If you're a casual browser of the Web, or just a TV-first person, you might not be paying close attention to the torrent of original video content floating around YouTube. For brands, however, the throngs of madly devoted YouTube subscribers are becoming harder to ignore.
Take FreddieW, the geek-friendly YouTube channel that bills itself as "just some cool dudes making sweet vids with rad FX!" While the bro-y tagline might not scream mainstream, FreddieW's numbers do. With 4.6 million subscribers and almost 800 million views across YouTube, FreddieW recently inked a sponsorship with Dodge, which will have a featured role in the second season of the company's popular Video Game High School series. And if blue-chip car sponsors weren't enough, the YouTube sensation just raised $808,341 off of 10,613 backers on Kickstarter, setting a record in the film and video project category.
Freddie Wong, the creative force behind the channel, initially looked down more traditional avenues for funding before deciding on the crowdfunding route. "We looked at private equity but then got to thinking, 'Why should we give up a piece of our company when we can get it funded elsewhere?' It became difficult to justify when we thought we could raise it through the fans."
Initially, Wong was nervous about reaching the fundraising goal. He needn't have been; the first installment of VGHS raised a remarkable $273,725 on Kickstarter, which led Wong and company to try to more than double that the second time around. "We kind of took a little bit of a risk here. Like putting it all on black, except the roulette wheel was already pretty black," he told Adweek.
While growing in popularity, original YouTube content has yet to carry the prestige of TV. While the record support for VGHS means Wong will be able to expand the scale of the series, for marketers it demonstrates the kind of passionate fandom that could drive top-tier brands and advertisers to YouTube in droves. FreddieW's distribution company Collective Digital Studio is in talks with other potential sponsors on the heels of the Dodge partnership.
And while Wong and his team have reached out to sponsors to participate in the project, they are doing so with the strictest standards. "We are video consumers first and foremost, and we hate anything appearing in the videos that isn't organic," Wong said. "We are not frou-frou creative types. We have done both sides of the business and are constantly asking ourselves, 'How are we going to pay for this?' But the criteria is that it must fit with our world."
For Dodge and others that make the cut, the exposure is hard to argue with. For some, YouTube still bares the stigma of toxic comment walls and insipid homemade videos. While it hasn't proved to be a problem for FreddieW and others, the low barrier to entry on YouTube means that original Web series' like VGHS could still have some way to go before dominating mainstream consciousness. For those looking to capture a young, devoted and tech-savvy audience though, the numbers are beginning to look pretty tempting.