This week, Jack Vale will become one of the first YouTube stars to make the jump to a more traditional media outlet when HLN debuts Jack Vale:Offline, a reality series featuring the long-time video prankster and his sprawling family.
HLN is really getting three online stars for the price of one in Offline. Vale, 41, has been on YouTube since 2007, with Jack Vale Films, a prank-oriented channel with 1.2 million subscribers, and Jack Vale Live, a vlog with 170,000 subscribers.
Vale’s oldest son, 18-year-old Jake, is building his own significant YouTube presence, with 125,000 subscribers to his biggest channel, which is comedy-oriented.
Daughter Madysyn, 13, is a singer with a modest YouTube presence so far but in less than six months has built a 500,000-strong following on Facebook (which is pushing hard to become a major video presence). She will be releasing an EP of her music soon under the name Madysyn Rose. (If you want to feel old, just know that she marks her cover of Your Song as coming from Ellie Goulding, and only notes in passing that guy who wrote it, one Sir Elton John).
The HLN show will also feature Vale’s wife, Sherry (40,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel) and the rest of their five children, among others. Each show will document the family’s interactions, and the planning and execution of some of the video pranks that Jack Vale normally posts each week. The HLN series was shot in Las Vegas in a rented house late last year for several weeks, because Vale is fairly well known in the family’s hometown, Huntington Beach, Calif.
Vale said he got into making prank videos originally because he was trying to market a device that creates farting sounds. Nothing sophisticated here, but, hey, the Three Stooges had a good, long run too.
“The prank thing took off,” Vale says, turning into a business that has helped support his growing family. Now they’re trying TV together: “So we’ll use the kids and wife sometimes, but the show will be fun. We’ll collaborate more on pranks, work together as a team.”
Vale, who is strongly Christian, said he wanted to create a show that, like his online work, could be watched by family audiences. He cut the deal with HLN, he said, because he connected with executives Albie Hecht and Kari Kim there.
“The biggest thing to us was they really sort of grasped that a lot of people make a living on YouTube now, full time,” Vale said of HLN. “This is definitely a reality show, but also sort of a teaching tool, giving people an inside look at what the life is of a YouTuber.”
The new show debuts at 10 pm (ET and PT) Tuesday night on HLN, and will appear weekly for a six-week run, anchoring a group of new unscripted shows for the news-oriented network. The show also represents a change for Vale, and one of the highest-profile ways that YouTubers are exploring to make more money beyond the revenue shares they get from YouTube advertising.
After years of setting his own schedule on YouTube, it was a big, but welcome, change of pace working with a large production crew and his entire family.
But Vale – like a number of YouTube stars I’ve talked with – says he plans to stick with the place that made him a star, even as he diversifies.
“The reason I got the show in the first place was that I started to create a show about a guy who makes his living on YouTube,” Vale said. “I have no intention of leaving YouTube or stopping the making of YouTube videos. What I’d like to do is find a way to continue to mesh the two together.”
Figuring out what’s next in the dizzyingly fast-changing online video business is difficult, even for the successful.
The term “multi-channel network” – which describes a company that aggregates hundreds or thousands of individual YouTube channels such as Vale’s, then sell ads at higher CPM rates than YouTube – seems like an antique just a couple of years after it was the hot new thing. Now online-video companies describe themselves as “digital media companies” that have an MCN component. That MCN presence still serves several purposes: as a talent pipeline, a marketing channel to younger audiences and, still, a revenue source. But change is everywhere, for companies and creators alike.
Madysyn’s sudden emergence on Facebook, for instance, has been a surprising and encouraging development for the Vale family, but Facebook still doesn’t do a revenue share with creators even as it pushes into territory YouTube has dominated.
Vale acknowledges that: When he looks at the hundreds of thousands of Facebook views for each of Madysyn’s videos, he automatically calculates what those views would be worth on YouTube. The resulting income wouldn’t be huge (maybe $2,000 per million views), but big dollars for a 13-year-old singing covers of someone else’s music.
So, on to the next opportunity, without leaving the current one behind.
Vale, who is represented by Larry Shapiro at the Big Frame subsidiary of DreamWorks Animation’s online-video unit AwesomenessTV, is targeting what might be called a “sandwich” demographic. That’s the relatively tech-savvy audiences between 25 and 35, wedged between Millennials and GenXers, who are nearly as difficult to reach for traditional TV as their slightly younger siblings. The next step: trying to become one of YouTube’s first star to cross over to that wider world of entertainment.