YouTube Secret Weapon: Its Top Creators

By Chanak Maduranga

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YouTube Secret Weapon: Its Top Creators

The stunt took weeks of preparation. Building a tank. Training with freedivers and magicians. Developing the filming schedule.

The end result of the effort, a new episode of YouTube star Michelle Khare’s series Challenge Accepted in which she attempted to recreate Harry Houdini’s deadliest trick, has since garnered more than 4.5 million views on YouTube.

The final product has a production quality that would rival what’s on “traditional” TV (in fact, magician David Blaine attempted a similar stunt for a 2006 primetime ABC special), but Khare produced the episode herself, for her YouTube audience.

“For Challenge Accepted because we release very infrequently — unlike a normal season of television, it’s about 10 to 15 episodes a year — and within each of those episodes, we are representing a unique community,” Khare says in an interview. “So for example, in the video where I attempted Harry Houdini’s deadliest magic trick, we’re entering into the community of magic. And so as creators, we have the commonality of me as the host and our team and the amazing artists working on the project. But also we loved experimenting with magic-themed music. How can we refer to, you know, various big events in magic that have happened over history? So each episode that we do, we want to lean into that community and hear from that community how they want to be represented, and that really heavily informs my participation, the production, the hosting, post, etc.”

Michelle Khare’s series Challenge Accepted, “I Tried Houdini’s Deadliest Trick.”

Ryan Forsythe

It’s a level of care that Khare, and other top YouTube creators, believes warrants a closer look from The Powers That Be, be it from the advertising world, or from the awards world, with YouTube shows not eligible for Emmy Awards or other honors. Khare notes that each episode of Challenge Accepted can take about a year from ideation to hitting upload, with other challenges including training like a NASA astronaut, or a chess grandmaster, or learning how to be a runway model, or most recently learning to become a treasure hunter.

There is one group that seems to have bought in: Viewers. YouTube is marking one year as the most-watched streaming platform on Nielsen’s Gauge chart, which tracks what consumers are watching on TV, and the platform says that in the U.S. alone, 150 million people are watching on TV sets each month, totaling 1 billion hours daily.

It’s a stunning number, and it is owing to the breadth and depth of the platform’s creators, which span genres like Khare’s action and adventure, children’s programming like Ms. Rachel, and talk and comedy shows like Hot Ones or the long-running Good Mythical Morning.

When Conan O’Brien wanted to promote his new Max show Conan Must Go, he ventured to Hot Ones, where host Sean Evans grilled him as they chowed down on increasingly spicy wings (O’Brien subsequently expressed some regret, saying that his mouth “really hurt” afterward); and GMM hosts Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal are frequent guests on NBC’s Tonight Show.

“There’s an interesting thing that is happening with this: The long talked about merger of what we would traditionally call user-generated-content and then the traditional media space. And the evolution of technology has been the thing that has really driven it,” McLaughlin says. “It becomes this situation where the consumer is faced with two choices and in the interface that they’re interacting with on a television, there’s no fundamental difference between the Amazon Prime logo and the YouTube logo. They’re just right there, two choices, but that content is generated in a much different way. Now that we’ve seen that merger in the tech, we’re in this place where we’re trying to sort out how do we treat this?”

“We’re not making user generated content. We’re making independent television,” Neal adds.

To McLaughlin, Neal, and Khare, if the content is connecting with consumers, and they are watching it on their TV sets, maybe it should be in the mix for things like Emmys, or other high-profile honors.

“Those award shows really are one of the ways that we collectively, as a culture, agree to celebrate the things that are really connecting. And we’re like, hey, this content is connecting,” McLaughlin says. “If you really look at the amount of engagement and the amount of cultural influence that what is happening on YouTube and how it’s influencing culture, well, this is where it’s at. This is where it’s moving and this is where it’s been for a while. And we feel like that should be celebrated.”

“What I think is really cool about this is when you open Apple TV or Roku or whatever, you see Disney+, you see Hulu, you see Netflix and YouTube, the app is right there,” Khare adds. “We’re right next to all of the major streaming services, and so that’s I think, how we view a lot of the work that we do for Challenge Accepted is that traditional TV has always had act based ad breaks and tension before an ad break and whatnot. And to me, it’s also just good storytelling to constantly have cliffhangers and moments to keep the audience engaged.”

At GMM, McLaughlin and Neal (sometimes joined by members of the Mythical crew or surprise guests) play games or take on wacky challenges, asking “Will It Enchilada?” one day (in which the Mythical chefs try to turn unexpected ingredients into enchiladas) or trying to cut objects perfectly in half with crazy tools another day. They release new episodes each Monday through Friday, with an after-show (Good Mythical More) every day on another channel.

They also have used their main channel to launch others, like the Mythical Kitchen, led by chef Josh Scherer. And the duo say they plan to launch a new six-episode series on their original Rhett and Link channel later this year “that is us really kind of leaning into the most creative things that we want to do, basically making a TV show for YouTube directly,” McLaughlin says.

“We were making videos for arguably a decade before YouTube existed, right? So we were always looking for an audience, and we didn’t know we were waiting for YouTube to be invented,” Neal says. “We didn’t have opportunities to be put in front of an audience. You know, we didn’t have any understanding of any of the the traditional routes. So we created our own opportunity and saw that YouTube gave us the ability to connect with an audience and iterate very quickly.”

YouTube has created scale, both in audience and in business. The video platform says that it has paid out more than $70 billion to its creators between 2021-2023, helping to create real-world businesses, from GMM’s Mythical Entertainment, to Mr. Beast’s North Carolina campus.

“[We are] making something that has a reliable point of contact in the same way that a TV show is, it’s like, hey, this thing comes out at the same time every single day. It’s very reliable programming. You can depend on it, you can incorporate it into your routine, you know,” McLaughlin says.

“We play by the TV rules that work to our advantage. So scheduling and consistency and daily content was something that we wanted to get into,” Neal adds.

“And then once we had that stream of content that was really working and connecting, then we started building out a team that, you know, 12 years later, really looks a lot more like a TV broadcast team,” McLaughlin continued. “Now at Mythical, there’s about 100 people working on everything that we make, and probably when we’re shooting GMM, there’s probably 40 or so people in that room with us that you can kind of hear laughing but they’re also doing their jobs.”

But the platform also allows for real-time feedback, something that Khare, McLaughlin, Neal and others like Mr. Beast have said helps them hone their own creative output.

“YouTube is unlike a TV show, where maybe you do a pilot and then they greenlight a whole season, and then the season is shipped out to the audience,” Khare says. “On YouTube, we get live feedback with every single episode. So if we release one episode and people like or don’t like something about episode one we can make that adjustment to episode two, which makes it a much more nimble and participatory environment. And we’re fortunate that we can marry that with the television quality of it all.”

“I think there’s this level of connection and its not just the fact that they’re interacting with it real time,” McLaughlin adds. “When you take a look at Michelle’s show, like, yes, this looks and feels like something that you would see on television, but you feel differently about it, because she’s not just some host that got cast into the show that some network is making.

“This is her world that she’s made, she’s got an incredible team but like she’s made all of this, this is her, not just somebody on the screen, you’re actually interacting with this product that she made,” he adds. “So when people see us on the street, they’re like, I’m interacting with the thing. I’m interacting with you but I’m interacting with this thing that you make, whereas when you go up to somebody that was in a movie, that’s a person that was in a movie made by somebody else.”

Next week, YouTube will host its annual Brandcast upfront event at Lincoln Center. Last year’s event, with many competitors forced to pivot amid the WGA strike, multiple media buyers said that YouTube had the most successful presentation, in large part by leaning on its creators, who span food and fashion, sports and entertainment.

This year the platform will pursue a similar agenda, though it will do so with a year atop the Nielsen Gauge.

“I think the beauty of what we do is that the only barrier to entry is the Upload button,” Khare says. “And when that is the only barrier, it allows for a level of honesty and intimacy that might not be achievable in the traditional methods.”

YouTube is betting that it was translate to its advertising business accordingly, and it has its creators to thank.

Chanak Maduranga

passionate journalist behind 'USA News Now 24', dedicated to delivering timely and accurate updates on US affairs. Committed to journalistic integrity and informing audiences with credible news coverage.

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