Why Netflix is courting YouTube stars for original family fare

Netflix plans to spend $5 billion on content in 2016 — and some of that budget is going to people who became famous by posting videos on the internet.

This week, Netflix announced a new original series with Cameron Dallas, who gained notoriety online by posting prank videos on Vine. The still-untitled project is an unscripted reality series that will follow the lives of Dallas and his family and friends. It’s the second original series Netflix has commissioned from an online video star. In January, Netflix announced a scripted series called “Haters Back Off,” which will tells the origin story of Miranda Sings, a character created by YouTube star Colleen Ballinger.

Netflix’s decision to greenlight shows from Ballinger and Dallas is part of a broader strategy to offer more teen-centric and family-friendly programming on its streaming service, the company told Digiday at VidCon, an online video conference. According to the company, its own research found that 40 percent of families watch movies and TV shows every day of the week.

It’s a big reason why Netflix has been aggressive in commissioning original programming like “Fuller House” and “Gilmore Girls: Seasons.” (Both projects, along with Ballinger’s “Haters Back Off” and Tina Fey’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” were on display at Netflix’s VidCon booth, which was situated alongside brands like Snickers and Kia.)

“Much of premium television today is rated TV-MA. And there’s been limited scripted broadcast television over the past 15 years designed for a broader audience,” said Brian Wright, director of original series for family and young-adult programming at Netflix, in an emailed statement. “We are really interested in elevating the YA and family space in TV. If you get it right, you don’t limit yourself to one demo — you can get a broad cross-section of kids, teens and adults.”

Netflix’s interest in working with the YouTube stars has increased “dramatically” from previous years, said Keith Richman, president of Defy Media. “They have recognized that there is true talent here and audiences who are willing to watch and pay for it.”

Of course, Netflix’s competitors are recognizing this, too. Hulu has two shows with YouTube star Freddie Wong, while Amazon recently made a play to get more content from YouTube networks and stars onto its video platform.

While Dallas’ and Ballinger’s shows are the first time Netflix has commissioned original series starring online video personalities, the streaming company is no stranger to the YouTube community. It has previously acquired movies and video series produced by YouTube networks stars in a second window — after the project had already aired on another platform. For instance, it was streaming Defy Media’s “Smosh: The Movie” two months after it premiered on iTunes last July. “They were out there looking for projects for the teen audience. We actively shopped it to a lot of people, and they were the highest bidder,” said Richman.

Other YouTuber-led content currently available on Netflix include the AwesomenessTV-produced TV series “Richie Rich” and movie “Expelled” (which starred Dallas), three seasons of Studio71’s series “Video Game High School” and 12 seasons of Rooster Teeth’s “Red vs. Blue.”

Studio71 is currently talking with Netflix about one of its upcoming projects, though no deal is in place as of yet, according to the company’s co-founder and president Dan Weinstein.

“They’re doubling down on content, period. Whether it’s kids programming, Adam Sandler or something else, there seems to be a new Netflix series every other day,” said Weinstein. By ordering shows from the likes of Ballinger and Dallas, Netflix is testing how they can “play in the YouTube space,” he said. “They have the money to experiment.”


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