Monday, June 27, 2022

Brat TV takes YouTube and TikTok stars like Jules LeBlanc and turns them into actors

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Shreya Christina
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It’s a story as old as time: bright young things arrive in Los Angeles on the busload, waiting to be discovered by someone powerful enough to — if they’re really, really, lucky! – make them famous.

The 2020 version of this story reads a little differently: Smart young things arrive in Los Angeles already famous, wondering what to do next.

For some, the answer is Brat TV. Launched in 2017, the studio takes teens who have built up a huge following online and casts them into serialized, low-cost-to-produce TV shows that air on (where else?) YouTube. The tone is somewhere between Disney Channel and Degrassi; in the studio’s most popular series, Chickens Girls, characters deal with dating, dance team tryouts, and the perils of high school, while older TikTokers like Dixie D’Amelio, Madi Monroe, and Griffin Johnson have appeared on shows like Attaway Generalwhich is set in the same universe and focuses on a group of volunteers at the local hospital.

“When we started the company, the driving force was that all this amazing talent was thriving online and didn’t have the resources or resources to turn that into intellectual property,” explains co-founder Rob Fishman when I meet him at the Brat TV studio. , located in a modest loft across the street from CBS’s Television City. They are recording an episode of Sip or spill, a new podcast on YouTube hosted by TikTokers Tati Mitchell and Louis Levanti. Today’s guest is Brooklynne Webb, a 17-year-old body positivity creator who recently had a (possibly?) satirical song aimed at her haters. (The moment I feel like the oldest is when none of them can remember the name of the TV show Small house on the Prairie. Those of us in the room who were born in the 20th century step in to help.)

The podcast is part of past your bedtime, a spin-off of the Brat TV universe targeting the age group most associated with TikTokers: late teens and early 20s. Brat’s ramification from the tween segment is, in part, a reflection of the maturity of the creative economy . A few years ago, Fishman says, movie and TV executives barely paid attention to the influencers coming out of YouTube or TikTok. At the time, they may have been right to ignore them – the earliest digital influencers had a difficult time to break into the traditional entertainment industry† most who found financial success did so by launching products, podcasts, or their own businesses instead.

But since TikTok launched in 2018, all the major talent agencies like WME, UTA, and CAA have built departments dedicated to representing influencers. Still, “When you talk to people in the industry, most of them are still fairly skeptical about digital talent,” Fishman says. “This city was built on the assumption that the people here know best and that they’re going to make Oscar-winning movies, so I think there’s something existentially threatening about people getting famous on their phones, what state they’re in. also be.”

Actors at Brat HQ.
brat tv

That’s how Tati Mitchell and Louis Levanti, the Sip or spill podcast hosts, be here. Two years ago, Mitchell had two full-time jobs, one supervising patients under medical care and another in the kitchen of a Detroit hospital, in addition to running her own dessert business. During her breaks she posted funny comments on cringey or selfish POV TikTokers and quickly became a pandemic sensation† “As soon as I got a million on TikTok, I thought, ‘Okay, I think I’m famous now!'” she says with a laugh. Once she made more money from brand sponsorship than from her two jobs, she quit and moved to LA. In December, Brat reached out to her about hosting a podcast, which was helpful, she says, because “there was a podcast on my vision board for 2022.”

Fishman sees influencers working with Brat as sort of a first stop in the industry. “It puts them in a place where they can start conversations with the platforms, with the advertisers and industry people, building businesses beyond just posting short content every day – which is great, but it’s an incredible amount.” work.” User-generated content, he says, is cheap and accessible, but “something is missing from the media ecosystem, which is digestible entertainment that has been professionally produced.”

If this pitch sounds familiar to you, you may remember Quibi, the short video platform that charged users $5 a month to watch TV episodes of less than 10 minutes and failed spectacularly within six months (the difference here is that Brat’s shows are free to watch on platforms everyone is already using). Quibi is not the only platform on which Brat TV has been compared: It seems like every few years there is a spate of studio slash incubators that blend emerging (read: cheap) digital talent with professional film crews and marketing departments. In the earliest era of YouTube influencers, multi-channel networks like Next New Networks and Maker Studios brought together several established channels and took on the administrative work associated with content creation in exchange for a percentage of ad revenue. Studios like Fullscreen and Awesomeness TV also acted as bridges between the worlds of influencers and producers, while during the news media’s “pivot to video” in the mid-2010s, editors relied on the journalists they already employed to act as talent in front of the camera. A studio called Creator+ announced last spring that it had raised $12 million to fund feature-length films that were produced and starred in big names.

After selling his company Niche, which linked influencers and advertisers, to Twitter in 2015, Fishman and co-founder Darren Lachtman raised a $2.5 million seed funding round to launch Brat TV. Since then, they have raised millions more from investors such as Anchorage Capital, Goldman Sachs and New Line Cinema founder Bob Shaye. The company currently employs 45 full-time employees (actors and crew are paid per project) and owns each show’s IP address. After making a reported $15 million in revenue in 2020, he says they nearly doubled that amount in 2021.

For creators like Mitchell, working with Brat TV is a welcome break from the tedium of posting endless TikToks, which many creators have said left them with a crushing burnout and cheating syndrome. “I don’t post as much as I used to,” she says. “I think I’m going to start, but then I get so caught up in my thoughts about my… opinions and if everyone is going to forget me.” Both she and Levanti hope to use their TikTok platform as access to more lucrative worlds, whether that’s launching their own tequila brands, taking advantage of web3 technology, TV hosting, or advocating for causes that are personal to them. are – the rights of young black women and the LGBTQ community, respectively.

They offer a glimpse into the future of microcelebrity, where the endgame isn’t necessarily cast into an Emmy-winning series or becoming the world’s biggest pop star; it’s making money with as many different parts of yourself as you can never be tied to a single platform or industry. That’s not to say Brat TV isn’t hoping to produce superstars. When Fishman watches new Netflix shows aimed at teens, he says, he often wonders why he recognizes certain actors. And then it hits him: He had cast them on Brat before.

This column was first published in the Goods Newsletter. Register here so you don’t miss the next one, and receive exclusive newsletters.

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