Vlogging Killed the TV Star: YouTubers Hit the Big Time

By Marc Young

Honest and often raw, video blogs – or vlogs – on YouTube are drawing bigger audiences than many television programs. But is success threatening to make online entertainment become more like professional TV productions?

Shay Carl Butler used to be just a regular family guy from Idaho, installing granite countertops in people’s kitchens for a living. Then he discovered YouTube and everything changed.

Shay Carl Butler in an interview with Forbes magazine

I remember looking up and seeing that the sun had come up and that I had been on YouTube all night long. I thought it was amazing! I could type in just about anything that I thought was cool and watch a video of it.

He started uploading his own videos and was soon hooked on vlogging, as video blogging is known. Now a decade later, Butler has become one of the most popular and successful vloggers on the web. In October, he even released the feature-length film ‘Vlogumentary’, a behind-the-scenes look at the vlogging world, in collaboration with seasoned documentary maker Morgan Spurlock.

Morgan Spurlock in an interview with HollywoodLife.

I think after this film you start to get it, you understand the attraction and why the fans are so connected to these people in such a deep and passionate way.

As you’ve probably noticed, YouTube isn’t just for moody teenager confessionals and funny pet videos anymore. No, it’s become a major source of information and entertainment in its own right, contending with cable TV and other media for our fleeting 21st-century attentions spans.

While ageing Gen Xers might seek out an instructional video to figure out how to fix their car’s broken headlight (I speak from personal experience here), younger millennials are helping create an entirely new ecosystem of video stars and programming. In fact, a recent study showed people aged 18-34 preferred YouTube to traditional TV as their video content provider of choice by a factor of nearly two to one.

Of course, much of YouTube’s charm comes from its authenticity and often raw vibe. Vlogs can be goofy, sad or serious – but they’re almost always deeply personal. Still, make no mistake: Amateur hour is over. Butler, the wildly successful Swedish YouTuber PewDiePie and the popular Canadian star Lilly Singh all command audiences of millions of people around the world.

“I think is why YouTube is so great is the relationship. You watch someone on a more personal level. You care about me and about what I’m doing – at least that’s what I like to think,” said PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, in a video message posted in early December. “This site means so much to YouTubers. It means the world to us. YouTube – by far – is the hardest job I’ve ever had. Every successful YouTuber puts their heart and soul into this.”

Kjellberg, famous for his profanity-laced rants and jokey commentary, makes an estimated $15 million a year from his vlogging. Though that figure is astonishing, the vast majority of vloggers, of course, make very little or nothing from their videos.

But for many YouTubers, their motivation isn’t just money, it’s about the acknowledgement from their fellow vloggers.

Shay Carl Butler describing his earliest vlogging days

I would film some random thought I had about hand sanitizer or gas prices or me dancing in my wife's old unitard and I would upload it and people were instantly there to tell me if they thought it was funny or not. I loved the communication and the community of it all.

But as their audiences and paychecks have grown, some vlogs and YouTube shows have become almost indistinguishable from more traditional TV productions. Besides Butler’s Vlogumentary, Lilly Singh has also made a film for YouTube Red, the website’s platform for paid content.

Fortunately, the technology has caught up with people’s creative ambition, meaning you no longer have to move into your parents’ basement in order to afford a professional rig for filming. (Though I suppose destitute basement dwelling might make for compelling online viewing.) Kjellberg even showed off his fancy new camera and microphone in a recent vlog episode.

Still, even if the production quality has improved, most successful YouTubers have stayed true to the original vlog vibe and approach. Some undoubtedly scrip their videos ahead of time, but many stars are leery of losing the authenticity of their vlogging.

Shay Carl Butler - American vlogger, author and YouTube personality

I would say one of the most important things to learn as a vlogger, if you want to be successful, is to know when to turn the camera on. When something is already naturally happening, I have taught myself to remember to get the camera out. Funny life moments that I suspect to be entertaining. Like the kids going through airport security for the first time.

About the Author

Marc Young

With a background in journalism, Marc is an editor for Shure covering anything and everything that has to do with sound. He tries to compensate for his mediocre guitar-playing skills with his writing. He is based in Berlin, one of the best cities in Europe for music.

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