Freddie Wong Wants to Build the Next MTV (Maybe)

YouTube star: TV networks want us, but can't do what we do

Freddie Wong is one of biggest content creators on YouTube. His videos, which blend video game themes, action movies and cool special effects, have attracted millions of fans. And last year, Wong and partner Matt Arnold's original scripted series Video Game High School generated 55 million views. The show is coming back for a second season on July 25, with a bigger production and marketing budget. Expectations are high.

Adweek: You are coming back for a second season. Can you talk the response to season 1?

Wong: We had a very positive response. I’m going to sound a little ridiculous saying this, but it turns out people latch onto universes and worlds. We heard from fans saying, I wish my high school was like this! i feel like it really hit a nerve, especially with kids in middle school and high school saying, I wish the world was like this show. One of our stars, Harley Morenstein from Epic Meal Time tells us that kids yell at him on the street, as his character. “Stop being so mean!”

Can you talk about some of the comments you received?

One thing we kept hearing from fans is “I wish these episodes were longer. I can’t wait to get into this next week.’ I think with Hulu and Netflix and things like that, people are used to longer episodes. So we said, let’s not think about this as a Web series. Let’s make this a TV show. This should be no different than something on Netflix, HBO Go or whatever.

The thinking used to be Web shows had to be short, snackable.

I think that that was true a certain point. But thanks to Hulu and Netflix, that’s changed. When it comes to characters and storyline and, there is reason why television works. So we structured it just like a TV show.

Speaking of that, you’ve probably seen this outcry among agencies urging Web video companies to market better, like TV and movies do.

Yes. I think this represents a very interested step forward [in that regard]. So many times creators compromise when it comes to the Web. ‘It’s the Web, what do you care?” We take the Web extremely seriously. We think this is like cinema when it was first invented or TV. You‘re undercutting yourself otherwise.

You shot this in the new YouTube Space in LA. What was that like?

It was really a fortunate coincidence. We did a post-mortem on season 1, a dollar for dollar look at the cost of a Web series, from locations, effects, etc. We’re not a publicly traded company but we ply our trade in public. And we wanted to ask ‘how can we do things bigger, better smarter. One big issue that kept coming up was locations. L.A. is notoriously expensive for locations. And around this time, YouTube was about to open the space, and we asked ‘Could we be the first project in there?’ They were totally down with that. That allowed us to take the location costs and put them on screen.

You are distributing this show on YouTube as well as your owned site, What’s the difference?

We know that content gets needs to get out there. Our content will be consumed for free because that is what people are used to. So we need to make our money in other ways. In this case, we decided to try shooting portions of the show in 48 frames per second instead of 24. Sort of like The Hobbit. It makes the video game scenes look like video games. And that will be available on Rocket Jump. As far as we can tell, no show online or off has done this.

Could you see this becoming a TV show?