Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney Channel: Watch your back.
While it’s been challenging enough for the cable channels to get tweens to watch, now another player is going after them where they live—on YouTube.
Last week saw the debut of Awesomeness TV, a YouTube channel aimed at 12-to-17-year-olds and featuring original programming including The View-esque teen talker IMO; Crazy I Say!, with 5-year-old comedian Zay Zay (a video featuring Zay Zay and his little brother Jo Jo reenacting Chris Brown and Drake’s recent throwdown at a New York club earned 10,000 views in just three days); and That Was Awesome, a sports show hosted by NBA star Blake Griffin.
Sketch comedy and music also make up much of the Awesomeness programming slate. And coming later this month is the scripted high school drama The Runaways.
Awesomeness is the brainchild of Brian Robbins, a veteran writer, director and producer who has shepherded young-skewing shows on Nickelodeon (All That, The Amanda Show) and The CW (Smallville, One Tree Hill).
It probably says something that a well-established TV veteran like Robbins would make such a move. But Robbins has seen firsthand the power of the YouTube audience. He’s behind bringing the hugely popular, high-pitched Fred from the Web to Nickelodeon to a feature film.
Plus, Robbins said his own 12- and 14-year-old boys viewing habits have had a major influence on his decision. The boys do watch some live sports on TV, but otherwise stick to the Web, and “always have their damn phones in their hands. As a guy who makes content, I hate that, but I can’t change that. It’s not the programming that is bad, it’s just what is disrupting it. So we need to serve it up in a different way.”
The Runaways has the potential to have the most disruptive effect. Based on early clips, the show looks like it could easily run on The CW or ABC Family. And it’s being made relatively cheaply.
“There’s room for all of us,” Robbins said. “Nickelodeon has a big audience online. They’ve invested a lot. But with shows like The Runaways, that’s where those guys are in trouble. They’ve got infrastructure cost. We’re lean and mean.”
Brent Weinstein, head of digital media at United Talent Agency, stopped short of claiming that networks like Nick and Cartoon should be panicked over launches like Awesomeness. But he did make an interesting, less-than-obvious comparison for the channel: Machinima, the mega-successful YouTube channel focused on gaming. “They’ve proved that you can take a rabid, large audience, one that is underserved with traditional media, and do it well at scale; that you can have a lot of success,” Weinstein said. “From an advertiser’s perspective, there’s never been an abundance of offerings for tweens. Online, they’ve been very disaggregated. But this is a large, passionate demo.”
Awesomeness is not the only company going after tween YouTubers. About two months ago, Alloy Digital launched Shut Up Cartoons, which has scored 27 million views to date. One Shut Up show, Pubertina, appears to have broken out among tweens and teens. The show, which deals with the embarrassing travails of an 11-year old girl (and features many visuals of a doll with period stains on its crotch) has inspired young girls to create tribute videos, homemade art, temporary Pubertina tattoos, attesting to the growing number of “puberlievier” fans in social media, including 4,200 Twitter followers. Episodes have generated anywhere from 500,000 to 1.8 million views.
Alloy Digital evp Barry Blumberg said that no decisions have been made yet on a second season of Pubertina, but a TV show or movie are not out of the question. “We are looking to microserve on YouTube, and we found a creator who spoke to this audience.”
That creator is 26-year-old Emily Brundige, who created Pubertina as part of her Master’s program at California Institute of the Arts. “I never thought it would ever be shown," she said. "The subject is too taboo, too icky. I would never have tried to bring it to TV."