If it feels like the online media business is in the middle of a gold rush, you’re right. The latest example: three former Google/YouTube executives and the co-creator of an Emmy-nominated app this morning publicly launched Victorious after operating in stealth mode most of the past year. It’s a platform that lets online stars create their own personally branded mobile apps. It brings together their Website and online feeds not just on YouTube, but on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and other sites, while letting them wrap advertising, e-commerce and merchandise sales around their content. It also makes it easy for fans to remix and share content by and about the star with other fans on the app and beyond. The company is led by CEO Sam Rogoway, Chief Creative Officer Bing Chen and CTO Michael Todd, with Executive Chairman Dean Gilbert, who most recently was one of YouTube’s top executives as VP, Global Head of Content and Operations.
The company already has signed deals with high-profile YouTubers Michelle Phan, Boyce Avenue and Ryan Higa, the kind of prominent digital stars who may be making solid money through their share of ad dollars attracted by their big YouTube followings, but also through appearances in fan festivals, merchandise sales, content licensing and more. Typically, such stars have an online presence on more than one social-media platform, but no actual control of the fan base they build there. Rogoway and Chen say the digital stars are essentially “renting” their audience on existing platforms, and may be challenged to make money directly from their feed on Twitter, Vine, Instagram and other services. The Victorious product helps unify access to that digital presence, bringing all those sites together in one place on a fan’s mobile device, then adding a range of other services, options and ways to allow them to make money while also building a closer relationship with their best fans.
“We can pull in media and centralize assets for a creator’s hub” on the star’s own personally branded Victorious-based app, said Rogoway, co-creator of Emmy-nominated app Braindex and founder of a social travel site called TripUp since bought by Kayak.com. “They also can publish exclusive content there.” Other features include the ability to create fan polls.
“It’s for the super (fan) communities of the superstars,” said Chen, who recently left his YouTube job heading creator development and management (essentially, YouTube’s chief talent builder). “When you become your own business, you want your own brand.”
Fans will be able to remix text, photos, videos, animated GIFS, even digital “stickers” connected with the star, Rogoway said, providing a way to build stronger two-way connections with the superfans that have been driving big online audiences for some stars and properties. For those superstars who are big enough to qualify for the Victorious app technology, it’s free to use, though the company will money through a revenue share on some income the app can generate, divvied up based on a sliding scale.
The new service also attempts to capitalize on the latest evolution in what it means to be a big name online. In 2011, everyone was trying to stack up millions of followers, without considering whether that big number actually measured a deeper connection between star and audience.
“Three years ago, it was all about reach,” Rogoway said. “Today, we’re talking about fans.”
Indeed, veteran tech industry analyst Mary Meeker in her annual State of the Internet report earlier this month succinctly voiced the current trend: “fans trump audiences.” Not everyone agrees completely. Audiences mean lots of bodies, fans mean bodies who care a lot. Finding a way to reach, and satisfy, both is increasingly important for a sustainable online entertainment business.
“I don’t think we’re in a hits-driven business,” Rogoway said. “We’re in an engagement-driven business. It’s not just a place to watch and leave.”