameo. The show is popular enough to have been on TV in Germany since 1992, and it opened its arms to YouTube talent, even if not as the episode’s stars.
Over in France, YouTube comedian Norman Thavaud (he has over 5.8 million subscribers on YouTube and is not a member of Divimove’s network) has appeared on Palmashow’s comedic, sketches-based series “Very Bad Blagues,” which airs on French TV channel D8. “Very Bad Blagues” episodes can also be found on French video platform Dailymotion, and Palmashow itself started out on YouTube, explaining why the show might feel like such a fit for digital talent.
Back in the US, YouTubers aren’t necessarily better actors, but TV networks are perhaps more willing to pick up their particular formats. With reality TV so popular here, it’s no wonder that shows like “Epic Meal Empire” feel right on home on television — after its format had been tweaked to that of a typical reality show, which didn’t take much besides the addition of chyrons and a female co-host. Also, people are used to watching documentary content like YouTube creator Todrick Hall’s series on MTV and cooking shows targeted at younger audiences like “Brothers Green: EATS!” which is also coming to MTV. US-based YouTuber-starring films have even shown up in theaters, like “Expelled,” with its limited theatrical release, and the upcoming “Bob Thunder: Internet Assassin” will get a day and date theatrical/VOD release this June 27.
Some YouTubers are so famous in the US that it’s easy to forget they’re international. Take PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg), who has the most subscribed individual’s channel on YouTube and is signed to Maker Studios. He’s shown up on a couple episodes of “South Park” in the US and is rumored to voice a character in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Ice Age 5.”
However, Kjellberg’s TV appearances aren’t indicative of Maker’s overall “digital to TV” attitude in terms of its international talent. Maker is rather selective when it comes to production studio requests for YouTubers. These requests, as René Rechtman, head of international at Maker, explains, “are usually from established production houses with accomplished production slates…who are looking to spice up their offering by partnering with us…We look very carefully at these opportunities, and if the package is right, we engage.”
It seems that the package isn’t often right. Rechtman notes that Maker’s “main strategy is to be reliant on our own creativity and talent partners,” building up projects from within the MCN. Getting its international talent on TV or in the movies is not Maker’s ultimate goal. As such, the company is “building up global production capabilities in London, Paris, Munich, and Singapore, among others,” says Rechtman.
Screens aren’t the only places where international YouTubers have spun off from their YouTube channels. Like US creators, Divimove stars Elrubius and YellowMellow have released books, and the former has shown up at the Winter Music Conference in Miami this past March alongside Mangelrogel, Matroix, and Vikkstar123. Meanwhile, US-based beauty vloggers have shown up at fashion week in Paris, and Tyler Oakley’s hosted a BBC One radio segment on British radio.
As Big Frame VP of talent, Lisa FIlipelli, notes, “Everybody is international. That’s the beauty of YouTube.”
Still, Bernecker of Divimove notes that European creators on the platform count the majority of their audiences in their home countries due to content “that is fairly language dependent.” And only local TV production houses have reached out to YouTube creators in Indian MCN Culture Machine’s network.
Even if language barriers prevent certain YouTubers from going international on TV, that won’t stop them from growing their careers beyond the video platform. “I would say that the year 2015 will definitely be huge for the development of successful YouTube creators taking or developing careers outside of YouTube,” says Bernecker. “I think this is still very fresh in development outside of the US, but it’s something we are already seeing this year.”
Maker’s Rechtman agrees. “It’s a trend that is growing exponentially as TV buyers and commissioners become more aware of what is happening online and who the influencers that move millennials really are,” he says of Maker’s international talent. “Buyers need to embrace this trend, or they risk losing an audience that won’t engage with traditional media.”
It’s not just in the US that young audiences are watching “TV” online, and it looks like international TV producers are catching up to their US counterparts in getting that. Whether MCNs feel like embracing this or keeping their talent to its accustomed formats, we’ll have to see.
*This article has been updated from its original version. Earlier, it was not recognized that Palmashow started out on YouTube before coming to TV.