How One Man Is Trying to Make YouTube Talent Rich

Fullscreen Founder George Strompolos Looks to Bridge Gap Among Viral-Video Stars, Advertisers and Distributors

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Want to make money on YouTube right now? Talk to George Strompolos.

Mr. Strompolos, a former business-development exec at Google Video and founding developer of YouTube's Partner Program, is looking to bridge the gap between YouTube stars, advertisers and off-net distributors as a one-stop shop for original content. His new company, Fullscreen, launched earlier this year with all-star clients such as Ryan Higa, whose Nigahiga is the most-subscribed channel on YouTube, with more than 3.4 million signed up.

Nigahiga is the most-subscribed channel on YouTube and a client of Fullscreen.
Nigahiga is the most-subscribed channel on YouTube and a client of Fullscreen.

Where Mr. Strompolos pioneered YouTube's investment in original content (he oversaw a grant program last summer that gave $5 million in seed money to as many as 100 contributors), he now wants to help stars such as Mr. Higa, Philip DeFranco, "Mystery Guitar Man" and a growing roster of style and beauty personalities gain exposure -- and revenue -- online and elsewhere.

"The model is sort of unique in that it didn't exist five years ago," Mr. Strompolos said. "People control distribution on the web. It's no longer about having your video on just the homepage of YouTube or the homepage of AOL. There are now people who have their own mini cable-TV channels that can help broadcast. So a lot of times, brands and agencies come to us for more marketing-driven projects."

There's growing evidence that YouTube can produce bankable stars. Actor Lucas Cruikshank became the highest-rated cable-movie star of 2010 with Nickelodeon's "Fred: The Movie," which became a multimillion-dollar success story for his management company The Collective and led to a sitcom deal with the kids' network. "Friday" singer Rebecca Black is believed to have already grossed $1 million from YouTube streams and iTunes downloads of her hit single, produced and distributed by the independent Ark Music Factory, another YouTube partner.

Mr. Higa's made-for-YouTube "Agents of Secret Stuff" seems to be the next wave of new-media success. Since its premiere just before Thanksgiving 2010, the 35-minute film has racked up more than 10 million views on YouTube and was scooped up for off-internet rights by Creative Artists Agency-backed web studio Digital Artists. Mr. Strompolos declined to comment on the "Agents" budget, but noted that the Digital Artists deal was significant enough to eliminate the financial need to integrate a planned sponsor into the film at the last minute.

"A lot of programs will go out and find a marquee sponsor that either wants exclusive sponsorship or a product integration. That's a great way to go but it's challenging," Mr. Strompolos said. There's no shortage of original programming created online but there is a shortage of ad dollars. "The opportunities for online distribution exploded in the late 2000s, but that doesn't mean the pool of branded advertising exploded alongside it."

William Kendall, chief creative officer of Digital Artists, said "Agents" has already helped the company earn a return on its investment through paid distribution on iTunes and a series of movie-themed apps. Second and third installments are in the works, with plans to court advertisers as presenting sponsors.

"We wanted the first version to prove the model. Now we know that this works and we can replicate it," Mr. Kendall said. "Advertisers see there's a value proposition here to reaching a significantly targeted and broad audience. Now we have the breathing room and time to find the right brand partners."

One talent agent described Mr. Strompolos' role as a helpful mediator between YouTube and Hollywood talent agencies, but cautioned that he doesn't yet have the ability to package major talent deals with TV networks and movie studios. "He is so familiar with how the sausage is made at YouTube and can give that to people who want to be successful," the agent said. "YouTube has a massive platform for content, that even if they spent bagel money on actually creating programming instead of being this completely neutral platform, it would be really impactful."

This week, Fullscreen launches Strobelikes, a new fashion-and-music channel on YouTube in partnership with Hud:sun Media (producers of Hulu series "Genuine Ken" and Bravo's "Pregnant In Heels") that will feature all quadrants of the YouTube universe. Strobelikes is a series of 60-second fashion-based music videos in which up-and-coming models are the stars; designers such as Whitney Port, David Yurman and Rachel Roy provide the wardrobe; and popular YouTube musician Dave Days helps provide the soundtrack. Additionally, internet celebrities such as Taryn Southern and YouTube makeup artists Blair and Elle Fowler will market the show through social-media promotion.

Hud:sun Media CEO Michael Rourke described Strobelikes as a "digital look-book" intended to be portable across Facebook, Twitter and a mobile app for the iPhone, iOS and Android. Each clip will also have a click-to-buy feature where female viewers will have the opportunity to purchase the featured look. The series is funded by Hud:sun and its fashion sponsors.

"Everybody's looking for new and interesting ways to look at fashion and style, so we imagine people will make their own Strobelikes," Mr. Rourke said. It's a great editorial mix of music, models and fashion but still small enough that you can whip through a bunch of them."

Ryan Higa

The most-subscribed channel on YouTube belongs to 20-year-old Ryan Higa's Nigahiga, one of the first video diaries and comedy channels YouTubers turn to for updates. It's also one of the most profitable -- Mr. Higa is reported to have made $150,000 in YouTube revenue in 2010 alone. His first made-for-YouTube movie, "Agents of Secret Stuff," has logged more than 10 million views since Thanksgiving and already turned a profit on its $25,000 budget. Look for a sequel, co-produced with Digital Artists, later this year.

Philip DeFranco

YouTube's 11th most-subscribed star is Philip DeFranco, or sxephil as he's known to fans. The host of "The Philip DeFranco Show," a "Monday-Wednesday-Friday news show that is 95% correct 100% of the time" has a huge web following and a growing interest from Hollywood and Madison Avenue. Carl's Jr. recently tapped him for a digital promotion, and he's also done video campaigns to plug Fox's "Lie to Me" and "Fringe." Just last month he teamed with Fullscreen and Hud:sun Media to lend his voice to "Trailer Trash," a new Hulu animated series.

Mystery Guitar Man

This YouTube musician and director, a.k.a. 23-year-old Brazil native Joe Penna, is the seventh most-subscribed personality on YouTube and also a familiar face among the Cannes Lions circuit. He was recognized by Saatchi & Saatchi as one of 2010's 10 directors to watch for his "T-Shirt War" clip. He has also gained internet infamy for "Guitar: Impossible," which grabbed national news coverage and earned him a spot on the YouTube Playlist, a partnership with New York's Guggenheim Museum.

Dave Days

The most-subscribed musician on YouTube (and No. 14 overall), Dave Days has gained notoriety for his video parodies of songs by Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. Miley herself even acknowledged Days' influence with a cameo in his "My Last Song For Miley" clip (9.7 million views and counting.)

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