Stephanie Horbaczewski's company, StyleHaul, manages 5,000 YouTube stars who dazzle 60 million viewers a month with watch-'em-and-learn videos such as "My Shower Routine!" and "2 Ways to Get Princess Jasmine's Hair."
The YouTube videos, sponsored by the likes of L'Oreal and Banana Republic, delve into fashion, beauty and the lives of women under 35. They generate income for both the stars and StyleHaul. The Los Angeles-based company doesn't release financial information, but claims revenue has tripled in the last year.
Now StyleHaul's top personalities are seeking more than just online stardom. StyleHaul and several companies like it are helping their video bloggers leap to leading roles on television and movies. The bigger screens come with prestige, millions of new viewers and larger paydays.
StyleHaul recently signed a deal with the Oxygen cable network, Trium Entertainment and Lentos Brand to create a reality series featuring StyleHaul stars, tentatively titled "Survival of the Clickiest." Horbaczewski hopes the increased credibility, visibility and financial stability that television offers on-air personalities flows its way too.
"You come at it as: How do we create something to excite our existing audience while bringing over a new audience?" she said.
Though online advertising spending is growing, television remains supreme. Some entertainment industry analysts predict that television shows will become indistinguishable from the Web videos. That future isn't imminent, but the Oxygen deal is among a growing list of experiments laying the foundation for widespread crossover between YouTube and traditional Hollywood.
Cameron Dallas, for example, known for his funny clips on the six-second-video-sharing app Vine, starred in the movie "Expelled" late last year. After a limited run in theaters, it sat on the iTunes top 10.
Online comedian Grace Helbig debuts a prime-time talk show on E! in April. BET has ordered a pilot based on a YouTube series about young black women called "Twenties." YouTube prankster Jack Vale wrapped up a behind-the-scenes series on HLN on Tuesday.
The Web stars "view TV as the ultimate graduation," Amy Powell, president of Paramount Television, said at a recent conference.
For StyleHaul and its ilk, TV advertising dollars are a major draw. Online video ads are expected to hit near $8 billion this year, according to Emarketer — but TV advertising will total $71 billion. And television's continuing appeal to female viewers over 35 provides a potential new audience for StyleHaul.
"Where is the young adult audience going to next for content?" Horbaczewski said. "Figuring out what they want to watch is what we're after...."
StyleHaul is scheduled to unveil additional shows at this spring's NewFronts, a gathering of advertisers and digital media companies.
Despite her current enthusiasm for TV, Horbaczewski wasn't thinking in that direction when the television production firm Trium Entertainment approached her last year about co-producing a show. Horbaczewski, a former marketing director at retailer Saks Fifth Avenue, yelped.
"Whoa, that's scary. I'm not putting my creators in that situation," she thought, because horror stories about the cutthroat television industry gave her the chills.
But she realized that the mothers who watch television must be curious about why their children spend hours watching YouTube. To give moms a taste, a show about online stars juggling the demands of everyday life seemed like an "amazing" idea, she said.
Oxygen's decision whether to air the show will hinge on the reaction of network executives to the first episode. But the show's expected celebration of millennial entrepreneurs fits with the channel's recent push to cater to "young, multicultural women."
StyleHaul's TV aspirations already received a big boost — and Horbaczewski's purse widened — when the company was bought in November by RTL Group, one of Europe's largest TV and radio broadcast companies, in a deal that valued the 4-year-old start-up at close to $200 million. RTL's empire includes FremantleMedia, the studio known for "The X Factor."
FremantleMedia Executive Vice President Gayle Gilman says she was bowled over when she first met Horbaczewski.
"She was moving 100 mph, and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is a woman who is going to make things happen,'" Gilman said. "She's a force of nature."
Horbaczewski, 36, had the idea for StyleHaul after reading a Fast Company magazine article in 2010 that's become a keepsake in her bedroom. In the story, actor and producer Ashton Kutcher talked about the nascent rise of "branded short-form content" — 25-minute-or-less videos that incorporate advertising, subtly or not. Her early thoughts are scribbled in the margins.
In conjuring StyleHaul, she spent two months identifying YouTubers whose videos about wardrobe and makeup tips raised the most views. She told them that as a team, their collective effort would generate stacks of data for increasing viewership — making adjustments on things as simple as video titles.
Another lure: StyleHaul would introduce branded content, so the YouTube stars would have another way to make money besides the TV-style advertisements that display before or during videos. Advertisers highly value sponsored videos because viewers treat it as a product recommendation from a friend, which tends to spur more sales than an impersonal product placement.
On a recent Friday, hair-products maker Schwarzkopf sponsored a 13-minute video on "Big Voluminous Long Lasting Curls" by StyleHaul videomaker Carli Bybel. It reached more than 76,000 views within hours of appearing on her YouTube channel "The Beauty Bybel."
"So the No. 1 step, and the most important in my opinion, is to use a heat-protectant spray," Bybel says in the video as she wields a Schwarzkopf shine spray.
YouTube celebrity Kayley Melissa does "hairtorials" sponsored by Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine. In one four-minute episode, she advises on "how to style your hair during humidity," an endeavor that according to Melissa requires four different Garnier products. Such StyleHaul marketing campaigns spread across seven social networks, including Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.
The transition from social-media apps to the rigors of television won't be one that every YouTuber can pull off, industry experts say. But StyleHaul leaders are betting on their stars' versatility and dreams to attract viewers anywhere.
"It's a great time to be in the online world," StyleHaul's Chief Content Officer Mia Goldwyn said. "We're in a unique position to optimize a YouTube strategy, a digital strategy and now a television strategy."