Top 25 Digital Stars Revealed
Don't recognize anyone in this story? Sorry, the answer is no longer, "Don't worry." Those 18-to-24-year-olds fleeing the TV and movie theaters are now interacting online (in spurts as short as six seconds) with these mega-talents whose influence only increases as linear and second screens converge.
This story first appeared in the July 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
If you're a Hollywood bigwig born before 1980, you might not recognize a single name on this list. But they're all enormously famous. In fact, the 25 online talents THR is singling out for this year's Digital Issue (last year's focus was on online producers and executives) have global fan bases and annual income that make some traditional TV and film stars look like dinner theater stand-ins. Cameron Dallas, 20, who appears in a series of six-second videos in which he does stuff like smash eggs on his head, is such a big deal on Vine — where he has 7.8 million followers — he couldn't visit the Eiffel Tower this summer without being mobbed by hundreds of screaming French girls. "It was madness," he says, "and awesome." Colleen Ballinger, 28, who has 4.5 million subscribers on YouTube, where her "Miranda Sings" alter ego offers wacky advice, recently was ambushed by groupies in a Los Angeles public restroom. "These girls run up to me," she says, "and start pointing and hugging me and shoving me."
TV viewership among 18-to-24-year-olds is down (off 17 percent this year), and film attendance among 12-to-18-year-olds is dropping (also down 17 percent), according to Nielsen data analyzed by MarketingCharts. And this is where those demographics are disappearing to: the untamed, always-morphing world of social media. The rules of celebrity do not apply here. In this universe, Nash Grier, a 17-year-old from North Carolina, can post videos of himself goofing around with his 5-year-old sister and end up with 11.9 million followers (and a reported $100,000 contract with Virgin Mobile to promote the brand in his Vines). Says Kevin Allocca, head of culture and trends at YouTube, "When my parents look at YouTube stars and say, 'I don't understand why this person is so successful,' I tell them, 'You're looking at it the wrong way. You're not looking at what they're truly talented at. It's in creating bonds with people.' "
The good news for Hollywood: There never has been a greater incubator of young talent. Many on this list (those are their own selfies, by the way) have signed with big talent agencies and are fielding TV and movie deals (Dallas starred in 2014's Expelled; Smosh: The Movie debuts July 24). The bad news? In a few years, as the lines between linear and digital entertainment continue to blur, these folks may not give a hoot about Hollywood. Being a YouTube or Vine star will be all the fame anyone needs.
Reporting by Rebecca Ford, Andy Lewis, Michael O'Connell, Bryn Sandberg, Austin Siegemund-Broka, Kate Stanhope and Rebecca Sun.