For Franchesca Ramsey is started with hair, her dreads, which people on the street would sometimes reach out and touch without asking. “I got a new iMac and it had a camera, so I decided to try it out and just talk about whatever came to mind,” says Ramsey. “I made a video, and some people left comments with questions about my locs.”
It turns out there wasn’t a lot of good material about the topic on YouTube, and Ramsey’s audience quickly grew. She would regularly receive 50 emails a week asking her questions about hair or just looking for a little life advice. “As I got comfortable I would tell jokes sometimes and sing. People liked that too, so eventually I created a different channel for comedy.” Her Kanye West parodies racked up hundreds of thousands of views. The activity was starting to bring in a steady side income, but hadn’t become a full career.
Today it was announced that Ramsey, along with 25 others, will become part of the YouTube NextUp program, a sort of finishing school for video bloggers. Nextup members will participate in classes on editing and promotion and receive a $35,000 prize.
YouTube is a giant platform, with billions of clips, but it has recently begun putting a renewed emphasis on premium content as it increasingly competes with services like Hulu and Netflix. In March it acquired local start-up Next New Networks, which is helping the NextUp program to identify and cultivate budding video stars. “We are taking people who have had some success, and supercharging their careers,” says YouTube spokesman Matt McLernon.
Internet sensations like the Gregory Brothers, makers of “Bedroom Intruder”, increased their average viewership about ten times after they began working with Next New Networks. Many of the more popular video bloggers now earn six figures off their channels, a revenue that is split with Youtube, although the artists get the majority.”People once thought that the only two kinds of video that would work on the internet were professionally produced series and viral videos of dogs on skateboards,” says Dina Kaplan of local video network blip.tv. But now there is a middle of the pyramid that is starting to emerge as very lucrative opportunity, and YouTube is going after that.
Emily “Maangchi” Kim, the other local winner selected for the innagural NextUp class, recalls her first video with a little bit of horror. “It was very blurry sometimes and editing was not so good,” says Ms. Kim, a 54 year old Manhattanite who specializes in Korean cooking. “But right away people were writing in from all over the world, asking me questions about my recipes.”
Pretty soon Kim, who’s video on how to make kimchi racked up 220,000 views, was able to quit her job as a counselor and go full time with her cooking series. “I have a designer do my website, I sell cookbooks and even an iPad app on Korean BBQ,” says Kim proudly. Like all the most successful bloggers, she posts very regularly, once every two weeks.
As for the $35,000 prize, Ms. Kim has decided to take her show on the road, touring through Europe and cooking for all her foreign fans. “I bring them on and have them prepare dishes with me and I go to meetups and make something special for them,” says Kim. “Some friends think being a Youtube star might be lonely, but I tell them no, to be good at it, you have to meet a lot of new people.”