Sunday, May 31, 2015

All the young dudes

There’s one thing about YouTube that I admit I simply don’t get: The massive popularity of young guys, cute as a button, often gay, and none of them seeming to have done anything else. Why are they so popular?

YouTube is enormously popular with young people. It attracts more adults 18-34 than any cable TV network, according to Business Insider. They go on: “Nearly half of people in this age group visited YouTube between December 2013 and February 2014, according to Nielsen. It was rated by millennials as the top place to watch content, ahead of digital and TV properties like Facebook and ESPN.”

According to Digiday, in March 2015, “YouTube drew 31.8 million users aged 18 to 24 (98.3 percent of U.S. Internet users in that age bracket).” That’s a massive audience of young people. They also spent an average of 10 hours, 15 minutes on the site.

So, the young dudes and dudettes on YouTube start out with a big potential audience—far bigger than there would be for channels targeting older people. In March 2015, Digiday said, YouTube “attracted 19.4 million visitors 65 and older (74.4 percent of Internet users in that demo) who spent an average of 3 hours, 54 minutes using the video-streaming service”. So, it’s not just about numbers of potential viewers, it’s also about how much they watch.

Young people are accustomed to living their lives online, so getting their entertainment and information there is natural for them, less so for older people. There’s also a distinct pro-gay spirit at YouTube, which may help to explain all the young gay guys. But there’s also a long history of young teen girls going mad for pretty, non-threatening boys (look at the history of magazines aimed at young teen girls for more about that).

So, maybe it’s not surprising that some of those young YouTubers are hugely popular, even if most of us 35+ folks have never heard of them. Consider just one example among many, Joey Graceffa. I’d never heard of him until the other day when a young gay YouTube star I’ve watched for years, Tyler Oakley, shared a video where he was mentioned. It turned out to be a comedic reaction to the music video up top in which Graceffa shares a kiss with another young man.

That video is fine as such things go, and the kiss was kind of sweet, but the reaction turned out to be widespread. I noticed that the main page for Yahoo! featured this story from Huffington Post: “YouTube Star Joey Graceffa Comes Out As Gay In Magical Music Video”. I’d never heard of him until that night, and suddenly he seemed to be all over the place.

A quick Google search turned up another story, “Joey Graceffa Came Out In His Music Video For ‘Don't Wait,’ And It Is Basically The Millennial Fairy Tale We've All Been Waiting For”. Okay, then.

It turns out that Graceffa has 4,679,677 subscribers. That’s more subscribers than there are people in New Zealand. That’s pretty impressive.

It also turns out that Graceffa, like several other young YouTubers, has a book deal. In fact, the music video pre-empted the coming out he’d planned for his book, as he explained in a follow-up video he posted (below). Tyler Oakley, among the biggest of these young YouTubers, also recently announced he’s doing a book, and I’ve seen references to several other doing books, too.

A few months ago, one of my fellow podcasters, younger than me but just above the main age demographic for these videos, expressed disbelief at how hugely popular these young YouTubers are. I understand why he felt that way, of course, but I’ve come to realise that their popularity feeds on itself and gains them more popularity (and money, to be honest). It’s also the reason so many of them ended up with book deals: Publishers wanted to cash in on the young YouTubers’ enthusiastic fanbase—millions of potential purchasers.

In the end, this is really all about demographics: These young YouTubers are in the same age demographic as their core audience and can speak to them with authenticity. Most of them are also fun to watch, with most of their videos less than four minutes long—perfect for modern attention spans (including mine). Add it all up, and it's not surprising that they’re as popular as they are, or that at such young ages so many are getting book deals to tell their life stories.

As someone in an older, under-represented YouTube demographic, I may not instinctively get these young YouTubers’ popularity or success, but intellectually I can completely understand. Still, how many of them will have lasting careers because of this YouTube fame?

Until recently, I’d never heard of Joey Graceffa, which is precisely why I decided to use him as an example of what I’m talking about. It’s probable that most of us, especially the older we are, haven’t heard of him, or most of the other young YouTube stars, either. Such is the nature of Internet fame.

So, I wonder through all this, what happens when their fame fades away? And, I wonder, who will tell that story?

Related: Last year the Daily Mail ran a story on some of the biggest young UK vloggers on YouTube.

No comments: