Canadian YouTube stars talk starting out and taking off online ahead of FanFest in Toronto
JusReign performs at YouTube FanFest in Yonge-Dundas Square last year. (Media Profile)
Courtney Greenberg, CTV Toronto
Published Friday, August 12, 2016 5:22PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, August 15, 2016 11:57AM EDT
Some of the Internet’s favourite and most popular video creators attended this year’s YouTube FanFest at the Molson Ampitheatre on Aug. 13.
The event, put on around the world, allows fans to get up close with the creators and stars for meetups and a live performance.
“It was so important for us to bring it Canada, specifically Toronto,” said YouTube’s Canadian Marketing Director Fabricio Dolan. “We helped build up the YouTube space in Toronto to help incoming creators. Toronto is a hub for creative talent across the board.”
Dolan said he is always asked if there’s a certain number of Canadians he must include for Toronto’s event.
“Of course we have Canadian creators,” he said. “But they’re not here because we have to have a certain Canadian quotient. They’re here because they’re the biggest global name.”
The creators attending FanFest this year have over 52 million subscribers combined and a cumulative 7.9 billion views -- and their viewership continues to grow.
Ever since 2007, when a video entitled “Charlie bit me” went viral, the world finally saw the expansive reach YouTube could have. The video, only 55 seconds long, showed a baby biting his brother’s finger and “Ouch, Charlie, that really hurt,” became the catchphrase of the year. As of June 2016, that video has over 840 millions views.
YouTube continued to evolve and made channels more prominent on its website around 2011. Channels allowed creators to curate videos for their viewers. A couple years later, some creators were able to start charging viewers a small subscription fee for watching their channel. Now, many YouTubers release videos on a daily or weekly basis for their viewers, similar in some ways to streaming a television show online.
Asap Science creators saw potential in YouTube
Around the same time, Mitch Moffit and Gregory Brown -- creators of Asap Science -- were graduating from the University of Guelph after studying biological sciences.
Their first video posted in June 2012 had a couple views from friends and family. This year, they have 5.3 million subscribers.
Moffit told CTV Toronto they started watching educational YouTube channels that seemed to be building audiences.
“We thought that was really inspiring. We were kind of disconnected to the science world because we were no longer at university,” Moffit said. “(Making the videos) was a nice way to re-engage and create little projects for ourselves where we would be researching.”
They said they realized more than just friends and family were watching after they posted a video called “The Scientific Power of Naps” in July 2012.
It went viral and now it has almost 3 million views.
“I think that’s when we fully saw the potential of what could happen if you’re able to tap into ideas that people connect with,” Moffit said. “It taught us a lot about how we would title our videos, thumbnail the videos and about the reach the videos could have on the Internet.”
Moffit and Brown will be at this year’s YouTube FanFest, meeting with fans and fellow creators.
They said there is a common thread among Canadian YouTubers because as a group they “feel the need to perform extra hard and extra seriously so we can do well.”
“It’s sort of like we have this underdog status,” Brown said. The atmosphere in Toronto, where Moffit and Brown work and live, is very positive among YouTubers, they said.
“I think being in Toronto -- we’re so happy to stay there, go there and work there because it’s such a thriving, amazing city. There is so much YouTube talent.”
“The weird thing about being a YouTuber, which is a little different than traditional media, is that you have a very intimate relationship with your fans,”said Brown. “They really do feel they know who you are and it’s an amazing opportunity to meet [them].”
They often interact with fans online, on social media like Twitter and Facebook, Brown said, “but actually seeing them and meeting them is very satisfying.”
They said the best part is knowing their fanbase loves to learn about science.
“So many people are so obsessed, so into it,” said Brown. “And at the end of the day, I’m like, ‘We’re just teaching you about science.’ It’s just so exciting for us to know it’s all based around that.”
Canadian YouTubers cover comedy, food, skits
Other local YouTubers who will be at FanFest include Scarborough native Lilly Singh, known as Superwoman, LaurDIY, who travels is based in Toronto and Los Angeles, and Lauren Toyota, the host of the Hot for Food YouTube channel and blogger.
“When we really talk about it as Canadian creators, I feel like the scene is just starting to bubble now that we’ve got the YouTube space and we have Google here. It’s just starting to be taken a lot more seriously,” Toyota told CTV Toronto.
Toyota has been in the Canadian media industry for the past 10 years. She started out as a MuchMusic VJ in Vancouver. She later moved to Toronto to continue hosting and working in the entertainment industry. And then a show she was hosting got cancelled, she said.
“I had already been starting vegan recipes on Hot for Food blog,” she said, and wanted to switch to blogging full-time.
“I didn’t have a dream of doing YouTube, but as I was freelancing and working on my own and focusing my attention on developing recipes and taking photos of my food and building all the social (media) around that,” she said, “it got to this point where I wanted to do more. It was more natural for me to be on camera, showing somebody how to do something than writing about it.”
She spent a year trying to pitch the idea of Hot for Food as a television concept with her boyfriend.
“But I realized going the traditional route the way I had come up in the industry -- broadcast television -- was just not the right platform. We heard so many ‘no’s,’” she said. “Meanwhile we had this great audience who was so hungry for what we were doing.”
She said her channel was sponsored before she hit 1,000 subscribers when she started out around a year ago.
For Toyota, she said it wasn’t about going viral. It was about making high quality food videos.
“We went in this idea with if we’re going to do YouTube we’re going to do it well,” she said, “and we’re going to offer high production value regardless of how popular we are in terms of numbers.”
The Hot For Food channel now has over 200,000 subscribers.
Toyota said one of the best parts is interacting with fans.
“It really was important to me,” she said. She receives messages from fans on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook and said she always replies personally.
“In order for them to support what you’re doing,” she said, “they have to feel involved, too. People really like when you listen to their ideas, which we do.”
This is Toyota’s first year attending FanFest, which had its debut at Yonge-Dundas Square last summer. More than 15,000 fans showed up, which is three times the amount of other FanFests put on in Asia, Australia and India, according to the show’s organizers.
FanFest expecting another huge turnout
Dolan called it “a wild success” and said this year’s venue, the Molson Ampitheatre, will provide more for the audience and performers in terms of production value.
“Fans will be able to go to meetups throughout the day. A select group of fans were able to get tickets to meet the creators,” Dolan said. There will also be a red carpet walk and musical performances.
“For us,” Dolan said, “Fanfest is about these two things coming together: a really passionate fan base and world-class creator talent.”
Events for the YouTube FanFest kick off Friday with the main event on Saturday at 7 p.m.