Meeting LA's next generation of entertainment entrepreneurs

Virgin Atlantic’s Business is an Adventure event series touches down in LA this month, with the aim of discovering how great business ideas can become a success on the global stage. The city is famed for its entertainment offering, which is currently creating a new generation of entrepreneurs who are enjoying international success…

Los Angeles is renowned for being the centre of America’s entertainment industry. The city is home to almost every major film studio and plays host to the illustrious Oscars later this month. However, in the shadow of the Hollywood sign lies the home of a related and rapidly expanding industry, that of digital entertainment.

Throughout the sprawling city, digital creators produce videos that attract millions of views on a daily basis. The reason there’s no equivalent Hollywood-esque sign is because digital creators exist everywhere; YouTube and other online distributors have democratised content to the extent that whether you’re filming on your smartphone or in a studio, anyone can upload a video. The increase in use of these platforms has jumped from seven per cent of people creating online content in 2006, to an astonishing 77 per cent in 2013. 

These content creators are entrepreneurs, each channel a start-up. Some of LA’s biggest names include Michelle Phan, Rhett and Link, Connor Franta, Cassey Ho, Tyler Oakley and Hannah Hart among others. Individually they have amassed millions of subscribers and YouTube’s revolutionary Partner Program allows them to monetise their business model and make a successful living. In addition to their channels, they have all launched further entrepreneurial ventures from beauty products and active wear, to books and premium coffee. In the wake of this entrepreneurial wave, LA has been described as the Mecca of this world of digital entertainment; so we decided to explore why.

LA’s culture inspires entrepreneurship. The Westside in particular is a place full of start-ups where experimentation and innovation are encouraged. The diversity across LA has made it a place that is constantly changing and bursting with talent. From creators in art, literature and entertainment, it exudes the confidence to try, fail and pick yourself back up. 

We caught up with Cassey Ho, founder of Blogilates; a fitness channel on YouTube that has attracted almost three million subscribers. She has launched her own online store which publishes meal plans, workout routines and sells fitness DVDs, active wear and equipment.

Cassey initially set up her channel after graduating from college to post short videos for her students whom she’d taught Pilates. This expanded as more people watched and her online popularity grew. We asked her about the creative community in LA; "We are driven and unstoppable. Everyone always has a new idea and will always figure out a way to turn it into reality. The energy to keep producing better and better content is infectious."

A defining characteristic of LA’s creative culture is collaboration. Websites like DigitalLA and TubeFilter promote workshops, meetups, and talks that facilitate the sharing of ideas. VidCon also takes place in LA, the world’s largest convention for online video creators.

Read: Five LA start-ups that went big

"I love being around fellow YouTubers because these people are my actual friends that I hang out with," explained Cassey. "We really get each other, which isn't easy to find. Not only can we collab just by sending a simple text, but we can also physically get together and help one another out. It's a selfless and positive community of people."

Production resources for digital creators are also in abundance in LA. Due to the large entertainment industry, the city offers unparalleled access to state of the art equipment. One particular example concerns YouTube Space LA. Launched in 2012, it offers opportunities for YouTubers to "Learn, Share and Create," all for free. It does this through workshops, panel discussions and training programmes from industry leaders, meetings, events and most prominently offers resources including production stages, a recording studio, green screen rooms, a screening room as well as post-production and editing spaces. LA is the flagship of eight spaces worldwide and its mission is simple, to further the development of creators.

We spoke with Liam Collins, head of YouTube Space LA. He was very vocal about entrepreneurship and the importance of collaboration. "When you bring creative people together in a community in person it really enhances their work product and enables them to be more ambitious, because collaboration is such a powerful way to grow your audience and expand your horizons."

Liam talked about LA’s rich and inspirational history of entertainment as a driver behind its establishment as a centre for digital entertainment. Compared to other cities such as New York or San Francisco, Liam explains that LA offers greater opportunity to take risks

Another feature of LA’s digital media industry concerns its place as home to many successful Multi-Channel Networks. Multi-Channel networks offer management assistance to digital media channels and have grown as the number of creators has increased. LA-based MCNs include Fullscreen, Machinima, Maker Studios, Studio71 and Big Frame which collectively attract billions of views monthly.

Read: The art of starting a business with global appeal

We also talked to Dan Weinstein, president of Studio71 (formerly Collective Digital Studio) about the MCN business. Studio71 is one of the largest global MCNs and its channels achieve over 3.5 billion monthly views. He explained that fundamentally Studio71 is a business partner; offering services in production, channel management, marketing, distribution and the financing of projects to optimise the individual channels’ business models. 

Dan explained that compared to ‘old-school Hollywood’, MCNs are much more informed about the talent they manage. Rather than taking the plunge with young actors or comedians, the amount of data available in the form of audience analytics mean they can fully understand the potential of emerging talent.

So what does the rise of digital media mean for the future of entertainment? "I think what’s going to happen is that there will stop being such a specific delineation between digital and traditional content," explained Dan. As people consume content through a variety of different platforms, he predicts that the lines will blur between what content belongs ‘online’ and what doesn’t. The increasing popularity of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu epitomises this growing trend.  

As the amount of content available to viewers increases, Dan believes: "the power is going to shift slightly from the programmers and the producers of the content to the curators, platforms and influencers you trust to say ‘that’s good, you should watch that’."

The global reach of a platform such as YouTube is unprecedented; on average, 80 per cent of YouTube views take place outside the country the video was made. As YouTubers make the most of this opportunity, we see the digital entertainment industry exposing the future of media for the connected generation.

The first Business is an Adventure event, featuring Richard Branson and a panel of prominent LA business leaders, takes place in Los Angeles on February 18th. The event will be available to stream for free on virgin.com from 16:00 (PST).

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