The Irish stars of YouTube spill the secrets of their success
Innumerable businesses have begun in people’s bedrooms but those that are successful rarely remain there. However, with little more than a video camera, a laptop and an internet connection, this is exactly where savvy Irish YouTubers are operating from.
Vlogging – or video-blogging – has become an extremely lucrative venture for those who can find an audience. While many of the biggest YouTubers today began their channels five years ago as a hobby, there are few among them now who don’t treat it as a job, and in many cases, as a small business.
This isn’t too surprising when you consider YouTube’s 800 million monthly visitors who are viewing over four billion hours of video each month. That’s more than 450,000 years of video every month, so an audience for all kinds of content certainly isn’t lacking.
Finding a formula for attracting that audience and sticking to it is the key to making a living from YouTube, says Jonathan Saccone Joly, the man behind his family’s reality TV show, The Saccone Jolys.
When he began in 2009, his animated videos weren’t pulling in the views he had hoped. It wasn’t until he switched to vlogging his life with his wife, Anna, that he hit upon success.
The channel has since racked up over 500,000 subscribers and more than 110 million views, and has broadcast everything from their wedding to the births of their two children, Emilia and Eduardo.
“I just started filming, just sort of messing,” says Joly. “I was like: ‘Woah, people like the human interest story, the connection.’ Instead of liking the high-resolution, cool animation stuff, it was actually the low resolution that invited more participation.”
He describes the show as a conversation between himself and the audience. “You don’t exactly direct how it’s going to go; you allow it to do its own thing. When you start scripting it, then it changes in its nature. I think our audience really enjoy that about it, that it’s still honest…
“We’re like reality TV but our show is actually real, whereas with reality shows like the Kardashians, the level of reality, it needs to be called drama, because it’s not reality any more,” says Joly.
For BriBry O’Reilly, who now boasts almost 350,000 subscribers, a career in YouTube was something he sort of fell into.
“When all my friends were talking about doing master’s, all I wanted to do was to travel the world and go to every single country and tick everything off my bucket list. I decided to start filming it, not really caring if anyone would watch. Everybody laughed at me at the start.”
His vlogs chronicling his trips around the world attracted an audience that has boosted his music career. “I think the people who watch it prefer for you not to call it a job, but it is my job,” says O’Reilly.
“I’m a singer first and foremost… If I didn’t make YouTube videos, I wouldn’t be able to make a living from my music. My revenue comes from iTunes and touring, doing shows around the world, but I actually give my YouTube ad revenue to charity. The ad revenue itself is actually a fair enough wage for you to live off, especially if your videos are getting enough views.”
Hazel Hayes initially created her channel, Chewing Sand, to better understand her role as a Partner Manager for YouTube working with other YouTubers.
While her channel began with a mish-mash of vlogs, comedy sketches and music videos, she has now also turned her attention to writing and directing short films.
Having just released her first short film, Super Brainy Zombies, she has quickly become one of very few women in the UK who is writing and directing films and doing sketch comedy on YouTube.
“I noticed that the female roles on YouTube aren’t great, but that’s just something that happens in the industry in general, it’s always sort of the girlfriend or the wife. I saw this as an opportunity to change that myself, with Super Brainy Zombies. I’m seeing this now as an opportunity to write some really interesting female roles. That’s something I’m really excited about… I can think of a few women in the US who are doing sketch comedy and who are great, and who I look up to as role models, but in my own market I’m kind of the only one, so I suppose that works to my advantage a little bit,” says Hayes.
While she’s becoming known as a film-maker on YouTube, the celebrity culture that has begun to surround all the biggest stars on the platform is not something she’s entirely comfortable with. “People are suddenly being thrust into the limelight and becoming celebrities and there’s this mass hysteria, generally among teenage girls, who just latch onto them,” says Hayes. “Their fans feel like they really know that person and there’s a danger on both sides. It’s just really odd for a random, normal, everyday person to suddenly find they’re a celebrity, but a celebrity that the rest of the world doesn’t really take seriously. They’re not getting the same sort of support and security that regular celebrities would.”
This developing culture is one of O’Reilly’s least favourite parts of the YouTube game.
“I think a lot of YouTubers are starting to think they’re actual celebrities and that’s something that I never want to be a part of,” he says. “That’s the hardest part. Seeing my friends become not arrogant, but ever so slightly up themselves… I think you’re actually better at it when you do it for the love of it. I think we’re all overpaid, but what can I say?”
On the flip side, the Saccone Jolys have recently moved from Cork to the UK to be able to participate more in this lifestyle. “The only reason we stayed away from that stuff is because I never felt like one of those YouTube celebrity people. Then we moved to the UK because they were like: ‘You kind of are. Come over here now and stop your messing.’ We will be on the bandwagon next year, we’re going to hit up all the events!” says Joly.
While they all clearly prefer YouTube’s platform and the control they have over their content, they have few designs on replacing your favourite television stars.
“I don’t think normal television and the internet need to have a fight,” says Joly. “I’m making these videos that are doing better than the national broadcaster only because I’m tuned into what the audience want. You have to deliver a modern media, not try and stick to the same structure. We don’t offer a one-dimensional experience; there are so many different avenues of interaction. Whereas with TV, you can shout at it as much as you want, but it will never, ever change.”
Hayes agrees: “They’re two completely different beasts. The way we always put it is ‘Television is a monologue and YouTube is a conversation’. YouTube is just so different, particularly in the way that people can engage. People are on a couple of devices at one time, so they’re sat in front of their television with their laptop or a tablet or a mobile, consuming short pieces of content, while something is on in the background. It feels like there’s kind of a place for both of them in the world.”