YouTube Leaders of the Year

/ Dec 24, 2013

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The success of YouTube creators online usually comes down to two factors — targeting specific niches, and building shows on strong personalities. So to celebrate our favorite YouTubers, producers, and food-makers, we’ve broken them down by category.

Beauty/Fashion: Ingrid Nilsen / MissGlamorazzi

Ingrid Nilsen started off from humble, tomboy-ish roots, but has since come to create a diverse range of content that showcases her happy persona and genuine love for the content she covers in her videos.

Nilsen’s vlog videos are intimate and casual, in the classic tradition of YouTube fashion bloggers, but there’s also more polished content in the mix on her channel: In December, she produced 22 DIY suggestions on everything from make-up holders to recipes.

She is currently signed up with Big Frame, and racking up sponsorships and other opportunities from companies interested in reaching her 2 million subscribers.

Comedy: Improv Everywhere

Posting its first YouTube video, a “mission” staged at a Virgin Megastore in 2006 (Virgin Megastore!), professional improviser Charlie Todd’s Improv Everywhere remains an institution of the web video scene, and has found new ways to reinvent its image.

Just one example: Its most recent series, “Movies in Real Life,” recreates major moments from classic films in a public setting — true to Improv Everywhere’s spontaneous anything-can-happen sensibility, but with a new hook that contains a lot of potential for future videos.

It’s also, for a series built on pranking, a surprisingly positive and joyful brand, which is probably a factor in its viral success, 1.6 million subscribers and 341 million views, and countless mentions across the blogosphere every time the group is up to something.

Music: Lindsey Stirling

One of the stand-out performers at last month’s YouTube Music Awards, the 27-year-old YouTube star/violinist/dancer was also arguably one of the most deserving award winners of the night. (Plus, she wore a jetpack during her live music video for “Crystalize,” which was just OUTSTANDING.)

With a subscriber base of 3.8 million and over 500 million total views, Stirling’s popularity is undeniable. Plus, while covers of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” were pretty much ubiquitous in 2013, her version (a collaboration with Pentatonix, for which she won at the YTMAs), at 50 million views hers might be the definitive version.

Education: PBS Digital Studios

PBS’s brand, 10 years ago, wasn’t necessarily associated with innovation, but the network your grandmother turned to for British murder mysteries has become a fount of solid digital content. Most prominent and Webby-winning is the original series “PBS Idea Channel,” hosted by Mike Rugnetta and featuring an interesting mash-up of art, tech, and pop culture.

In addition, if you’re looking to develop for the web, teaming up with John Green is maybe one of the smartest moves you can make. Earlier this year, the network announced that it was teaming up with the erstwhile Nerdfighter and author for a series called “The Art Assignment.” It sounds like a series targeted well towards PBS’s target audience — and with Green’s involvement and years of experience making web content, there’s plenty of potential.

Food: Epic Meal Time

If you’re looking for a suspect in the case of Why The Internet Is Bacon-Obsessed, blame Epic Meal Time. The Canadian cholesterol fiends have turned their meat obsession into a sometimes-disturbingly-calorie-laden cooking show that makes Guy Fieri look like one of the guys who makes Healthy Choice frozen meals.

But figurehead Harley Morenstein and his team are a lot more fun than Guy Fieri, and have also experimented with different approaches to their particular brand, such as the “Top Chef”-esque-but-more-badass “Epic Chef,” which demanded the most decadent meals from real chefs. Plus, Morenstein branched out into the lucrative field of video game-related content with “Original Gamer,” a series that features Morenstein and friends gaming their hearts away — proof that a YouTuber’s brand can sometimes simply be a compelling personality.

Gaming: Rooster Teeth

Fun fact: Rooster Teeth‘s experience making videos for the web pre-dates streaming services. The Austin-based production studio took off in 2003 with the now-iconic series “Red vs. Blue,” familiar to gaming fans as the Hulu-based machinima series that has run for 11 seasons and 241 episodes.

Rooster Teeth also serves as one of the early examples of a web series turning to multiple forms of monetization beyond running ads, including merchandise and DVDs, plus a small multi-channel network with more gamer-themed content.

A loyal user of Blip for ages now — “Red vs. Blue” is available there, and in addition other original series — this year Rooster Teeth produced the second season of its original reality competition series “The Gauntlet.” “Gauntlet” was developed in conjunction with the Blip creative team.

But they’ve also evolved with the times, recently building up a vibrant YouTube channel that currently updates with two-to-six new episodes of shows every day, racking up 6.7 million subscribers to date. Because Rooster Teeth is the quintessential example of a company identifying an underserved niche — and then never letting them go.

News & Politics: Phil DeFranco & SourceFed

YouTuber Phil DeFranco built his audience thanks to daily rants on major topics, so it’s little surprise that when it came time to create a spinoff series, he’d lean towards the same approach. But “SourceFed,” the news and commentary show that was originally Google-funded and is now partnered with Discovery, is produced with far more polish than DeFranco’s informal vlog-style approach, and its team of revolving hosts bring great energy to each short, well-informed video.

Watching the hosts interact with each other proves a lot more dynamic than a solo person talking into a camera, and the result is a YouTube following old-timers would envy — nearly 2 million subscribers, 550 million views, and a vast archive of highly-searchable content. Plus, high production value and focus on relaying information in an entertaining way are becoming a standard of popular YouTube content — making the SourceFed team, and their boss, the gold standard.

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