Growing Pains in the YouTube scene
They are all there: Y-Titty, DieLochis, iBlali, Dner, Ardy, izzi, MrTrashpack, Joyce and xLaeta. In the corridors, fans are standing in long cordoned lines to get an autograph and – of course – to take a selfie with their favourite star. Lost in a blissful daze, teenage girls then stumble into the hall with beaming eyes and a dreamy smile, some of them welling up with joy. The atmosphere is very harmonious at VideoDays 2015 in Berlin. Time after time, we see tight groups of people form around individual YouTubers in the large hall of Treptow Arena. Anyone with a ticket for the autograph session is able to see their star up close and in person. Everyone is waiting patiently for their turn. It is always the same procedure: autograph, hug, selfie.
‘It was quite strange to have fans coming up so close at first,’ says Tommy, but he has since got used to it. Tommy is 25 years old and a member of Applewar Pictures, a YouTube collaboration that makes short films, from comedy and sketches to parodies of video games and Lego animations. Tommy also has his own YouTube channel: ExtremeTommy. He created his account back in 2008. He says the great thing about YouTube is that he can make so many people happy with his videos. ‘People say, “Hey, I feel much better after watching your videos!” and that amazes me in a way. It’s just brilliant to bring a little joy to people like that.’
Jill from Hanover is 15 years old and also has her own You-Tube channel: Littjiee. Here she posts comedy videos. She has been running the channel for about a year and a half. Some 2,300 subscribers regularly follow her videos. She is at VideoDays 2015 in Berlin together with her friend Debbie. The pair are walking around the main auditorium with a cardboard sign that says ‘Free hugs’. Young girls are constantly coming up to them and giving them a hug. Some of the people here even recognise Jill. Her friend Debbie is 16 and is happy to be attending VideoDays because she can meet even more people who love YouTube. She thinks it is a wonderful opportunity to see YouTubers in the flesh. Debbie finds YouTube more interesting than watching television: ‘You can choose what you watch, how often, and for how long. You don’t have to limit your-self to whatever they’re showing on the box.’ She likes the fact that nothing is set in stone and everyone can do whatever they like on YouTube. Debbie also believes that YouTubers are simply more down to earth than celebrities on TV. Her favourite YouTuber is Dner, but she also likes beauty gurus like xLaeta, Mystyleandfashion and Barbieloveslipsticks. For people over 30, the incredible success of some YouTubers is difficult to understand in many cases. A unique language has developed on this platform with certain codes and quite a specific sense of humour. There are different kinds of YouTube channels. Dner, for example, is famous for videos in which he records his screen while playing video games and comments on the action. His real name is Felix von Laden, aged 21. He has almost two million subscribers. Fans love the Y-Titty trio for their comedy videos. Their YouTube channel now has more than 3.1 million sub scribers. Especially popular among girls are so-called ‘haul’ videos. In them, the YouTubers hold up their purchases from the beauty store or fashion chains for the camera and rating the products. Particularly successful in this genre are Bianca Heinicke with her channel BibisBeautyPalace and Sami Slimani. The YouTube scene is both popular and controversial: many YouTube stars now receive products from companies to advertise in their videos. Of course, they can earn a lot of money by doing this. The problem is that these videos are not usually marked adequately as advertising.
For fans, it is important that their stars remain down to earth and authentic. This also means that their videos should appear as home-made as possible, not too professional. Although some YouTubers have the backing of large marketing companies, most channels still look as if they’ve been filmed using a simple web-cam in the bedroom. Many fans believe their stars are exactly as they present themselves in their videos. A large number of users simply refuse to see that YouTube has also become extremely professionalised and commercial. In truth, though, many of the most famous YouTubers working for major marketing companies, also called networks, are under contract. Networks take care of making online TV content of a professional nature and increasing the viewer base. Mediakraft, the biggest marketing company, writes the following on its website: ‘In addition to production support, for instance with its own studios, Mediakraft Networks offers services such as data analysis, content optimisation, technical support, training and rights management.’ After the initial hype, however, there followed a first wave of unrest in the scene. Famous video bloggers like LeFloid and Unge turned their backs on Mediakraft. In an interview with online magazine Krautreporter, Florian Mundt (aka LeFloid) said, ‘Today, young YouTubers are being cultivated with the promise that they’re going to be the next big thing with a kick-ass channel – and this affects every single network, not only Mediakraft. This is a problem because today’s up-and-coming artists are driven by something different than we were at the outset. They don’t have any intrinsic motivation. They’re being pumped up and over-developed, and to their detriment. And so they’ll ask, “Why the hell don’t I have 100,000 subscribers? It’s already been 14 days!”’
As an alternative to large networks – but not as competition – 15 YouTubers got together in 2014 to create the association 301+. On its website, the group writes that it aims to make a difference by realising independent projects across multiple networks with members who support each other. Most of all, the association hopes to influence how things develop: ‘The future is exciting, and we look forward to what lies ahead for the scene. However, we want to be involved in shaping the future.’ The 15 members of the association include major names from the YouTube scene such as Florian Mundt (aka LeFloid), Nilam Farooq (aka daaruum) and chairperson Marie Meimberg, a former employee of Mediakraft.
The scene is suffering from growing pains. On the one hand, there are large marketing companies in a two-way relationship with their stars. On the other hand, there are YouTubers that yearn for the ‘good old days’ and who are against commercialisation. But some video bloggers became stars a long time ago and are now just as distant from their fans as TV celebrities. Students who used to ride longboard in their free time and film what they got up to are now full-time media professionals who earn large amounts of money with their videos. Canny managers who used to work in the traditional media business recognised the potential of online television and now profit from the hype.
To conclude VideoDays 2015, a gigantic stage show takes place. The stars of the digital network perform on the arena stage – in three dimensions for a change. There is also a trailer for the film Kartoffelsalat. The crowd goes wild and fans begin to squeal. This comedy will hit German cinemas in the summer. In addition to actors from Germany like Otto Waalkes and Martin Schneider, the cast includes many famous YouTube stars, such as Dagi Bee, Bibi, DieLochis, Y-Titty, Simon Desue and Joyce. So some You-Tubers have made the leap from the Internet to traditional media. Somewhere they never really wanted to be – or is it?