Is YouTube Spawning the Next Wave of Properties?

Posted by Marty Brochstein on August 26, 2014

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Bethany Mota. Michelle Phan. Rosanna Pansino.

Are these the next big licensing stars?

I have to admit that until YouTube began a fullscale TV and print campaign this past spring, featuring these three prominent personalities from among the many on its channels, I hadn’t heard of everyone in this trio. I recalled reading that Bethany Mota had signed a deal late last year for an apparel line at Aeropostale, but knew little about any of the three.  Not surprising, since I’m not exactly in their target demographic, to say the least. (I’ve since updated my familiarity with their channels, though would still hardly qualify as an expert.)

But this isn’t designed to be a riff on how the next generation of licensing properties is always going to be coming from new and unexpected places as the media landscape and popular culture inevitably morph into something new. We saw it happen when videogames sprang into the youth market in the ‘70s and ‘80s – creating both an extremely lucrative product category for licensors, as well as a platform for new characters such as Mario & Luigi and Sonic the Hedgehog, among many others.

So it’s not exactly breaking news that it’s important for licensing professionals to make sure that they get outside their comfort zones in seeking new opportunities. From LIMA’s perspective, it’s something that we try to stay on top of, and try to keep members informed.

For example, this year’s Licensing University program at Licensing Expo included a session on “Reaching The YouTube Generation: How New Digital Companies Are Uniting Content Creators, Brands and Consumers,” including speakers from talent agencies UTA and Fullscreen and from YouTube-based teen network AwesomenessTV – the latter represented by Disney Stores and Claire’s Stores vet Jim Fielding, who came on board as Global Head of Consumer Products and Retail. Jim’s professional pedigree is an indication of how this platform is moving toward traditional licensing-based businesses.

As I wrote earlier, it’s a truism that new sources of licensing properties are always popping up. Part of the challenge is simply to become aware of them – particularly if you’re not in the target demographic. But once you’re aware, there arises a fundamental question: How do you know is what you’re looking at has any resonance, has any staying power with the intended audience? Whether I’m an agent or a licensee, what are the metrics that are going to help me know whether the blogger, YouTube star or social media personality is worth the time, effort and expense? It’s a fundamental question, made all the more challenging by fragmentation of the modern media landscape.

A YouTube trade ad that featured the three personalities mentioned that Mota has 5,829,596 fans, Phan has 6,134,178 fans and Pansino has 1,572,054 fans (those numbers no doubt have grown since the ad debuted). It’s important for anyone in the licensing business to understand whether those numbers are large or small compared to others (I’ll presume they’re large), and whether a count of the sheer number of fans is a valuable metric.

I asked a senior buyer for a specialty retailer what he makes of numbers like that, and he brought out a couple of interesting points. He said he used to look at how many fans (or “Likes” or “Views”) a property had accumulated to date, but that as he got deeper into it, he learned to look more at the recent rate of growth, how many of those fans had been added in the preceding weeks or months.

It’s also a matter of sensing how closely those fans are connected to the property, he said. Whether it’s a band, a TV show or a social media personality, he said, teens want to feel that they have a close personal connection.  “’Likes’ and ‘views’ aren’t engagement,” he said. “’Shares’ are engagement.”

Perhaps, as we all continue to learn more about the ever-changing media landscape, a host of other metrics will come to the fore that lets businesses more accurately gauge whether a property is right for them. It’s as much art as science. Any, all or none of the YouTube stars may turn into hot licensing properties. The “fun” and potential profit is in picking the right ones.