In the beginning, says Bing Chen, YouTube’s former creator development lead, online platforms like YouTube and Vine were all about reach. Without needing the permission of a music label, publisher, director, or even an established art form, anyone could reach a potential audience of millions. "But reach is a one-dimensional, one-directional relationship," Chen says. "It is me talking to you. As opposed to with you."
Then the conversation moved to interaction with fans. "It’s a bidirectional relationship," Chen says. "I talk with you, you talk to me, we do something cool."
Now, Chen is working for a startup called Victorious (not to be confused with the Nickelodeon show) that is hoping to take the world of digital-born celebrities one step further. "It’s more than just watching and commenting and liking," he says. "It’s about showing up for the show, creating content for you, building your business with you, and to that effect, we’re building a world together. It’s a multi-directional relationship."
Victorious, which also counts YouTube’s former head of content, Dean Gilbert, among its executives, is building a mobile platform that it hopes will become home to those worlds, in which fans interact with each other just as much as they do with content creators. It has already signed up YouTube mega-stars like Michelle Phan, Boyce Avenue, and Shay Carl to create their own apps using the platform, which it plans to release this fall.
"I would think of these mobile hubs as the social networks wrapped around content or creators," says Sam Rogoway, Victorious’s CEO. "You have fans who not only love creators, but have similar interests, whether it’s in the makeup vertical or the automotive vertical."
Victorious is not a mobile agency. Though customizable, the apps will be created in a make-your-own software environment, not unlike tools for creating general apps like AppMakr, Mobile Roadie, and countless others. Chen insists the team is "not interested in making a glorified aggregator of existing social media feeds," but the app will in part offer aggregation of the stars’ existing creative channels. Though the company is short on details of what other facets of these apps will look like, the idea is to give fans a place to interact and—in some cases—buy things offered by their favorite content creators.
What may be potentially appealing to budding (read: broke) online talent is that creating apps will be free. Instead, Victorious will take a percentage of any in-app purchases in the app, which could be anything from a song download to items from Michelle Phan’s makeup line.
Digital-born stars have already ventured beyond sharing advertising revenue with platforms like YouTube as a way to monetize their celebrity. They have their own agents, speaking fees, endorsement deals, and product lines. Victorious—if it is, indeed, victorious—will allow them to lift the most dedicated of their fans into their world, as well.