Vlogging: The New Genre of Television Entertainment
The term, “YouTube,” connects the two words, “You” and “Tube” for a reason. It promises that “You” can be the star of your own television show. The video blog or “Vlog”, allows people to upload their own content and posts traditionally came in the form of video responses directly from a person’s webcam. This, of course, has evolved into highly polished and episodic programming.
Arguably, YouTube became the most popular platform when Google purchased it for 1.65 Billion (USD) in October of 2006. Yet there are alternatives to send friends videos like BlipTV, Daily Motion, Yahoo Video, Vimeo, Flikr, Veoh, Videojug, Photobucket, or Snagfilms. In addition, there are many mobile apps available called Vine, Videolicious, Instgram, and Snapchat. One of the most appealing options, is to let people edit their stories in real time as in the case of Videolicious or Snapchat. The opportunity to speak out, be heard or share with others might be some of the reasons the Vlogging format is so attractive. Perhaps, it is a symptom of a growing cultural narcissism much like the “selfie” where it mimics elements from the confessional segments of reality programming thus making the experience feel authentic and cathartic.
Though the form of a Vlog has become more polished, it is very entertaining. At it’s core, the venue affords independent voices the opportunity to lengthened threads of consciousness, discourse and inspire ideas. This article argues that the current entrepreneurial spirit of some vloggers has replaced YouTube’s fundamental purpose, which was to enable people to create a grass roots media movement or simply to showcase their digital gallerias.
So building a fan base from the ground up replaced the desire to assemble voices of dissent for the sake of social change. It is far more edifying to maintain customer loyalty by rewarding subscribers or viewers with free merchandise or inviting them to check out the latest technological doo-dads. Although these trend is continuing along with YouTube’s dominance, so has the diversity of channels and access. Due to this increased parity there is a new challenge for Vloggers or “YouTubers”, as they are commonly referred to, and that is to find new ways to stay relevant. Yet continuing to corrupting their content with corporate sponsorship filling up every corner of the video frame, doesn’t always ensure that their quotient of fans will keep increasing. Nevertheless, the Vlog is most certainly a post-modern form of entertainment that effectively rearranged the public’s relationship with television.
Getting a Handle on the Username
Beginning with the viral sensation “LonelyGirl15” in September of 2006, the value of user-generated-content in the arena of Web 2.0 was impossible not to envision. Though “LonelyGirl15” was later proved to be a successful publicity stunt, many viewed this as a unique opportunity and subsequently a market emerged.
The following selection of web hits: “The FineBros” (Benny & Rafi Fine), “Smosh” (Anthony Padilla & Ian Hecox), “Equals 3” (Ray Williams Johnson), “Pewdiepie” (Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg), “HolaSoyGerman” (German Garmandia) , and “JennaMarbles” (Jenna Marbles) are examples that have amassed a faithful audience. Yet other lesser known people with daily, weekly or semi-weekly properties such as “Comicbookgirl19” (Danika Lee Massey), “My Drunk Kitchen” (Hannah Hart), “Red Letter Media” (Mike Stoklasa, Jay Bauman & Rich Evans) or “The PBS Idea Channel” (Mike Rugnetta) might not get the global numbers but have satiated the tastes of some fickle millenials. Regardless, all of this programming is generating billions of views, millions of subscribers, endorsements–and fame has forced a conversation about what technically constitutes as television programming. Since online videos employ a mixture of strategies familiar to reality television, late night talk and the game show formulas, what audiences find so uniquely entertaining is sometimes difficult to see.
It is possible that a much more intense level of intimacy is established between the user and the YouTuber. And this is partially supported by Kerry Ferris’s (2001) discovered that there is a palpable need for, “television fans experience face-to-face encounters with celebrities”(p. 26). Each character has a unique testimony, viewpoint and appears more vulnerable when they express their opinions versus an actor reading lines. There are few examples that are provided in this essay that help to support this claim that web stardom might challenge expectations of celebrities in film and broadcasting. Though advertising has adapted to the different exhibition methods used online by throwing up brief ads before videos play, banner ads, sponsored ads disguised as actual articles or redirection links, television has not been very successful at releasing content exclusively online.
Netflix in particular has produced its own series such as “House of Cards”, “Orange is the New Black” and “Daredevil” that are receiving critical praise comparable to the stuff on HBO, Showtime and Starz. But many celebrities, news anchors, or other opinion leaders can disassociate from negative tweets by assuring fans that they are only part of a giant industry. However, standing alone in front of a camera against a backdrop of digital scenery, with either scripted or impromptu material, the schedule is always 24 hours 7 days a week distinguishes these stars from costly studio productions. Driven by subscribers that fill comment feeds with sometimes scathing criticism or insults, is a brutal way to fight for notoriety especially without the protection of studio system.
The success of this brand of user generated programming has attracted advertisers in an unprecedented scale. Each vignette and installment is bookended with brief commercials. Although they are not big budget campaigns, they are a diversified portfolio of ad packages sold by network agencies. But the serious YouTuber’s have concocted the best recipe for residual visitors, followers and dedicated subscribers that One example, Philip DeFranco (“The Philip DeFranco Show”), has restructured the schematics of the traditional television show and successfully modified it for the internet as a futuristic infomercial. The Vlogger is the product and it is designed specifically to redirect web traffic in their direction.
Talking Politics with Phillip DeFranco
In “The Philip DeFranco Show”, which began as a Vlog under the username sxephil debuted. It developed into a concisely edited mini-four to five minute show with Phil as the host that borrowed the format from many popular gossip shows like the E! Channel’s “The Soup.” As he faced the camera, DeFranco, managed to whiz through topics that were news stories of the day or week, (such as “the Douchebag of the Week”, that mocked the actions of inept alleged criminals or hero of the day known as the “Badass Mother-Fucker or BAMF for short), politics, sports, viral Internet phenomena, celebrity adventures and gossip, and/or any popular culture memes floating around. Originally the show would only air a few days a week, assuming due to the time it took Phil to produce the content. One of the key features of the show is its presentation, it abruptly cuts Phil’s monologue into rapid and seamless transitions from each facial expression and utterance to another. The respites between sentences are removed so that the address to his audience is instantly delivered thus tactically catered for the short attention spans of browsers, surfers, clickers, “tumblrs”and “stumblers”, etc.
While Nigahiga with Sean Fujiyoshi, Tim Enos and Tarynn Nago created their show “Off the Pill” that poked fun at Hollywood films, Phil maintained his focus on a issue-based dialogue with people on the “internets.” In 2012, he hosted a live feed from the Presidential Campaign where he appeared at both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and participated in various panels on live YouTube. But was a guest on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week that same year. So what separates Phil from many of his contemporaries however, is his is versatility and sheer tenacity to expand. The interesting case of Phil DeFranco is that he began his career and to some extent still does raise awareness and try to instigate meaningful discussions on some pretty heady issues. But it was always presented in a humorous way. In an early version of the show in 2009, Phil discusses topics such as gay marriage in a post titled “Sexy PETA Ad Angers Catholic Church”, he begins his show with:
Hey Internet it’s Wednesday December 2, 2009 and man, it’s not a good day for the gays. No parades today because the New York senate smacked down the legalization of gay marriage with a 38-24 vote, and this vote among many things makes me realize we are just waiting for the old and ignorant to die like Strom Thurmond, “God Bless his racist mother f—ckin soul.”Because when a representative in Washington is also the same guy that filibustered for segregation, you just have to wonder when you going to die? I know gays are scary to lot’s of people; all fire and brimstone and ass-less chaps. The gays are awesome!What is your stance on New York slapping down the legalization of gay marriage? It’s your question of the day. Guys that’s really all that mattered to me today this Wednesday my name is Philip Defranco and you have just been Philled In!
A video response from bwoodlaxr18 directly responds to Phil’s question:
Ok, so here’s my stance on the whole gay marriage thing, um you know I feel, you know I feel whether you are gay, straight, bi whatever you know, you are human you should have rights to be married, um I don’t know why gays would want to be married, though? Um, because all the experience I have with married couples I know you stop having sex. Is it the same with gay marriage, I don’t know
This back and forth between DeFranco and users has always been essential to his value added entertainment format. And not at all uncommon to most Vloggers interactions with fans. But he cultivated a secured a level of trust with fans so that they could participate and be heard. He was one of the few first YouTubers to engage with his audience on such a scale. In fact, the “Fine Bros” had a segment on one of their shows that was titled, “Teens React to Philip DeFranco”, and asked teens about their impressions of the show. “Adam” said I like him, while Sam says “it’s a very colorful set up, I like it.” Others remarked how he talked weird or fast while Eric, 15, claimed “I’m glad someone loves my face”. Then, each of them were asked “do you know who that was, and each kid responded with, “Philip DeFranco”. The next question asked how did you hear about it? Alix said probably from other YouTubers, while“Lia” had a lot of feedback where she said, “I was on YouTube and like the top rated stuff and he was on there and I couldn’t stop watching his stuff and I was like ‘Whoa this guy rocks’.” Finally, a question asked, “can you explain what he does, and Eric replied, “well, I kinda zoned out, but I definitely saw some hot chicks” and Adam is shown again saying, “basically he just tells the news.”
In 2016, after having a child and getting married, DeFranco continues to publicize his other Source Fed properties, and hawks merchandise. But he still tries to holds on to some modicum of social responsibility by compelling his Nation to think about “what mattered to him today.”
The PewDiePie Empire
PewDiePie has reached global levels of notoriety with over 42 million subscribers and is heralded as probably one of the richest YouTubers around; he has achieved rock star status. The Swedish native has a website that promotes a “PewDiePie Shop”, in addition to leading YouTube Red’s charge to create original content. His series, “Scare PewDiePie” premiered its first episode “Level 1: Let’s Play Doctor” on February 10, 2016 is roughly a 20-30 vignette that users must pay a subscription fee to YouTube Red in order to watch. But the branding effort for “Scare PewDiePie” is similar to that of any given new fall at network or cable broadcasting channel. In a format like NBC’s “Fear Factor,” PewDiePie is he encounters real life situations with the point of view of a video game character. PewDiePie started as a critic of video games and padded his reviews with plenty of swearing. His knack for comedy attracted fans, now referred to as his “Bro Army” that supported PewDie early on.
As with DeFranco’s “Nation”, these entrepreneurs have carefully cultivated followers or subscribers using language of inclusivity. Many YouTubers, regardless of level of their success, request that viewers leave their comments below or check our the links in the description. By encouraging user’s to participate, it creates the sense that each person feels that they somehow directly involved in the spread and awareness of the show. Patricia Lange (2007) referred to the way that users of video sharing sites are mostly lured by the topics and conversations within circuits of friends. Much of her assessment pivoted on users making the efforts to toggling between public and private settings on videos that permitted only smaller groups of people access. Currently, it appears that this might have changed with those using YouTube because of the potential to make money from ad agreements and fame by going viral. Although not as much money is at stake with highly viewed videos since now advertisers pay out more for viewers actually watching their commercials with the videos, the possibility of being recognized is still somewhat of a temptation.
It’s important to note that there are more moderately web talent are not as hugely successful. Because of the infinite channel space that places like YouTube afford, literally anyone can launch their next career. But it has contributed to an environment where micro-niches syphon off of the Big Time Vloggers’ traffic. This opportunistic sector has supported more original programming, with inspiring themes, but keeping their shows competitive requires that they are financially stable. Moreover, without more spending power, shows are unable to afford copyright or licensing costs to insert clips from films or other material from larger media publishing companies.
Comicbookgirl19 has had a tremendously difficult time trying to cover comic books or movies made from comic books because of redistribution consent or not paying royalties. In order to offset costs, and prop up production expenditures, Comicbookgirl19 and her partner created a calendar where she was dressed up in costumes of famous heroes and heroines as well as obscure monster movie creatures. Though her queen of the geek status seems to allow her to take some sexual liberties with her representations, it truly excites the fan boys. In one article, “She Makes Geek Chic”, she explains that because she is female it has been a bit harder to win trust with her male dominated audience. She said there was one instance when a “crusty classmate in high school [sic] literally gave me a written test at our local comic shop so I could prove my comics cred.” Moreover, Comicbookgirl19 has also made a concerted effort to stay involved in the Cosplay society and the diverse communities that crop up around the country’s various ComicCon events. Again, not that all folks in the YouTuber business don’t make public appearances, it’s just some do it in a spectacular way. She won the best dressed costume at the 2013 Dragon Con for an astonishingly accurate cardboard Robocop outfit! This really helps build relationships with fans, especially with those of such a subgenre.
As Ferris (2001) discovered that the dynamics of fan-celebrity encounters involve navigating the confusing waters on how to communicate with Star Trek fans where the lines of reality and fiction don’t blur . During one Star Trek convention a fan asked Kate Migrew, who plays Captain Milgrew on “Star Trek: Voyager” asked the question: “Do you ever take your character home?”. Milgrew responds with “You mean, do I ever walk into the kitchen and say Red Alert’ you little squirts!” (p.34). With Comicbookgirl19, there is no need to put on airs, or get star struck because she is more of a representative of a culture or group that on some level either strives for mainstream legitimacy or fortify it’s rejection of it. Other YouTubers like Hannah Hart, “My Drunk Kitchen”, have used their notoriety for philanthropic causes such as raising awareness about the struggles that the LGBT community face. The Berkeley grad Hart recently came out and publicly announced her relationship with fellow YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen in 2013. Though it is not a earth shattering notion that celebrities personal lives contravene their professionalism, the YouTuber’s identity is indelibly tied to their entertainment value. There is no life off camera especially for those that haven’t achieved the PewDiePie standard.
What Do We Call Online Entertainment?
The situation moving forward is that what is considered broadcast programming on television and shows distributed exclusively online or user-generated probably won’t be clarified anytime soon. However, it seems that YouTubers with video production skills, some business acumen and social networking literacy can occupy some space in the major media entertainment market. Reductionist arguments portray online popularity as much more democratic than it really is and that what we see on there is truly the result of people want. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Anything that is worthwhile online is economically constrained by shrinking channels of promotion, distribution, and production. Advertising has priced SEO results, YouTube features videos of the highest bidder, Large movie studios synergize their releases on sponsored channels, companies disguise promo-spots and tutorials as original content and unstructured data is gathered from the text in comment sections below.
Ferris, K. O. (2001) Through a glass, darkly: The dynamics of fan celebrity encounters”, Symbolic Interaction, 24, 1
James, E. (2015). Gay-YouTube-star-Ingrid-Nilsen-confirms-relationship-fellow-online-icon-Hannah-Hart-just-months-coming-three-million-subscribers-powerful-video. September 15
Lange, P. G. (2007). Publicly private and privately public: Social networking on YouTube. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 18.
Northcott, B. (2013). She makes geek chic. February 6. From:http://mancave.cbslocal.com/2013/02/06/interview-with-comic-book-girl-19/
 “Sexy PETA Ad Angers Catholics Church”, December 2, 2009 From http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKXGAIDCI-U&feature=plcp Retrieved
 “Sexy PETA Ad Angers Catholics Church”, December 2, 2009 From http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKXGAIDCI-U&feature=plcp Retrieved
Video Response from bwoodlaxr18 December 3, 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SB5xyaCDeVE&feature=watch_response
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