TheGrill 2015: Finance Experts Tout PewDiePie and Power of Social Media Influencers (Video)

“We have to rethink the way we look at talent,” Rick Hess, founder and manager of Evolution Media Partners, says at TheWrap’s sixth annual media leadership conference

Digital content providers are revolutionizing the way investors look at entertainment and engaging audiences.

“We have to rethink the way we look at talent,” Rick Hess, founder and manager of Evolution Media Partners, said Tuesday at TheWrap’s sixth annual TheGrill media leadership conference.

“It’s more about influencing,” Hess said. “I’m fascinated by PewDiePie. It’s an extraordinary following that he has and presence on the largest video platforms today. He can move the needle, so he becomes an influencer and a marketer and an entertainer all in one.”

Hess was one of three players in the world who discussed the digital revolution on a panel moderated by Brian Weinstein, head of corporate finance for CAA.

“Most of these new voices and platforms that are popping up — it comes from a deep level authenticity, younger audiences looking for trust in something that they understand,” Mark Terbeek, a partner at Greycroft Partners, said. “That’s why I think PewDiePie is this crazy phenomenon. People relate to him ad he’s kind of awkward and he’s not this perfect looking kid in the kind of Hollywood-molded image.”

And even as these YouTube stars achieve higher levels of fame and major sponsorships, their followings are more than willing to come along for the ride.

“We found with YouTube influencers trough our ownership of Fullscreen, there was always this concern that is there audience going ot think they’re selling out once they start to take in advertistements from a big brand,” Jacobs said. “And it was sort of the opposite… The community really embraces that endorsement.”

Jesse Jacobs, president of The Chernin Group, spoke about his company’s desire to get into the digital space by investing in companies like Crunchyroll, which allows subscribers to stream the latest anime content.

“At the time they were doing about 200,000 paid subscribers,” Jacobs said. “Today they are well north of 600,000.”

There’s often a commercial value to providing premium content to niche audiences like anime fans. “They’re incredibly active on the message boards, they’re going to live events, they’re taking pictures of themselves in cosplay — a lightbulb went off that we can be active in these content companies and services that are very targeted that’s reaching a passionate community,” he said. “That’s an area we want to be in.”