The Fine Brothers have had a meteoric rise on YouTube, where their comedic short films were seen 31.8 million times during a recent week in April -- making them the seventh-most-watched channel, according to Tubefilter -- which ranks them higher than Pitbull, Eminem, Beyonce or Justin Bieber, among others.
"We're innovating how you make content for this new medium," says Benny Fine. "All these viewers now watching are also pioneering what it is to be a viewer of content. They follow us through all of our different endeavors, all our different series, and now will have the opportunity to follow us to another medium."
That is what Viacom's Nickelodeon is counting on.
Benny, 33, and his brother Rafi, 30, have been given the green light for their first television series, ReactToThat, which has been picked up for a 13-episode season by the Nickelodeon channel, to begin airing later this year. It is a variation of the concept that has built their career and started four years ago with Kids React, in which children reacted to videos they were shown.
It has since led to Teens React, Elders React and YouTubers React, and soon will spawn other TV shows and a feature film that is already fully financed for under $5 million by Fullscreen, a large player in the creation of YouTube videos (partly backed by producer Peter Chernin). The Fine brothers will produce and write the movie and may direct and appear in it.
"What we’ve found," says Fullscreen CEO George Strompolos, "is a lot of these creators, and the Fines are certainly in this bucket, have built these extremely passionate, loyal fan bases that want to see them grow and evolve and do bigger, better things."
The two Brooklyn-born brothers are also working on a pilot presentation for the Sundance Channel, developing a food show for the Food Network and working on a follow-up to their April Fool's Day video for Purina, Cats React, which has had almost five million views online since April 1.
A Nickelodeon spokesperson says the Fine Brothers are going to take React to "the next level" in a version "entirely re-envisioned for television. In the new series, the 'reactors' not only watch and respond to viral videos, but pop out of the reaction room and into showdowns where the clips come to life as each reactor is confronted with a challenge based on the video they just watched."
The brothers' manager, Max Benator, says when they made the decision to bring React to traditional TV, among those who immediately "got it" were producer and personality Nick Cannon and his producing partner and manager, Michael Goldman. Benator, Cannon and Goldman are producing the show for Nick along with the Fine Brothers.
Goldman says Nickelodeon has been "trying to figure out how to get their arms around digital content and the transformation of the young audience because obviously they watch TV so differently than we do."
Cannon has had a long association with Nickelodeon and serves as an advisor to Teen Nick. When he saw the Fine Brothers, he immediately understood that they could bring something new to TV. "They really understand digital content and understand social commentary," says Goldman, adding: "All Nick and I wanted to do, really, was not mess it up. We understood we had to stand back and let the Fine Brothers be the creative element."
"The primary difference between what we do online and the TV show," says Benny, "is you’re going to see kids and teens together, which is something we don’t do online. There’s also going to be some breakout elements that are not what you are used to seeing."
Cannon and Goldman are also working with the Fines and Benator on a pilot presentation for the Sundance Channel, which is described as a pop culture show that is another take on the React concept.
That fresh point of view is also what has attracted the Fine brothers to producer Marc Summers, who is working with them to develop a cooking show for the Food Network. "I just thought that they had a different take on things," says Summers. "These guys know how to download and tell stories and do things on computers and phone guys my age don't know how to do."
Summers plans to have a sizzle reel for their show concept in June and then will pitch it to the network. Marc Hustvedt, of Reach Entertainment, worked with the Fine Brothers on Cats React, which he says was an attempt to do something fresh around the Nestles Purina cat food brand.
Benny says they had been looking for a brand "savvy enough" to realize there were ways to use their comedy to tap into the zeitgeist of the moment. "This is how you reach people in a massive way," he says, "not necessarily in a traditional commercial way."
Crediting the Internet for allowing them to experiment and develop their art, "We’ve just been able to kind of take on anything and knock it out of the park," says Rafi, "and get millions of people to watch it. It’s been quite the experience for two brothers who were Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, who had no idea that they were going to end up in the entertainment industry. To be where we are now, making features, TV shows and getting a hundred million views online is kind of an amazing thing."