It’s the hottest thing on YouTube since Susan Boyle did the “Evolution of Dance.” But you won’t find it covered on television, there’s no press release, and virtually no online or print articles written about it.
A collection of YouTube “stars” have joined forces on a single channel (thestation), and it was almost instantly propelled it to one of YouTube’s most-subscribed channels… even before it had a single video posted. TheStation, now one of the 25 most-subscribed channels, was parked in June, 2006. But the activity began in mid July 2009 (see TheStation’s Twitter account), when the individual stars began to promote the TheStation on their own channels.
TheStation’s debut video was posted July 21, 2009 (a zombie teaser). Here’s the Zombie debut (see on YouTube), and above (see video box) is a cleaner version with synched audio). Zombie’s sell, of course….
That tells us TheStation isn’t just a creative consortium but a potential online-video marketing machine. In fact, TheStation is shaping up to be an online-video version of the “brat pack.”
“Stars” include Shane Dawson (ShaneDawsonTV), PhillyD (sxephil), and DaveDays — three of the most-subscribed YouTubers. ShayCarl, one of the fastest-rising YouTube creators, moved his family to Venice Beach, California earlier in 2009… living just blocks from Donovan.
LisaNova (Lisa Donovan) and “Danny Diamond” (thediamondfactory, aka “Dan Zappin”) are the hubs at the center of the spokes (see “Zappin Productions“). The long-time duo are romantic partners or business colleagues depending on your source (although LisaNova is to DaveDays as Demi Moore to Ashton Kutcher).
Girls2Watch reports that the business behind TheStation is “Maker Studios,” with a goal to make “create quality consistent programming with their core talent which will attract both a huge online audience as well as advertisers who want to get into the Youtube space.” (via BuckNews). No sign of a Maker Studios, LLC., but Donovan’s listed as the agent for Zappin (California Secretary of State).
Donovan and Diamond have loaned their apartments to various online-video weblerities, assembling what I like to call a “YouTube YouTopia” in Venice Beach. Davedays moved from Pennsylvania to California (despite my parental-like caution), and has been offering his musical talent to the motley crew. DaveDays is best known for his Barbie video, and collection of Miley Cyrus homages). Sxephil, also known as Philip DeFranco, moved from Atlanta this summer to join the gang in Venice Beach (with help from friend ShayCarl).
The channel has been getting positive reactions to its first 9 videos, and maintains a better view-per-subscriber ratio than the stars themselves. This ratio (recent view-counts divided by total subscribers to the channel) is a YouTube sign of health. Of course there’s a recency bias, where new channels have healthier rankings because its subscribers are active or new… as opposed to those subscribers from abandoned accounts. TubeMogul reports that the group surpassed Michael Jackson’s collection. Initial videos were designed to appeal to existing fans of the individuals (see NewTeeVee article), packed with inside jokes. iJustine’s death is a rofler… click this link to watch her get eaten by Zombies.
Where’s this going? Now we’re in speculation mode. For starters, it’s clearly a smart creative and professional move for the individuals… especially the lesser known stars who now win by association. The “combo-pack” performance model has proven to work in comedy, music and film (Oceans 11)… so why not web?
I asked Diamond/Zappin his vision for TheStation while visiting Venice Beach this summer, and he was somewhat vague or abstract. Initially, it’s about pooling creative talent and gaing efficiencies from production… a web studio approach (ala Next New Network or Revision3) but with already popular stars and shows. We’ll see TheStation lure brands (hungry for its eyeballs) to finance the operations (Diamond has helped LisaNova and others secure marketing sponsorships), which means it’s more than a creative collaboration.
The station, however, will face four non-trivial challenges:
- Collective YouTube channels are difficult to maintain. Shane Dawson is reportedly already backing off. When the initial honeymoon period passes, collective efforts (from 5awesomegirls, guys and gays to 7awesomekids) struggle to keep the channels vibrant. The geographic proximity of TheStation will help, but many of its stars owe their success to being a “one-man band,” and may have difficulty adapting to an ensemble. Bambamkaboosh, a collaboration between Sxephil and Shaycarl, rocketed to most-subscribed, but has languished. Donovan lasted just four weeks on MadTV. (thought I thought she was pretty darn funny in this Ellen Degeneres MadTv skit).
- Some YouTube “stars” lack acting chops. Some are successful at “vlogging” to their audiences, some can sing, but not all YouTube stars can act in a sketch comedy. Sxephil had mixed reviews on his performance on HBOLab’s “Hooking Up,” but certainly carried his weight in “Porn Star.” We’ll let you be the judge of who can act in this TheStation debut video. I’ll just say it ranges from awesome funny to awkward. Likewise, LisaNova is probably one of the best sketch comedians on YouTube (this is one of my all-time favorite video here with her as “Ashley Moorehouse” in Orange County — co-stared by Jenna Elfman, of “Accidentally on Purpose”)… but Donovan didn’t last long as a vlogger. They’re different art forms, if you don’t mind me calling them that. Check out this chair-fall by YouTube’s Daxflame (once a most-subscribed channel, but somewhat dormant of late).
- Money introduces conflict. As the YouTube advertising revenue and other marketing sponsorships draw potential profit to TheStation, the individuals will struggle to ensure revenue is shared appropriately (which is arbitrary at best). The bigger stars may have difficulty balancing the full-time job of maintaining their own channels (with some enjoying 6-figure incomes) and the time they contribute to TheStation, which will provide them with less direct financial return for their time. What the group lacks in business-management experience, however, it makes up for in creative talent, new-marketing prowess and energy.
- Holier than tho? The stars run the risk of being perceived by the community as “elitist” (see this whining vlog as example). Although to be fair, members of this team have a history of brilliantly satirizing elitist behavior on YouTube (see this satire of AsOne, where Diamond spoof Sxephil’s appearance in an SMPFilms promotion of Philadelphia “AsOne” event that never occurred). And hey- it’s all “water under the bridge,” because TheStation folks all hit SMPFilm’s wedding last week. Congratulations, Cory. This post counts as my wedding gift.
Cautions aside, the people involved with TheStation have rare knowledge on how to grow and keep an online audience. They’ll benefit by sharing each other’s audiences, and from the creative chemistry that may develop in their YouTube YouTopia. And it’s a guilty pleasure, but I’ll admit I really like some of the writing and acting in this debut video. And check out this funny DaveDays music-video with a cameo by CharlesTrippy. Good stuff. Even better: the out takes and behind the scenes… available on TheStation2.
Even with some inevitable creative and financial feuding ahead, The Station ensemble is proving that the whole is indeed bigger than the sum of (most of) its parts.