February 14th, 2005 wasn’t just another run of the mill Valentines Day filled with cheap flowers and candy. It was YouTube Live day. YouTube changed the world of media because it allowed anyone to post their very own filmed content and share it to the world wide web. At first, it was a slow start since internet speeds were still at caveman levels and the camera technology wasn’t there. As technology grew, so did content on YouTube and with it came birth of the social media star. You see back in the day people that were “celebrities” earned the status through being an award-winning actor like Tom Hanks or an athlete like Kurt Warner. Now people could earn celebrity status by hitting themselves in the genitals or cooking a roast topless. If you would have told me 30 years ago that people could become famous doing this I’d probably laugh at you because it sounds ridiculous. But it’s not.
It got to the point where talent agencies like CAA and William Morris created Social Media departments. For a talent agent, it was easy to discover social media talent because it is a simple formula. The more followers they have the more talent they probably have, so we should go ahead and sign them. Youtube even created its YouTube Red to create shows by and staring their social media stars aka people with tons of followers.
The production company, Fullscreen, devoted all its time to investing and creating their own original content around these stars too. For a super hot second, like a drop of water surviving in the realms of hell, it looked like these social media influencers were going to be the next generation of Emmy and Oscar winners of the entertainment world.
But then tinsel town reminded us its age-old proverb that in Hollywood the “talent talks” and if that’s true these social media stars were speechless. The industry quickly found out that a lot of these social media stars just couldn’t make the transition. They were like silent film stars being thrown into a full-blown musical. YouTube Red lost money on their YouTube Red experiment and the only successful show they created was “Cobra Kai” which doesn’t feature only internet celebs. Fullscreen produced a few original shows, one staring Brandon Rodgers who has over five million followers on YouTube, but it was quickly canceled after only two short seasons. Fullscreen eventually shut down its productions and transformed over to a social media talent management company. The problem is that industry people are blinded by the number of followers. In their mind its a simple science if you have over a million followers you must be famous right? Also if I make a sitcom starring you and charge all your followers one dollar to watch it, I’ll make easily one million dollars.
It just doesn’t work, because why would I pay to watch when I already get to see it for free online. Nowadays the only way these social media stars make money is just advertising products on their channel.
Now after that you’d have thought the industry would have learned its lesson, but instead the social media “follower virus” mutated. Actors have told me that they have had meetings with managers and agents that the follower’s question will come up. Because now, for some reason, an agent/manager thinks that followers mean talent.
You could literally make a video of yourself staring at a boiling pot of water for 3 hours holding a sign that said “not talented,” but if it gets a million likes and views, Hollywood will think you’re the next Tom Cruise. You’ll probably get signed to a blue chip agent that week and get your own show “Boiling Times.” Back in the day agents and managers use to go to plays, sketch comedy, and stand up shows looking for new talent. Now they just sit back and run a search to see who’s got a ton of followers, overlooking the true hard working actor that’s going through the grind of Hollywood. I can only hope that someday soon that agents/managers will be released from this followers matrix and get back into the real world of finding undiscovered talent.