Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

The start of a new romance

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast June 04, 2015

TV’s love affair with the online world is a win-win, says Kate Bulkley

Journalists love to write about conflict. Whether it’s Simon Cowell vs Louis Walsh or Fifa against Uefa, there’s nothing like a good row. But when it comes to TV and the digital world, it’s becoming much more of a love-in.

In BBC1’s The Great Comic Relief Bake Off this year, Jonathan Ross and Gok Wan were joined by Zoe Sugg – better known as fashion vlogger Zoella (pictured). The 25-year-old has more than 8 million YouTube subscribers and 4.7 million Instagram followers, and is the girlfriend of another digital teen sensation, Alfie Deyes, whose Pointless blog on YouTube has 4 million subscribers.

Alfie and Zoella are about as hot as online stars can be, but what was Zoella doing talking to Mary Berry about oven temperatures and sponge cake fillings?

The crossover was a win-win – Zoella went mainstream, mixing with established stars and gaining acceptance as a legitimate TV star. And the Beeb struck gold as well, because Zoella’s not very tasty cake helped pump up the programme’s audience in the 16-34 age bracket by an astonishing 33%.

And, according to what I heard at MBI’s Media Summit this week, this is just the beginning.

TV makers have woken up to the massive numbers of fans online – video game vlogger PewDiePie has a larger following than BBC3 and E4 put together.

And when these online stars go ‘traditional’, the result can be staggering: last year, Deyes’ book signing at Waterstones Piccadilly attracted 8,000 pre-teen girls.

Gleam Futures managing director Dominic Smales told the conference that not all YouTube talent will translate to the TV screen, but it is much harder to succeed in the other direction because TV talent doesn’t really “get” YouTube. I think it comes down to the difference between TV’s experience in curating audiences and how fandom works online.

Take Bethan Leadley, a YouTuber since she was 11 (she’s now 19), she recently signed up with Maker Studios to help propel her 260,000 subscribers into bigger figures.

Leadley does lots of different things online, from offering advice and make-up tips to playing her own music and, importantly, she seems completely comfortable working with brands on ‘content’ ideas. She knows that if she makes the wrong step here, her fans will sniff it out right away.

Director of Sky entertainment channels Stuart Murphy is pretty hip and his latest idea is to use online to allow audiences to binge-view some Sky programmes before the show has been fully broadcast. He says it’s about respecting “boundary agnostic audiences” – likely the people who watched Peter Kay’s Car Share on iPlayer before it aired on BBC1.

The big question for the industry is which stars translate from one medium to the other and how to tap into the power of online fandom. The younger audiences are already there and they are motivated.

Smales admitted that even he didn’t know how an Alfie book signing was going to go. Would the fans come out of their bedrooms and off their devices?

They sure did. Curation is alive and with us, but as TV and online come together, some new skillsets are needed.

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