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Screen Wars

L.A.’s the place for YouTube stars seeking wider fame

Queena Kim Nov 19, 2014
Screen Wars

L.A.’s the place for YouTube stars seeking wider fame

Queena Kim Nov 19, 2014

If you keep track of this stuff, you might have noticed quite a few YouTubers crossing over into the mainstream lately. They’ve landed network TV deals and spots on reality shows. Then there’s Michelle Phan, who spun her Internet fame into a line of cosmetics for L’Oreal.

The success of stars like Phan has inspired YouTubers like Meg DeAngelis to make the pilgrimage to Los Angeles – which is emerging as the center of YouTube entertainment business – in search of Internet gold.

A college dropout, DeAngelis started making videos in eighth grade when she was into gymnastics. Her early videos show her executing backflips and other tumbling moves. The videos are washed out, the sound is distant. They look like clips of a young girl just having fun.

I started by posting videos that were like my hobbies,” DeAngelis says. “Stuff that wasn’t meant to be like a genre or a channel.”

But the videos got of tens of thousands of hits, and DeAngelis kept making them. She might have just kept posting videos as a hobby,  but things changed last year when she came to Los Angeles to visit a fellow YouTuber.

“She kinda took me around L.A., and I met so many other YouTubers,” DeAngelis says. “It was weird to me, too. And to find out they all live close to each other and hang out was really cool. I just wanted to be a part of that whole bubble.”

So DeAngelis dropped out of college in Florida and moved to L.A. to join a growing community of 20-somethings who are trying to make it as YouTube stars.

“I like putting an insane amount of music in it,” DeAngelis says, showing how she edits her videos. These days, her videos are far more polished and mostly about fashion. One shows DeAngelis modeling fall accessories that she made.

What does it mean to DeAngelis to “make it” as a YouTuber? Would it be a role on television or in a movie?  Being cast on reality TV, like Bethany Mota, who got on “Dancing with the Stars”? But DeAngelis says she’s not interested in acting.  

I really want to have a clothing line because so much of my show is about fashion,” she says.

For YouTubers, making those goals come true often starts at a place like Awesomeness TV, one of a growing number of multi-channel networks on YouTube.

Awesomeness is housed in a large converted warehouse in West L.A. Anybody can start a channel and post videos on the network, but at the same time, Awesomeness TV also creates original videos that feature YouTubers.

“So much of what we do is in-house,” says Jackie Koppell, head of talent development for Awesomeness. “So we have editors, we have a production team, we have reality, the sales team.”

When DeAngeles came to Awesomeness, she had about 250,000 subscribers, according to Koppell.

About eight months later, that number has grown to 1.3 million subscribers, Koppell says.

Awesomeness helped DeAngeles accomplish that by plugging her into its shows.

“We have her in a scripted show with Royal Caribbean, where she went on a cruise,” Koppell says. These “branded shows” are paid for by companies that want to promote their goods.

And then we also have her in some of our more beauty-focused content like “Makeup Mythbusters,” that’s a show she sorta helms,” Koppell says.

And remember, this isn’t to launch DeAngelis into an acting career but to get her a clothing line.

Many people mistakenly think of YouTubers as “talent” in the Hollywood sense of the word – as in actors, says Lisa Filipelli, vice president of talent at Big Frame, an independent subsidiary of Awesomeness.

“They’re influencers, not talent,” Filipelli says. “Talent is a person who just shows up to set, and they do what they do and then they’re done.”

An influencer is someone who is constantly engaging with their audience  whether it’s on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. And Filipelli says these influencers get their audience to talk about stuff and increasingly get people to buy stuff, too.

“There’s YouTubers on the New York Times best-seller list and selling out tours and selling massive amount of product in stores,” Filipelli says. 

YouTubers are disrupting almost every segment of the teen-consumer market, according to Filipelli. For example, instead of fashion magazines, teens are increasingly turning to YouTubers for beauty and fashion tips.

With more advertising money moving from television to video, that trend will accelerate, Filipelli says.

Back at DeAngelis’ apartment, she’s still waiting to make it. She won’t reveal how much she makes at Awesomeness, but says she mostly lives off her savings.

“When I was living with my parents I didn’t pay rent, and so I just saved a lot,” she says.

DeAngelis worked odd jobs and also made money off advertisements that ran on her YouTube videos. If she runs out of money, she’ll probably go back to college, she says. And while she’s hopeful about future opportunities, she is also aware that her time might be limited.

“I can’t do Vine, Snapchat or like any of the new apps, like I can only do Twitter and Instagram and the basic ones,” she says. “And it almost feels like I’m getting really old.”

How old, exactly?

“I’m 19.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Jackie Koppell’s last name. The text has been corrected.

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