Coming soon: Shows from top social media stars, with a plug for AT&T

AT&T wants its own in-house stable of social media stars.

The wireless carrier is teaming up with YouTube network Fullscreen to launch AT&T Hello Lab, a new program aimed at helping social video stars create all sorts of content, including video series, albums, podcasts and live events. Instead of the content supporting one specific AT&T campaign or another, the idea is to develop and fund original ideas with various social stars — with the AT&T brand and products showing up in a less obtrusive manner.

“Today’s influencer-brand relationships are too transactional in nature,” said Valerie Vargas, vp of advertising and marketing communications at AT&T. “Too often, [influencers act as] hired guns asked by brands to promote a new product. We want to flip that on its head by making a long-term commitment to the community.”

AT&T is recruiting up to 10 different social media stars to enter a yearlong commitment with Hello Lab with the goal of producing 10 projects. Five have already signed up, including YouTuber Grace Helbig, former basketball player and current Instagram comedian Brandon Armstrong and Snapchat star Shaun McBride. Only one project has been announced: a travel series called “Dare to Travel” starring YouTubers Damon and Jo. The eventual goal is to build Hello Lab into a larger network that regularly funds and supports all types of social stars.

Vargas likens it to another program at AT&T called the AT&T Foundry, which works with tech companies and developers to launch new apps and services for the AT&T wireless network. “We want to be known as a company that’s willing to invest in young entrepreneurs who are garnering large and growing communities,” she said.

AT&T promises to keep its branding at a minimum, but it won’t be completely absent. The influencers will use AT&T phones and services to shoot and upload the content. Hello Lab will also organize live meetups for fans, which might take place at AT&T stores or other branded locations. It will all vary based on the type of content the creator is making, said Vargas.

“They’re letting us individually craft the content we’re making. They get that their involvement is secondary to the content itself,” said Helbig, who’s currently developing her project but declined to share specifics. “I can’t say for sure how I’ll be using an AT&T phone at this point.”

Hello Lab comes out of a longstanding partnership between AT&T and Fullscreen, which previously partnered on a social media reality series called “@SummerBreak” and the Snapchat series “SnapperHero.” AT&T also has an ownership stake in Fullscreen through Otter Media, its video-focused joint venture with Hollywood mogul Peter Chernin’s The Chernin Group.

Hello Lab will be overseen by a “handful” of members from AT&T’s emerging platforms marketing team working in tandem with Fullscreen’s 12-person Strategic Content Group. The latter was launched by Fullscreen to create shows and franchises that can be interactive and live on multiple social platforms.

@SummerBreak” is cited as an example of the type of content Hello Lab wants to create. It aired episodes on YouTube but had additional content for Instagram, Snapchat, Vine and other platforms. Fans were also encouraged to interact with the stars as the storylines progressed. To date, the series has done over 150 million views over three seasons, according to AT&T and Fullscreen, and will begin its fourth season later this year.

“When the stories are told across platforms, they’re bi-directional in nature — fans can speak to the creators and the creators can speak back,” said Bryan Thoensen, svp of Fullscreen’s Strategic Content Group. “We want the fans engaging and help drive the storyline.”

Image via Gage Skidmore