As he sat next to Prince Charles and discussed with the heir to the throne the popularity of the music star Dappy from N-Dubz, the young media entrepreneur Jamal Edwards might have pondered on just how far he has come.
And yet making a film featuring the Prince of Wales, the latest production from Edwards’s SBTV music and entertainment online channel, is unlikely to faze someone with a row of cheerleaders that already includes Sir Richard Branson, Bill Clinton, and Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube. Hurley is grateful to Edwards for creating a YouTube media property that surpassed 100m views more than 18 months ago.
Perhaps more significantly, SBTV has helped blow the doors open for a host of new British media entrepreneurs, clutching their Canon 550s (the low-price HD video camera of choice) and able to broadcast online for free.
“We call it the Jamal Edwards effect,” said Susana Giner, director of the Youth Media Agency, an umbrella organisation for 115 emerging youth media organisations claiming a collective audience of 1.65m 16-25 year olds.
This new ecology has emerged rapidly over the last four years. “We held our first Youth Media Summit in 2009 and we could see that young people were quite frustrated with how they were being represented in the media,” said Giner. “But technology is allowing them access to audiences of thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands.”
The emergence of a parallel media is reflected in the success of Summer in the City, a London event which is “dedicated to the YouTube community” and attracted a sold out attendance of 7,000 this year.
Whereas traditional media has been fiercely competitive, the new breed works together. “They’ve understood very quickly that to get further they need to promote each other,” said Giner.
Edwards, who began his media career at the age of 15 and at 22 is now a veteran of the sector, told The Independent that he was trying to assist others to similar success. “I feel like I have a responsibility. Some of the musicians on SBTV are socially inspiring for young people and I would like to do that as well. It’s very rewarding more than anything.”
His new film with the Prince of Wales, made for the Prince’s Trust, attempts to tackle discrimination against young people facing autism, dyslexia and bullying. As a reward, Edwards offered to try to put one teenager in touch with Dappy. “Well, if you can’t nobody can,” said Prince Charles admiringly.
Edwards has produced an e-book called Self Belief: The Vision, using the SBTV acronym and configured as an interactive game for would-be young entrepreneurs. This month it was released in standard book format by Random House. “It wasn’t originally supposed to be physical because SBTV is in the digital space,” he said, but the publishers recognised a wider demand.
Many of the British YouTube successes are crossing into mainstream media, which is desperate to retain the engagement of younger audiences. Dan Howell (who has 2.4m subscribers to his Dan is Not on Fire YouTube channel) and Phil Lester (who has 1.2m for his Amazing Phil channel) were hired as presenters on BBC Radio 1.
Last week the London Live television channel, which launches early next year, announced that its first programme acquisition would be All About the McKenzies, a YouTube-based family sitcom created by young Londoner Samuell Benta, 27, from Wembley in London,. “I never went to film school, I learned everything by just getting on with it,” he said.
An actor, Benta began the project three years ago because he was unhappy over stereotyping in black roles. He originally shot All About the McKenzies for television but when his film was stolen he was persuaded to remake it in mini episodes for a web series on YouTube. “The advantage of having a web series is that there are no instructions and no-one telling me what I can and can’t do. And because it’s online the whole world can see it.”
He said the seemingly light-hearted sitcom had a serious purpose in getting viewers to think more about their behaviour within the family. “It’s about healing,” he said. “Families are getting divided and I want to bring back some unity with a fun show which has a message.”
Buoyed by developments, Benta has written a free e-book to encourage other new filmmakers called “How to Create a Successful Web Series that SELLS!”
Youth talent spotter Derren Lawford, who has been recruited as commissioning executive by London Live, said that the number of views of a YouTube channel were not as important as the number of subscribers, which gave an indication of the loyalty of the audience. “There are a whole host of YouTubers that are essentially running their own stores, selling merchandise. They are managing their own businesses very quickly.”
Edwards had encouraged other media entrepreneurs, Lawford said, because he had recorded his whole SBTV business experience online each step of the way. “People have seen his journey and been inspired.”
Media entrepreneurs in the making
Billed as “the UK’s leading online youth broadcaster”, SBTV is a phenomenally successful network of music and entertainment videos. It was founded by Jamal Edwards at the age of 15 as he developed an expertise for filming fellow London grime rappers and is named after his own rapping name “Smokey Barz”. Ed Miliband is among those who have sought to use SBTV to reach the youth. Edwards is now branching into comedy and fashion online TV.
YouTube football channel with more than 380,000 subscribers. “Pitch, laptop or console, the game never stops”. Shows include CTRL on football tricks, and Football Virgin, on a young woman’s journey to being a fan.
London based company that not only “showcases innovation and creativity” but gives a platform to “a new generation of progressive thinkers”, such as Kieron Scott and his bamboo smart phone design. So Fraiche! co-founder Gerald Sagoe (@spikegee) says: “We feature young entrepreneurs and people with ideas. Hopefully it will motivate and inspire other people.”
Samuell Benta (@sbenta)
Writer, producer, director and actor of All About the McKenzies, a YouTube webseries bought by new TV channel London Live as its first acquisition.
Run by Ruby Mae Moore, 22. Magazine for young women by young women which prints 10,000 copies an issue and distributes in shopping centres through a team of 20 volunteers. Website has 50,000 visits a month.
What’s Good? Online
Entertainment site run by Louis John, 23, from High Wycombe, who was inspired to set up the site by the frustrations over lack of opportunity expressed in the London riots. Specialising in music video but also covering film, television and fashion – the site is aimed at 16-24s. WGO has had brand partnerships with big names including Adidas, O2 and Live Nation.
Corey Pellatt and Lewis Scafton set it up in Brighton when they were 17, four years later it prints 3,000 a month and attracts 50,000 monthly visitors to its website.
London based network that has made online shows for Harry Hill and David Mitchell. Bills itself as “The UK’s leading network of creative talent”, it has amassed 19m subscribers through its YouTube partners. Bought last year by Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine Group (part of 21 Century Fox).