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YouTube content chief Susanne Daniels announced a slate of eight new and returning original series for its subscription service at VidCon on Thursday, including the online adaptation of dance movie Step Up and another featuring Saturday Night Live alumni.
Daniels, a veteran of the WB and MTV, provided details about the shows shortly after taking the stage at the Anaheim online video conference VidCon. The shows will run on YouTube’s $10-a-month video subscription service, Red, which launched in October.
This is the first slate that Daniels has overseen and it’s clear that her taste is starting to drive the direction that the programming is taking. Among the announcements is the renewal of Scare PewDiePie and Foursome, a new film starring comedy duo Smosh, and a project executive produced by Morgan Spurlock.
She is also bringing to the platform a project she has been hoping to land for years: a series adaptation of 2006 dance movie Step Up, which helped to launch Channing Tatum’s career. Daniels has spent years hounding executives at Lionsgate, whose Summit Entertainment produced the film, to make it into a teen-friendly show. “I forget how long I’ve been talking to Kevin Beggs about Step Up,“ she says, referring to Lionsgate’s TV group chairman. “I just kept calling and calling and finally, when they were ready to take it out, I was here.”
Step Up, which is being executive produced by Tatum, Jenna Dewan Tatum, Adam Shankman, Jennifer Gigot and Meredith Milton, will debut in early 2017. It is the first project Red has greenlighted that doesn’t have obvious ties to a YouTube star or series. But Daniels says that she expects online stars to be cast in the show, which will focus on dancers enrolled in a contemporary performing arts school. “This is the best place to put Step Up of all the places I’ve been recently, from a brand perspective and from an audience potential perspective,” notes Daniels. “Dance is a hugely successful genre on YouTube.”
But that doesn’t mean Daniels is moving away from working with homegrown YouTube stars.
Among the other series she will develop for Red are an educational show from Vsauce creator Michael Stevens that will look at the science of human nature; an animated series about the mysteries of the undead starring VanossGaming’s Evan Fong, SeaNanners’ Adam Montoya and Mr. Sark’s Scott Robinson; and a scripted comedy from comedians Rhett & Link. Called Buddy System, the show will follow the pair as they fight to regain control of their Internet empire from a co-ex-girlfriend and will feature Saturday Night Live alums Molly Shannon and Chris Parnell, alongside actors Leslie Bibb and Page Kennedy.
On the film side, YouTube is teaming with Smosh comedy duo Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox to produce a follow-up to 2015’s Smosh: The Movie. In this film, Hecox will play a self-centered ghost named Max who makes life difficult for his new roommate (Padilla). “The first movie we made was a great opportunity to tell some form of Anthony and Ian’s story,” says Barry Blumberg, chief content officer at Smosh owner Defy. “It was important for us to push this out a little further and tell a story that was unrelated to their reality and over past the YouTube sketch idea.”
The untitled Smosh ghost movie is being directed by Jack Henry Robbins, and it marks the duo’s second project with YouTube, following this year’s ad-supported release of comedy series Part Timers. “YouTube is the biggest partner that Smosh has today,” notes Blumberg. “We always try to make sure there are a number of projects we’re talking about or developing that fit into one part of the ecosystem or another.”
YouTube Red will also bring fans an inside look at the world tour of British comedy stars Dan and Phil with a tour film, as well as a behind-the-scenes documentary companion piece. And it has picked up Morgan Spurlock-produced documentary Vlogumentary, which follows early YouTube vloggers including Shay Carl Butler. Vlogumentary was funded through Indiegogo and debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival but Spurlock says YouTube Red is a logical home for the project.
“This movie was made for the fans, has been supported by the fans from day one, and will now be made accessible to the fans by the partner who gave everyone the chance to tell their story,” he says. “It’s the best of all possible worlds.”
Daniels has also given second seasons to Foursome, from AwesomenessTV starring Jenn McAllister, and Scare PewDiePie, in which the YouTube superstar is put in real-life horror situations based on his favorite video games. Gabriel Lewis, head of development at Maker Studios, which produced Scare PewDiePie with Skybound Entertainment, says that fans responded to the project because of its close ties to the videos that PewDiePIe (aka Felix Kjellberg) posts online already, adding that “the series was a natural extension of what Felix’s fans have come to love about him, and the elevated format created a broader appeal for new fans.”
YouTube has been quiet about the early performance of its originals and Red itself. But Daniels points to Scare PewDiePie as an example of the early impact that originals have had on on creators. She says the show actually introduced new fans to PewDiePie, who is the most popular YouTuber with nearly 46 million subscribers. And more broadly, creators who starred in YouTube’s first crop of originals not only saw an increase in subscribers to their main channels, they also saw increased watch time coming primarily from new viewers. Most of the viewing also happened via phones, which comes as little surprise given YouTube’s young, mobile-friendly demographic.
Daniels says she has been calling her first year on the job the “great big experiment” because she is still learning about what formats, lengths and genres will connect with viewers. And while she acknowledges that the goal of originals is to help build up Red’s subscriber base, she is also pragmatic, realizing that it will take time to establish a robust slate of content that will keep fans coming back. But she envisions Red becoming home to a diverse slate that appeals to YouTube’s vast audience.
“I think the platform could support a wide variety of shows,” she says. “It could support a big millennial appeal drama as much as it could support a talk show.”
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