Dan & Phil: The YouTube stars tasked with bringing new young listeners to Radio 1


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The Independent Online

Commercial television and radio in Britain has abandoned Britain’s youth to the internet, according to the YouTube stars signed up by the BBC to help bring new young listeners to Radio 1.

Dan Howell and Phil Lester are radicalising production techniques at Radio 1 and have introduced the first show to be filmed in its entirety and streamed live online. Less than six months after its launch, Dan & Phil, were voted the nation’s favourite radio presenters at the industry’s prestigious Sony awards.

In an interview with The Independent, they claimed that their programme was the most technologically-advanced on air. “Our show is probably the most difficult radio show that has ever existed,” said Howell. “Not only are we driving the (studio production) desk completely… in a very feature heavy and complex show - we are also doing everything visually.”

But they said British commercial broadcasting media was failing to serve young audiences. Howell said that after Channel 4 dropped its T4 youth slot last year “after they found that people watching were mostly 35”, the sector seemed to have given up on the young. “There’s not much TV for young people these days – that’s why everyone sits on the internet,” he said. “There’s not much that is directly aimed at young people on TV at the moment - that’s all on the internet because that’s where [young people] are.”

Neither presenter felt they had any competition on commercial radio for the young audience. “I have no idea what they’re doing,” said Lester. Howell claimed: “Young people just don’t listen to radio anymore.”

This is why they are trying to identify a spot where radio becomes a visual and internet-based experience, building on their successes on YouTube, where Howell has amassed 1.7m subscribers for his “Danisnotonfire” channel. Lester has more than 900,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel “AmazingPhil”.

Dan & Phil have been introduced by the BBC to spearhead the post-Chris Moyles revolution at Radio 1, driving down the average age of the audience. The network’s licence remit is to target the 15-29 age range but by the time Moyles left the breakfast show late last year the average age of listeners to the station was 33. It has since fallen to 32.

Lester is 26, with a master’s degree in video production, while Howell – who dropped out of a law course at the University of Manchester when he was offered a full-time job at Radio 1 – does not turn 22 until next week.

Among the popular features of the Dan & Phil show is the opportunity for listeners to make requests by sending in home-made music videos of their favourite songs. Howell said that this “constant waterfall of videos” ensures that the energy of a highly-visualized show is not lost when a record is played. “A load of people have sent in videos they have made for their O-level or GCSE media studies or theatre class,” he said.

Dan & Phil film themselves competing in whacky challenges, sometimes wearing helmets with mounted cameras. The pair are also innovative in their use of Twitter. They try to register a worldwide trending topic on every edition of their show, which goes out at 7pm on Sunday evenings when, according to Howell, “most kids are on the internet”. One worldwide Twitter trend was #animalsplicing, defined by Lester as “if you could mix two animals together to create the ultimate pet, what would you do?”

It’s clear from comments online that the pair – Howell particularly - attract the sort of devoted attention from young girls that’s normally associated with boy bands such as One Direction. Their fanbase, thanks to the power of YouTube and the global reach of BBC radio, is international. They were able to film themselves in New York’s Time Square competing to be first to be recognised – and, according to the YouTube clip, Dan was spotted within 28 seconds (Phil had to wait three minutes).

If you’re out of your Twenties you probably wouldn’t know them from Adam. But many more may learn of Dan & Phil tomorrow on Sunday as they release a star-studded video tribute to singer Bruno Mars, which they are quite confident will be a global viral smash.