Amid the mad rush of media properties scooping up scripts for original Web series, there’s a novel video platform devoid of elaborate production sets. It can be likened to YouTube, and carries a semblance in name, “YouNow,” but the platform’s model thrives on live-streamed shows, where just about anyone can have their 15 minutes in the spotlight. In fact it’s quickly captivating the YouTube generation, where aspirations of becoming a celebrity float higher than the dream of becoming a doctor or lawyer.
It’s surprising how willing today’s generation is to put themselves in the public’s eye. In retrospect, Justin Bieber and Karmin are among a few celebrities that have crossed from YouTube into the mainstream, while YouTube personalities including DeStorm Power and MysteryGuitarMan are celebrities in their own right. To capture a piece of the pie takes dedication, but there’s an art in captivating an audience that’ll judge you within a second, while getting in front of as many people as possible. It’s one of the reasons that YouTube icons are juggling their YouTube lives with YouNow.
YouNow was formally launched during TechCrunch Disrupt 2011 by Adi Sideman, founder and former CEO of technology marketing firm, Oddcast. With a background in gaming design, Sideman’s vision of YouNow screams gamification. Its initial allure, particularly to attract the non-professional vloggers, included prizes like YouNow coins, a t-shirt and even an iPod. Today, the platform has grown large enough to rid its prize structure and simply relies on upvotes, downvotes, virtual gifts and an ever-competitive leader board.
His model appears to be working. “MTV is no longer culturally relevant to the youth. We are. And our user base is growing at over 30 percent month over month. So the product is getting very good reception,” Sideman told Digital Trends. “We are talking about live social television, which is a new and unique animal. The ability to interact with live TV, vote on it, chat with it and jump into it, is effectively establishing a new format.”
The users are eating up the benefits of YouNow’s platform and existing audience. “Our users love the fact that they can expand their social followers and get live feedback from an audience instantaneously, while they broadcast from anywhere, literally,” Sideman said.
At a time when the media and its readers are just beginning to adapt to the very existence of original Web content, there are fears YouNow could be a couple of years too early in the game. But these fears have been, to a degree, quelled with the recent announcement of Google Hangouts on Air.
Hangouts on Air is essentially YouNow 1.0, and artists and wannabe celebrities can take to the air. The caveat with Hangouts is that there is no existing audience. On the other hand when you hop onto YouNow’s Hip Hop, Karaoke, Dance, and 13 other channels, an existing audience of users will greet you to judge your performance. “With YouNow, broadcasters are guaranteed an audience. Broadcasters simply come in, choose a channel and wait for their turn to broadcast in front of the audience present,” Sideman said.
YouNow has seen the potential for original content from day one, and have integrated live pre-scheduled shows. For example, a karaoke contest is hosted every Wednesday and the audience is invited to vote on the best singers, akin to a mini American Idol. Robert Galinsky is Founder and Principal of the New York Reality TV School and Executive Producer of Content at YouNow. “On the ‘Reality School Game Show’ broadcasters rant, perform, judge and gift one another. There are no retakes or reshoots,” Galinsky explained. “The “magic,” a.k.a B.S., of television is no more!” What’s the prize for great performances? Exclusive access to Hollywood casting agents.
But YouNow has also reserved slots for YouTube “celebrities” who are experimenting with YouNow’s platform. Some recognizable names include Michael Buckley and Prank vs Prank.
To YouTuber Ryan John Holmes, the value in interacting live with fans in real time and quickly garnering new followers holds the strongest allure to YouNow. “The feeling of seeing and actually talking directly to my fans is the most amazing feeling. It makes me feel like what I do matters to my fans, and it feels like I matter to them because they are reacting in real time to what I am doing,” Holmes told Digital Trends. “I have received hundreds of requests on each Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Not to mention the thousands of fans I’ve accumulated over the three months on YouNow.”
The platform, according to Sideman, offers users a chance to brand themselves. In this day and age when Klout scores are crossing over into our non-virtual lives, self branding is ever more important. “Viewers who like a broadcaster can follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their YouTube channel and Facebook page. It’s valuable to any broadcaster to get immediate feedback and pick up a few hundred followers in a few minutes,” Sideman said. “It’s a fun and addictive game that generates real value for our users. Think about it. Coca-Cola pays $1 per Facebook like. A kid broadcasting on YouNow for five minutes can easily gain 30 new Facebook likes. That is power.”
We’re approaching an era when the Internet is encompassing all of our means of entertainment, and companies out there are innovating the way we consume or envision entertainment. At the same time, the Internet opens the doors to the distribution and personal branding that was once reserved for Hollywood. “The nature of entertainment is changing. People everywhere are becoming not just content producers but media producers. And they’re doing it more and more in real time,” Sideman said. “While the current focus is the YouTube channels, there is demand for media that makes it even easier to build one’s personal brand, while offering entertainment that is even more real-time, inclusive and game-like. That is what we are doing at YouNow.”