VidCon: YouTube stars mull transition to TV, audience-funded content

"It's great to start on YouTube and get your feet wet," says Shawna Howson of "Nanalew." "But while it's cool to create online, it's also cool to extend to people offline."

YouTube stars currently need the deep pockets of the television industry to create costly long-form content. But using audiences to fund content in the future is a contentious topic, according to stars at a VidCon panel Saturday.

Panelists agreed that television is a necessary step forward if YouTubers want to reach the next level. That’s because the financial resources in the television industry can afford YouTubers longer and higher quality content.

“The reality is that we can’t sustain long-form production in the current state of new media,” said Benny Fine of “TheFineBros” YouTube channel. “We could be doing a lot of great things, but the economics isn’t there, which is why we’re going to television. Long-form content on a sustained basis requires traditional media.”

“TheFineBros” channel has 8.8 million subscribers. The brothers, Benny and Rafi, are best known for their “react” video series, which includes episodes such as “Kids React to Gay Marriage.” The duo also has a media company, Fine Brothers Entertainment.


“There’s no reason not to create everywhere, including platforms like Netflix and Amazon,” Fine said. “Internet and television will merge at some point.”

But that’s not to discredit the audience that YouTube can build for lesser known creators, said Shawna Howson of the “Nanalew” YouTube channel. With well over 500,000 subscribers, the channel features Howson’s short films.

“It’s great to start on YouTube and get your feet wet,” Howson said. “But while it’s cool to create online, it’s also cool to extend to people offline.”

Television therefore represents an end goal because “you want to be exposed to as many people as possible,” she said.

Still, the audiences that creators generate online can be used as leverage during potential deals with brands or television networks, Howson said.

“Technically we don’t need anything from them because we have our audience and our show,” she said. “They’re seeing us as something they want to buy into. It’s not like the old way, when you brought a script and had nothing.”

But the role of audiences in funding content is still a subject of debate. While audience contributions could in theory fund long-form content, many of the panelists said they wouldn’t feel comfortable asking or charging.

“I’m not a fan of crowdfunding and I’m not at a point where I can ask people to pay for stuff,” said Anna Akana. Her YouTube channel features comedy videos and has nearly 900,000 subscribers.


“I would rather prove my worth to my audience than ask them to pay.”

Akana’s comments came two days after YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced that the company would introduce “Fan Funding,” a virtual tip jar that would allow viewers to tip up to $500.

In an ideal world, Howson said she would use brand deals to fund her work.

“If I could take a brand deal a month, I would. Then I could pocket the extra money and put it into a new film and not have to ask for anything from my audience,” she said.


Twitter: @madeline_oh