SXSWorld March 2016 – Music


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2 8 S X S W o r l d | M U S I C M A R C H 2 0 1 6 | S X S W. C O M nless you play video games, the name "Jacksepticeye" prob- ably won't resonate. But Jacksepticeye, who self-identifies as "the most consistently energetic videogame commentator on YouTube," has 8.5 million YouTube channel subscribers, and some three billion views to his name. So the fact that you don't know him? It probably doesn't bother him one bit. Welcome to 2016, when mattering to kindred spirits triumphs over mass appeal. Today, you can make fat stacks of cash, gain a devoted global following of fans and sponsors, secure movie contracts and merch deals and more—all for curating an online channel of you. No matter if you're doing even such mundane things as putting on deodorant, styling your hair, or playing (or commentating on others playing) a video game, as long as your authenticity shines through. Most digital talent, as online stars are sometimes called, build their empires on Vine or YouTube, the most high-profile distribution platforms. Masters of Vine share six-second clips that are addictive, comedic or relatable—or ideally, all three. For instance, in one of her "vines," Brittany Furlan (who has a TV pilot coming out this year and was voted one of TIME's "Most Important People on the Internet" last year) films first a Barnes & Noble rack full of romance novels covered up by a beer lover's guide—then pans to herself thinking it over, then nodding in approval. It's hypnotic, passive-aggressively amusing, and it could have happened to you. By comparison, lacking Vine's time constraints means that YouTube stars have seemingly unlimited options to showcase their work. Lindsey Stirling, a dubstep violin star, earned $6 million from YouTube views in 2015 and plays while dancing or running on an MC Escher-esque stairscape. Lately even Stirling's avatar is busy, as the lead character on a new game for Apple devices, and her real- world life isn't much real-er: Kim Dotcom, Internet entrepreneur and privacy activist, bankrolled her team's trip—helicopter access included—to New Zealand to film "Lord of the Rings Medley." When it comes to assessing the actual value of an online star, Alec Shankman, Vice President and Head of Alternative Programming, Licensing & Digital Media at Abrams Artists Agency, has experi- ence as an agent who helps top online stars turn their stardom into a career. Shankman says he evaluates staying power and opportunity by filtering for three things: audience size, content quality and poten- tial to appeal to future sponsors. Of course, other intangibles, such as the person's brand (a catchall term encapsulating their talent) and the channel they're in, also matter. And while audience size determines the rate a star will be paid per thousand views, Shankman explains that rising Internet video stars are able to make money on their talent "out of the gate"—unlike traditional movie or TV stars. Once digital talent reaches subscriber mass of around 100,000, he says, they can then start to access a second pot of money, from sponsorships: "We'll have people who make a few thousand dollars per social engagement [on behalf of sponsors], to clients who will make five or six figures for a campaign." He emphasizes the way the digital talent audience "skews 13-24" in contrast to TV and movie audiences, which are dominated by older adults. Another difference? Digital talent makes more money directly from producing, starring and distributing content, and often has much greater credibility and authenticity than a traditional movie star (who might have broad appeal but no particular cache based on interests or passions shared—and cemented daily—with fans). YouTube DIY expert Mr. Kate (real name: Kate Albrecht), who has millions of monthly blog and YouTube channel views, worked in traditional entertainment industry talent roles before launching her own brand. As such, she has a deep appreciation for both the added benefit, and added work, that a loyal audience creates for digital talent: "Audience is our bread and butter, and has influence. What they want is what you end up doing. You're in constant dialog online." Because of such an intimate, "live" relationship playing out every day, she observes, some brands that have the most successful part- nerships with digital talent are ones that, rather than dictating scripts or campaign "talking points" to the stars, instead ask for the star's guidance in crafting an authentic message that also meets brand objectives. "The most successful brands meet you in the middle," she says. As for the future of online stardom, Mr. Kate is optimistic. She cited Aeropostale's selection of YouTube star Bethany Mota (audi- ence size: 9.5 million) to launch a name-brand clothing line at their store, as proof that online celebrities are slowly entering the main- stream. She also observes how the educational and entertainment benefits of digital stardom seemed baked in, for the better: "People are trying to learn as they enjoy," said Mr. Kate. "You can learn anything on the Internet. When I don't understand something, I'll use YouTube." T Jacksepticeye will co-host the 3rd Annual SXSW Gaming Awards on Saturday, March 19 at 8pm in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Austin Downtown. More info at For Online Video Stars, Audience Loyalty Means Everything by K atie MatlacK U Jacksepticeye

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