Three things do well on YouTube: music, comedy and the Fine brothers.
Sure, leading creators like Smosh, Philip DeFranco and PewDiePie have legions of young people ready to click their videos and inked high-profile sponsorship and distributions deals, including television.
Benny and Rafi Fine have been on YouTube since its earliest years and have focused on writing and directing original web series, with eleven in production and two on hiatus. Their main channel has over 5.5 million subscribers and just past 1 billion views. The duo might be most famous for their “React” videos, where kids, teens, elders, and YouTubers react adorably to news, viral videos and memes.
But their largest undertaking, "MyMusic," premiered its second season this week. It’s one of of YouTube’s most ambitious and popular shows, targeting viewers aged 15-35 (split evenly by age and gender). "MyMusic" is a "30 Rock"-like comedy about a fictional music marketing company run by Indie – a regular Pitchforck reader – and his staff that includes Hip Hop, the marketing manager and Idol, who does social media. Every character reflects a music subculture.
“There are a lot new things this season including a new main character [“Country”], some new sub characters, guest stars, and a lot more drama within the comedy! In Season 2, we dive into getting to know more about the staff and the conflicts that need resolution from Season 1,” Benny Fine told Indiewire.
The show receives production support directly through YouTube. It was one of the only standalone series as part of Google’s embattled premium channel initiative and shot the second season at YouTube’s Space in Los Angeles – a glamorous studio I toured several months ago.
MyMusic is already one of the most ambitious television shows of the past several years. Episodes will air every Tuesday through March of next year, at which point they will be re-cut into six twenty-two minute episodes. Throughout the year, the show will release an additional four series each week to engage fans, including the interactive show The Mosh. The MyMusic blog has been upgraded to provide daily news on the music industry along with show updates. The cast will host podcasts and appear in live events. Fans can interact across over 80 social media accounts that add to the MyMusic storyline.
MyMusic is just one example of renaissance for television targeting young people online. It joins Freddie Wong’s massively popular "Video Game High School," which also premiered its second season this summer, with half-hour episodes (it was one of the most successful indie crowdfunding campaigns in Kickstarter’s short history). Indies like "Ruby Sky PI" have been amassing awards at TV festivals, and other YouTube premium channels, like Felicia Day’s "Geek & Sundry", have release their own shows as well ("Learning Town"). This adds to a series of successful YouTube-to-TV crossovers in the children’s television space, most notably Nickelodeon’s "Fred" (whose creator, Lucas Cruikshank, recently came out) and Cartoon Network’s "Annoying Orange." Smosh, which recently reached 10 million subscribers only to be usurped by PewDiePie as the network’s most subscribed, is eyeing television as well.
The Fines aren’t ruling out television, but they are confident enough the quality of their work will attract the resources necessary to increase the scale of their studio.
“We're already a micro studio/TV style network with successful content in unscripted, scripted, and animation,“ Benny said. “We want to be creating and producing 5 or 10 MyMusic-size projects alongside the leaner material as well.”
Congrats on a second season! What is new this season (plot, writing style, character development, tone)?
Thank you! There are a lot new things this season including a new main character, some new sub characters, guest stars, and a lot more drama within the comedy! In Season 2, we dive into getting to know more about the staff and the conflicts that need resolution from Season 1. Transmedia-wise we have a big emphasis on the MyMusicShow.tv blog being a key point this season. It will now be a place to get all your real music news, through a fictional sitcom. Towards mid-season we will be integrating something we think has not been done before in a transmedia experience. Can't reveal what just yet, but we're excited about it.
Did you get the sense from season one that fans reacted strongly -- negatively, positively -- to any one character? Did any major fan reactions affect how you wrote the second season?
The fan reactions are an ongoing part of "MyMusic" since we are a real-time sitcom (the only one of its kind, at least to my knowledge). This series is an experience. These characters are written to be as if they are living their lives day to day as the season progressed, so even fan disapproval of certain plot points or character traits takes on a different meaning in a show like this, where the people themselves, in character can directly have a dialogue with that concerned fan and talk it out. We're breaking new ground on traditional narrative storytelling every day.
On the show it seems like you mix music commentary and character development. Is there anything behind Hip Hop's nerd transformation? Or Idol's rediscovery of EDM?From the beginning we knew Hip Hop was a "poser", even in the opening title sequence and early episodes little hints of it were thrown in (i.e. if you listen closely he is listening to classical music or soundtracks in his headphones even when no one knew the truth, though if you found his secret Tumblr last season, you knew very early on), so the idea was that even non "judgey" people in our society will oddly find themselves making assumptions on people solely based on who they listen to; but really, that doesn't define a person - Hip Hop embodies that. As for Idol there are people who always need to be up to date on the "in" thing. To her credit, Idol will always give something a try and this season we'll see where it takes her. You're one of the biggest series on YouTube. How has difficult has it been navigating financing and production support (through YouTube, your network or sponsors)?
The economics of web video have not gotten to a level where projects like "MyMusic" can exist without financial support, and larger projects of late online are all direct funding, sponsorship, crowd funding or a combination of all of the above, and not just from the revenue generated independently by creators. We're hoping the success, high production values, and innovative storytelling successes of series like "MyMusic" can help continue to bring more legitimacy to the viewership statistics we generate. (we will hit 1B views soon and in recent months have averaged 80+ million views monthly). We and many of our peers have been able to build a sustainable viewership model. As a result, that will hopefully bring the ad dollars. We want to be creating and producing 5 or 10 "MyMusic"-size projects alongside the leaner material as well. We're already a micro studio/TV style network with successful content in unscripted, scripted, and animation.
Are you focused on YouTube or would you sell "MyMusic" to TV
or another network for season three?
We definitely would love to see "MyMusic" on television, but YouTube would likely always play a role in how the experience and transmedia side would play out if that did happen.
Your videos are accessible to most people but seem particularly popular with young audiences. Do you always plan on doing so or have you thought about branching out? Do you think online video is leading to a renaissance for programs for the youth?
The internet and YouTube in particular leans younger
with who is logged in and watching the content, and hence the analytics
sometimes appear more one-sided across our content too, but our numbers
are very much split. Today's younger audiences have grown up on the
internet and are driving the viewing habits of the future. We love that
younger people have embraced our content, especially for the new engagement
opportunities. Season 1 of "MyMusic" had the same amount of 18-40 viewers as under 18. We
don't think content needs to fit into a specific demographic like the
television networks approach . In many ways there is greater success
with youth programming because, as our years of experience working with
kids and teens on other series have taught us, the youth is a lot smarter
than most realize. Dumbing down content and making content targeted
"for kids" is not the way to make a real impact on them. YouTube
and web video overall is proving that fact.