Top YouTube Stars Convene “The Station”: A Modern Brat Pack & YouTube YouTopia?

The Station

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).

TheStation YouTube StarsDonovan 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

No seriously. Click here to watch iJustine get killed again. How can you not crack up at that. Hey- no bashing from iJustine fans. I’m among you.

23 Replies to “Top YouTube Stars Convene “The Station”: A Modern Brat Pack & YouTube YouTopia?”

  1. The station faces a fourth challenge you failed to mention. It sucks. Porn Star was bad. Lisa Nova might have the most potential, but even she has limited appeal, evidently. This stuff wouldn’t last 2 weeks on TV.

  2. I have no clue what’s going to happen with the station. I’m subscribed, and I’ve watched most of their videos. I think they are sort of funny…but, you know, not hilarious. I mean, it’s no secret that DaveDays is a HORRIBLE, terrible, tremendously bad actor. They should use him for music only. It’s ridiculous to watch him try to act. Plus, if ShaneDawson is already out, who’s next? I’d put my money on SXEPhil…who also, might I add, is not a good actor. But, we’ll see if this whole thing can survive 2009. I sort of doubt it.

  3. @2

    For what it’s worth, I actually did watch the whole video. I thought it was actually pretty funny. Of course, I myself usually make painfully long videos…so that might explain why I liked it.

  4. Although I haven’t been terribly impressed by most of the stuff put out by TheStation or the individuals who make up that group, I do find their activities interesting and some of their stuff is sort of funny. TheStation seems a bit like a YouTube version of Saturday Night Live (except that they post any day they feel like it). I think the one thing all these individuals have in abundance is enthusiasm and energy, which coupled with persistence will probably work out for some of them!

  5. I don’t know that I would mortgage my own future on The Station, but I do have to admit that Danny Diamond never ceases to surprise me. I wish them the best of luck.

  6. So far I think they are doing a great job. I actually liked the Dax Flame skit. Also, Charles Trippy was talking about possibly moving to CA. He made an appearance in the latest Station video. I could see him as someone who could potentially join.

    I have to wonder what the financial incentive is for these guys. I bet that is why Shane dropped out. If he’s #5 on YouTube and can make tons of money by himself, why commit to another channel where you’ll personally get 1/10 to 1/20 of what you’re already making? Sure, doing collaborative work might be fun, but I imagine the Station has a pretty challenging schedule.

    I imagine the real incentive here is to hopefully use it as a launching pad to mainstream stardom. That’s my guess.

  7. Oh yey. This post brought out some interesting comments. Now I gotta go back and look at some of these Station videos with this in mind… especially to see if Dave Days is getting a fair criticism.

  8. @4
    It’s not painful just because it’s long. It was painful within the first 20 seconds.

    For what it is? What it is is shit. Derivative drivel.

    Enough staying on topic. Let’s hear about someone’s abusive childhood, mid-life crisis, or their bowel movements.

  9. @12 What the fuck do you mean “derivative drivel?” It’s not got a big budget, it’s not got backing, and it’s pretty amateur. With those things in mind, they are doing a great job.

    If it were big budget with sponsors, big-wigs and professionals all over the place and the content was the same, it would be bullshit. I would not like it if I were getting the same product knowing there was a lot behind it other than the people that are actually in it.

    Did I want to go into detail on that? No. That is why I said “for what it is.” I think they are doing a great job. They are a small operation and are making the right kind of content for a small operation to be making. That is why it’s resonating with the audience.

  10. ok I watched the video you added and here’s what I thought….

    a little balloon popping music please…

    Shay by far was the best, guys got a future in acting – Lisa Nova really kinda sucks, it was smart not to give Phil too many lines and the WTB add was at least clever. Didn’t see and don’t know enough about the other tubers to say one way or the other, the pale guy has potential.

    – I’m pretty sure the writers were high when they wrote this and suspect they ripped off the concept from that John August (zefrank) zombie series that didn’t make it on NBC. sniff… sniff… do I smell a potential law suit?

    That said, I wish them luck, but this isn’t for me, I appreciate the more intellectual stimulating and subtleties of Mr. Deity, which I believe if You Tube were smart they grab this demographic quick and these folks, pay them well and promote them before HBO or Showtime wake up.

  11. @12 ok off topic
    Obama is more inspiring than marquedejolie ;p

    I got the feeling if they were offered all that stuff they’d jump on it.
    The thing itself struck me as a draft for want of bigger things and higher production values. Maybe I’m wrong, but I really thought that’s what they were all shooting for, the big break.

    Heck, every video I’ve ever put together was merely a draft in want of better equipment/software and an occasional pat on the back.

  12. @15- the second point

    Exactly! They all want a big break. Lisa Nova got one, and didn’t fare so well. Just because something is amateur and low-budget does not mean it has to suck. Since Nalts already mentioned the NYTimes in another post, let me direct you to another recent article. This one is about Spike Jonze. He got his start doing extremely low budget skateboading videos, but displayed such obvious talent and creativity that he soon moved to MTV, and later directed films such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation (which I saw one glorious day high on Vicodin–sweet!) Anyway, often those that “make it” display something new, something fresh that makes them stand out. It may be harsh to say to say that TheStation sucks or that some of the actors are horrible. It’s probably not completely true even. But like most of the fare on YT, it lacks that “something” that leads to future fame and success.

  13. Nalts,

    When it comes to sketch comedy, it can be a finicky thing, as Los Angeles is them home to two of the best groups (Groundlings/Upright Citizens Brigade) in the comedic world, which may play into Stations future talent pool. Saying that, Station has the potential to do some decent things just by location alone. But, it can go two ways:

    A) We see a early SNL/Not Read For Primetime Players, where we saw breakout performers like Chevy, Belushi, Ackroyd or Gilda, not to mention success outside of the YT universe

    B)We get a MADtv-esque product w/ reoccuring characters with no real breakout performers

    So far, ive been impressed with Shay and Lisa’s “Randy and Janet” sketches, DaxFlames apperance and thats about it. DeFranco is ok when he does solo vlogging or commentary, not acting in the “porn scene” sketch, I found it a turn off when dropping an AIDS joke, total poor taste even in this day and age. I think the same goes with Dawson, as he’s trying to strattle both his christian faith and the not so christian product he’s putting out on both his own channel and on Station, I expect him to drop out sooner than later even though he has said the opposite.

    Both Kassem and DaveDays have excellent product, these two may be the breakouts in large group sketch comedy. I see Dave in the Andy Samberg role ala Lonely Island/SNL, as someone who is multitalented in comedy/music, which will get doors opened for him. Kassem does great MOTS segments solo, but needs to hone his sketch skills. Elsewise, im not impressed with the rest of the bunch, I see them on for a short time and turning over for newer blood sooner than later(Charles Trippy as the group Bill Murray??), not to mention one of the better sketches was w/ an outside contributor (DaxFlame) and they’ve already brought in Bobby Lee for a future segment.

    DangerNation, OFF!

  14. My sister eats rocks. Sometimes her poop breaks momma’s toilet. I have to lace my sister’s grits with stool softener to keep the plumber out of my driveway.

  15. I believe they have already had a discussion about money (It was either in a video or on twitter) and I think it was soon after that Shane did leave. Maybe the money is to go towards all of their futures?
    They should just put any money received into a high interest bank account or something (I guess this is where trust would have to be ensured) and let it grow… Who knows.
    As far as liking them I do enjoy most of their videos so yes I like TheStation..
    They were a bit over hyped with the video where they were just on the street because it led to a Zombie video which I did like. Than to the YouTube HQ one which I really enjoyed.. I think that one was mostly the energy and just how it all went down, but than there were a few slow ones (adopt a hot chick // “terrorist”) they were okay. Great idea behind it didn’t hate it just seems it was a step down. Than the one about TV ads? or w/e with the start where Ryan kills Shane (That was really the best part of the video maybe the only good part? not sure on that).
    Either way I am just blabbing sorry..
    (I have to say I liked the Zombie intro because I edited myself into it.. lol)
    I guess I will shut up now.
    or not
    For what the station is I think it is great! So I guess I agree with #9/13 ^^^

  16. Hey nalts, you should watch one of Sxephils around 2:30,

    He explains about just having fun posting videos not mainly 100% BUSINESS or MONEY. Just watch it. Explains everything. My point is, there’s hope that The Station peeps don’t go GREEDY, well atleast not Phil. He sort of hit on ShaneDawson here for doing exactly what you’re talking about in here. Like, “why join the station n share wealth when i can make so much more money on my own.” You know, the douchefag money minded Shane.
    And yeah, Davedays needs to work on his acting.XD We’ll he’s just 18, he’ll develop with people like those around him everyday.

  17. Interesting article. Nobody knows online marketing as much as you. In my opinion they are getting the views that they are because of who the stars are, not for the content, which I am sad to say has not yet been that good. They are trying to use sex and shock value to get views when they don’t have to. In the end this type of content may hurt the individual youtuber’s reputations.

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