As the digital video ecosystem has exploded over the past five years, it's given rise to a new kind of celebrity: Those who are able to amass large swaths of fans without having to be on a traditional media platform.
Now that the industry, along with advertisers, has accepted the importance of digitally-born stars, Time Inc. saw the perfect opportunity to extend its coverage of the traditional celebrity space into YouTube, Vine and Instagram. Announced during its NewFronts presentation, Time Inc. formally took the wraps off Instant, its new mobile-first video-only brand, during last week's VidCon. Instant launched with Degree Deodorant as the exclusive sponsor for the first six months; all the advertising will be either sponsored or branded content.
Instant, which is built exclusively for mobile consumption, though it can be viewed on desktops—caters to a growing fanbase that sees YouTubers like Lilly Singh in the same vein as a Jennifer Lawrence. But it's also for those older generations who may not be up to speed on the fast-growing ecosystem.
"The goal with Instant is for my grandmother to be able to go onto the site and enjoy herself and get caught up," said Instant editorial director Kirstin Benson. "These digital artists ebb and flow; some of them back out of the industry and there's new ones every day."
Instant will be run by Time's two celebrity and pop culture brands People and Entertainment Weekly and will also work with YouNow and Musical.ly.
Launching a new media brand in today's oversaturated world is akin to asking viewers to find a needle in a very large haystack. But Benson, who has experience launching new digital platforms after heading up WhoSay, says that using the clout of People and EW gives Instant a massive leg up. "The space is so crowded," she said. "Those two outlets help give us the street cred that we would need."
One way Instant will look to gain relevancy is to become the place that will unearth the next big digital star, which has become a key goal across the entire industry.
Two of Instant's series, You Should Follow and The Instant Mix, are dedicated to finding untapped talent. "We are literally crawling the internet," said Benson, who adds they're focusing on international talent as well. "Gen Z is really invested in feeling less isolated from the rest of the world." Benson's goal is have those people then credit Instant for giving them the exposure.
Instant wants to make itself sort of a morning newspaper for the digital ecosystem; its videos are no more than 60 seconds in length (though longer videos could show up on YouTube and Facebook). "It's meant to be digested as you're walking from the parking lot to the school," said Benson. "You might want to know what's just going on in the general world of digital stars and you don't necessarily have time to go through every single person's channel."
People and EW are also launching their own over-the-top streaming channel later this year, and Benson is already looking at ways Instant can be a part of that, perhaps even an Instant-branded series. "It seems like a natural fit," she said.