How Fullscreen is trying to turn YouTube stars into premium TV you'll actually pay for
Over the past few years, Fullscreen has ridden the wave of change in the online video ecosystem. The company was basically a big YouTube network in 2014 when it sold for $200-$300 million, but has expanded since into areas like its own subscription service, which launched in April 2016.
That service, which costs $5.99 per month and is focused on 18-to-25 year olds, puts Fullscreen into competition with heavyweights like Netflix and Hulu, as well as a slew of more niche upstarts. Fullscreen has its own original shows as well as a catalog of licensed older shows and movies, from "Chuck" to "Firefly" to "Chappelle's Show."
But the primary aspect that sets Fullscreen apart is its focus on YouTube stars and personalities, many of whom Fullscreen develops through its "network" business, which helps manage and promote a whopping 75,000 of them. That part of Fullscreen can function a bit like a farm team in baseball. Fullscreen will identify a YouTuber with talent, and then work to get a show onto the Fullscreen premium subscription service.
But what does a "premium" show from a YouTube star look like?
That's something the industry is still figuring out, and there have been some missteps along the way. YouTube star Issa Rae scored a Golden Globe nod this year for her new HBO show, "Insecure," but both of Netflix's recent bets on social media stars, Miranda Sings and Vine star Cameron Dallas, were trashed by its subscribers. Shows also continue to pop up on newer outlets like YouTube Red and Go90, but it's hard to judge which are gaining traction.
So what's Fullscreen's answer?
The first thing Fullscreen learned was that trying to simply reproduce traditional TV with social media stars in the leading roles doesn't work particularly well.
What people can't do on TV
"We are moving away from just trying to replicate TV shows, TV formats, and putting influencers in [them]," Fullscreen's SVP of programming, Scott Reich, told Business Insider.
Reich wants Fullscreen to create shows that capitalize on the company's position as an online service. One thing Reich stressed was that Fullscreen can push the boundaries on the subject matter, compared to traditional TV, since the subscription service doesn't have ads.
"We don't have that concern [advertising deals with brands], and can be a little more opinionated …. We want people to have a polarizing point of view … a point of view in general."
One example Reich gives is Brandon Roger's "Magic Funhouse," a raucous comedy about a public access children's show that is meant to show "the offensive lives of the cast and crew when the cameras are off."
Here's the trailer:
But Reich doesn't just want Fullscreen's shows to push boundaries, but also to pull the audience along. The unique and offbeat personalities have to be paired with a dialogue with an audience, Reich said. The stars Fullscreen wants for its premium service have to be constantly talking to, and recognizing, fans who support them.
Reich also said that audiences have responded to stars being pushed outside their comfort zones.
This is especially relevant for building shows around traditional TV talent, like "Pretty Little Liars" star Shay Mitchell. Mitchell has a new reality series on Fullscreen called "Shades of Shay."
People have already seen Mitchell on TV and Instagram, so Fullscreen's show is meant to give a behind-the-scenes look at a time in Mitchell's life when her hit show is ending, and she has to figure out what she's going to do ("her unfiltered and unpredictable journey" moving forward).
Full ownership, full control
As to what type of deals Fullscreen is looking to do for its subscription service, it, like Netflix, wants to push for full ownership of the shows.
"The ultimate answer is 'yes,' we want to own everything and have complete control," Reich said. "But it is much more complicated than that. We are creative and scrappy in our approach. We don't have the Netflix and Amazon dollars that they have. When you are spending $6 billion on content [like Netflix] you have the luxury of having a slightly different model."
Fullscreen has to be nimble and flexible, to identify which stars and show models are working, and which aren't. And hopefully find something so suited to Fullscreen that the slew of new subscription services will have a hard time copying it.
The goal: To make it "not feel like just another subscription service," Reich said.