We know that social networks have fundamentally changed the way we connect, share, and communicate, but they’ve also had a hand in forever changing the face of the entertainment industry. In creating new forms of entertainment, new avenues to talent discovery, and an entirely new kind of entertainment star, YouTube, in particular, has permanently altered the traditional path to stardom.
Yesterday’s top YouTubers are now today’s biggest celebrity stars, and as audiences (young audiences in particular) look to places like YouTube rather than traditional channels for content and entertainment, that trend may very well continue.
Every top YouTuber-turned-mainstream-star found their way to large scale popularity in a different way. Different audiences mean different voices, different types of content, and a different approach that led to “breaking in” to the entertainment industry outside of YouTube. But there are some common threads that connect the biggest success stories in the influencer space.
Though they went about it in different ways, every YouTuber that’s gone on to more mainstream notoriety has one thing in common: A unique draw. For some top YouTubers, it was the content itself (sketches, music videos, drunk cooking shows, etc). For others, success came from voice and a singular tone and personality in vlogs. For most, it was a combination of the two.
Stars like Issa Rae, Hannah Hart, Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart, Tyler Oakley, Miranda Sings, and Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer all started on YouTube before they found success in the mainstream.
Issa Rae went from creating web series like the successful, award-winning series called The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl to creating a television show on HBO called Insecure, which takes some of its inspiration from that original web series.
In similar fashion, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer started putting their work on YouTube with Broad City, which began as a web series long before it ever aired on Comedy Central. Miranda Sings also went on to sign a television deal with Netflix called Haters Back Off! based on her channel, which is centered around a sensationalized character.
It’s not just creators making fictional content that found their way to widespread popularity. Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart, Hannah Hart, and Tyler Oakley all found their way to success through their own personalities.
Starting with sketches, confessionals, how-tos, tips, and original segments like “My Drunk Kitchen” and “You Deserve A Drink,” these YouTubers have since gone on to live shows, podcasts, films, television shows, and live shows.
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The thing that differentiates YouTubers who have enjoyed mainstream success with those who haven’t is audience. The obvious factor is quantity, of course — it stands to reason that channels with more subscribers eventually lead to more success. But it’s also about the value of the audience and the quality of the content created. Issa Rae and Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer didn’t have the biggest followings, but they had great content that got people engaged.
They stood out because they used a platform to bring in an audience that was invested. The entertainment industry loves properties with built-in audiences (hence the many reboots and sequels), and influencers that bring in proven content and massive audiences in the form of loyal fans become a much easier sell than a relative unknown.
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A big factor in success is consistency. There’s room for some degree of variety in tone and location, but being able to answer the key question of “what is this about?” is a major factor in determining success.
That’s true for all types of media and entertainment, but extends to YouTube as well. Being able to pin down what a channel is about means that viewers know what they’re getting into, that they can easily describe and share it, and that the content occupies a certain place in their lives.
That isn’t to say that YouTubers can’t and don’t branch out into new types of content and new formats, but giving viewers an idea of what to expect when they tune in is paramount.
The trend of influencers and top YouTubers becoming mainstream celebrities isn’t likely to stop anytime soon. As young audiences continue and increasingly turn to YouTube and other social networks for their content, we’re going to see influencers on YouTube continue to make the transition to mainstream popularity. Though Issa Rae, Tyler Oakley, and Grace Helbig are all differing examples, more and more influencers are getting book and development deals all the time. And as they do, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: The face of the entertainment industry is changing, and many of its newest faces are coming from top YouTubers.