Amateur YouTube creators, the teens in their bedrooms best personified by Sweden’s Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, are destined to be to the ‘10s what reality TV stars were to the ‘00s—a pop culture phenomenon tied distinctly to a specific point in time. And while creators won’t fade away completely in the Age of Trump, their star is already dimming.
What’s going to replace them? Something we call Pro-Am, a mashup of “professional” and “amateur.”
Pro-Am videos are written, produced and shot by people with actual Hollywood experience, using actors with similarly impressive credentials. The funds are raised privately or via Kickstarter/IndieGoGo and the production quality, while not “Game of Thrones,” reflects the fact that the people behind the camera really do know what they’re doing. What’s more, Pro Am videos are about stories. Fiction or documentary, series or one-off, Pro-Am videos bring back storytelling, something that’s been sorely missing from most Creator videos.
The poster child for Pro-Am is “High Maintenance,” a web series created by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, a casting director and actor/writer respectively, whose web series about a marijuana dealer in Brooklyn was picked up by HBO and turned into a successful half-hour series. “Broad City”, the Abbi Jacobson/Ilana Glazer vehicle on FX is another, as is HBO’s “Insecure,” Issa Rae’s evolution of her web series “The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl.”
These series are just the start of a new wave that is coming, thanks to lower production costs and the networks’ newfound understanding that successful web series come with built in audiences, which makes betting on them much less of a risk at a time when over 450 new original series are on the air.
Audiences are getting involved too, funding series via IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, which then gives them a vested interest in their success. “Adoptable” a comedy web series written and produced by our friend, veteran actor Scott Lowell, was financed via an IndieGoGo campaign. The series, which, in addition to Lowell, features well known names such as Noah Wyle, Sharon Gless and Gale Harold, is currently under consideration at several networks, and is a perfect example of why we’re feeling so good about Pro-Am content: aimed at an adult audience, “Adopatable” is well shot, well produced and contains a strong story line about a man’s search for his adopted family.
Stories have always been at the core of why people love entertainment. Pro-Am web series put stories back into user-created video, along with high(er) production value and a more developed sense of pacing and script. While teens holding iPhones and talking about their lives to millions of fans won’t disappear completely, the initial audiences for those creators are now in their twenties and looking for something a bit more sophisticated. Similarly, younger teens see these talking heads as something their older siblings were into. They have access to more sophisticated and less expensive equipment and are able to produce their own shows, actual stories rather than just monologues.
Not all Pro-Am shows will wind up on TV—not everything is meant for a broader audience. But the niche audiences those series connect with will be easy to monetize and will be part of the next chapter of the history of television.
Niche audiences are perfect for brands that cater to that segment, whether it’s gardening enthusiasts, bulldog fanciers or vegan foodies. Monetization doesn’t need to involve advertising either—Pro-Am web series are ideally suited to be the sort of branded content that’s slowly replacing traditional interruptive advertising.
2017 will be the year Pro-Am really starts to take off, the year that networks and studios have their assistants scouring YouTube and (especially) Vimeo for the Next Big Thing. That’s good news for the entire creative community and for adults, who, like teens before them, will suddenly see their entertainment options broaden.