YouTube Is Purposely Making Shows with Stars You Don’t Know

Netflix did it. Amazon did it. Now YouTube is getting into the original content game. But there’s one big difference: the names on the online marquee.

The world’s largest online video site announced plans today to partner with some of its biggest stars—Fine Brothers’, Prank vs. Prank, Joey Graceffa, and Smosh—to launch four new original series. Over the next two years, the video-streaming behemoth will also release several feature films in a partnership with AwesomenessTV, a company that helps develop popular YouTube content. The films, as the company touts proudly, will be “driven by YouTube Stars.” But, unless you’re 15, it’s pretty safe to say you probably haven’t heard of them.

Because, with its announcement today, YouTube isn’t coming for you (or your eyeballs). It isn’t pitting itself in direct competition with other online original content creators like Amazon and Netflix. YouTube has decided to zag. It’s launching originals for an audience it knows it already has with stars it helped create: YouTube stars—who have a real, highly coveted audience: teens. Joey Graceffa may be no Adam Sandler, who recently signed a four-movie deal with Netflix. But for teens, Joey Graceffa is better.

Already Famous

For a company that has made its name as a video platform where users create, upload, and share their own content, YouTube’s move towards originals may seem at odds with its mission. And, in a world where HBO gets Matthew McConaughey, Netflix gets Kevin Spacey, and Amazon gets Jeffrey Tambor, YouTube trumpeting a new series where Prank vs. Prank’s “Jesse and Jeana pull off their most ambitious pranks yet” seems like a hard sell.

But YouTube stars really are stars. Millions of fans watch them put on makeup, make jokes, or recount their days. Tens of thousands of fans go to their concerts and meet-ups. And in a survey last summer, Variety found that YouTube Stars were the most influential figures for American teens, even more so than Jennifer Lawrence, Paul Walker, or Katy Perry. (The most influential? Smosh and The Fine Bros., both of whom will have their own original shows as part of YouTube’s partnership.)

So as silly as it sounds to anyone over a certain age, an original series where Smosh’s “Ian and Anthony work at a theme restaurant where out-of-control kids and crazy parents are all in a day’s work” will likely be huge. Smosh’s channel, for example, has 35 million subscribers now, and their comedy sketches have generated more than 7 billion views. Just like Spacey will draw viewers to Netflix with House of Cards, Ian will bring millions of viewers, old and new, to YouTube.

Right at Home

While YouTube’s streaming competitors, like Netflix and Amazon (not to mention video newcomers BuzzFeed and Vice), have gone all-in on originals, YouTube has been slow to produce its own shows. And now it risks getting left behind by the same talent that has used its platform as a springboard to fame.

That’s because that talent now has choices. Online video is booming: YouTube’s video creators have more options than ever as Facebook, Vine, and Vessel all become viable alternatives to sharing homemade clips. That means YouTube’s content creators may have fewer reasons to stay with the platform, especially as it launches its ad-free subscription service which could affect their income. To help keep its stars from fleeing to richer pastures (or Hollywood), YouTube is giving these very, real stars the opportunity to be even more popular right at home.

YouTube’s investment in its very own stars is also smart in the long term as it seeks to hold onto the teen audience so many other sites covet. Teens are a highly desired demographic for advertisers—and no one online (or IRL) has them totally figured out. But by trying to hold onto stars those younger viewers love, YouTube is hoping it can hold their attention long enough to stick around as they grow up. To beat out the competition, YouTube’s best bet may be sticking with its roots.

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