The Media Column: YouTube levels the playing field for a new generation of stars

With music marginalised on mainstream television, YouTube is now the most effective means of marketing new stars

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The home page of Gleam Futures, a talent agency which manages vlogging stars including Zoella, offers a bracing guide to the most influential voices of the YouTube generation.

Rows of perky, anodyne-looking youthful faces beam out, advertising their skills in fashion and beauty blogging.

There’s Pixiwoo, two sisters who have their own “make-up school and brush line” and boast 1.8 million subscribers. Katie Snooks “loves and gushes about all things beauty, lifestyle & books” to 150,000 monthly blog followers.

YouTube vloggers can earn six-figure sums from the advertising sold around their personal subscription channels.

The most popular are now leveraging their celebrity to other lucrative platforms. Zoella’s 7.6 million subscribers helped make her 2014 novel, Girl Online, the highest-selling for a debut author since records began. A film adaptation is in the works.

When it emerged that Zoella had employed a “ghost-writer” on the book, the mainstream media tut-tutted. “Ten journalists cared that Zoella had an ‘editorial consultant’, 1 million consumers didn’t,” an unrepentant Dominic Smales, managing director of Gleam Futures, said.

A teenage audience which refuses to pay for music on the assumption that everything worthwhile is available instantly online, for free, bought Zoella’s novel and the breezily disposable Pointless Book by her vlogger boyfriend Alfie Deyes in droves.

As the Google-owned YouTube celebrates its 10th anniversary, has the platform, which attracts one billion active users a month and generates $4bn in revenue, become little more than a vehicle for brands to cash in on the marketing potential of lightweight teen celebrities?

Ever since Justin Bieber’s mother posted a video of her son performing in a local talent contest on the website, YouTube has become a testing ground for music hopefuls, often with higher artistic aspirations than the troubled Bieber.

Hannah Trigwell, 24, a singer-songwriter who began her career busking in Leeds, has built a global online following, with 30 million views on her YouTube channel.

“I put videos online because I didn’t have time to do gigs at university. I started off doing covers of popular songs in my own style. Then I uploaded my own songs. It took a while to get the first 1,000 views but then it really took off.”

Trigwell has, unwittingly, become a major pop star in south-east Asia. “I wrote a song called ‘Headrush’ in my bedroom while at university. People discovered it and it went viral. I found out it was number one song in Vietnam which was unbelievable.”

For songwriters like Trigwell, who reject The X Factor route to fame, YouTube is a valuable promotional tool. “Everyone knows there isn’t the money in the recorded music industry that there used to be.

“I get a little income from ads sold around my music but it really helps drive people to my concerts. If I just wanted to make loads of money I would have got a day job.”

The UK’s YouTube music graduates face their stiffest test this week when Trigwell and five other acts chosen by the platform perform at the Isle of Wight Festival, alongside Blur, Pharrell and Fleetwood Mac.

Trigwell has been asked to test a new data tool called Music Insights on the YouTube for Artists site, which pinpoints for performers the cities where their music is most popular and their most liked songs.

Ed Sheeran added his first concert in the Philippines this year after YouTube statistics showed that he had racked up 100 million views in the islands, including 18 million in Manila where the gig was staged.

YouTube is a “frenemy” for the music industry – record companies rail against the minimal royalties received for billions of plays for the biggest hits. But with music marginalised on mainstream television, YouTube is now the most effective means of marketing new stars.

Without YouTube, rising musicians like Trigwell wouldn’t get to share a stage with the likes of Pharrell. “There’s so much advice he could give me,” she says. “Maybe I can give him a few tips on making the most out of YouTube.”

Whittingdale’s thoughts on the BBC licence fee

John Whittingdale has given the first insight into his inclinations over the BBC’s Charter Renewal prospects.

The Culture Secretary said he agreed that “elements of the licence fee are regressive because everyone has to pay it, so it falls as a greater percentage of the income on the poorest people.”

Those observations would have been familiar to Chris Bryant, the minister’s shadow, since they were culled from a speech the Labour MP gave in 2005, omitting his support for the licence fee.

Two issues are currently on the table – plans backed by Tory MPs to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee which the BBC says could cost it £200m in income.

Then there is the £500m a year the Department for Work and Pensions pays to subsidise free licences for viewers over 75.

Despite threats that decriminalisation would force the BBC to slash its sport and entertainment programming, accepting that change and pursuing a new, iPlayer-enabled online licence fee payment system is the corporation’s best bet.

The Queen, a small dog and the drama of loud music

Peter Fincham, ITV’s director of television, must have experienced a déjà vu moment when the BBC found itself apologising to the Palace for a rogue tweet announcing the death of the Queen.

Mr Fincham, forced to resign as BBC1 boss in 2007 over footage which misrepresented the Queen, had to deal with his own mini-scandal last week.

Viewers should have been made aware that a “stunt double” dog had been used in the final of Britain’s Got Talent, before they voted for the winner Matisse, he conceded.

Mr Fincham was challenged at a media conference about another viewer bugbear – intrusive background music in dramas.

“The level within the (sound) mix makes it harder for some people, often older people, to hear the dialogue,” the executive admitted, urging television manufacturers to come up with a solution to turn the music down.

Twitter: @adamsherwin10

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