ANAHEIM, California (Lisa Richwine, Reuters) — For the first time, cable TV network Nickelodeon staged a casting call at VidCon, a convention that draws stars of YouTube and social media like Vine, Instagram and Snapchat and their passionate followers.
The Viacom-owned channel’s talent search is one way traditional TV networks are recruiting Internet personalities to build audiences.
YouTube stars include comedians, beauty gurus, product reviewers, gamers, musicians and fitness buffs who post videos of themselves, often looking directly into the camera.
It is not certain that the shorter format and freewheeling style of YouTube will translate to TV. “It’s a challenge for all of us,” said Albie Hecht, executive vice president of HLN, a network designed for the “social media generation.” “Television is a very different means of communication.”
The appeal for networks is clear. Google-owned YouTube says it reaches more people in the United States than any cable network among ages 18 to 49, the group most coveted by advertisers.
Nielsen data show traditional TV viewing for 12- to 17-year-olds declined to about 18 hours per week in the first quarter of 2015 from 21 hours a year earlier. Surveys show online stars are more popular with teens than mainstream celebrities are.
At VidCon, which ran Thursday to Saturday, 20,000 fans snapped selfies with idols and attended sessions such as “What makes a good gaming channel?”
Nickelodeon also brought in the stars of its new series “Game Shakers,” including GloZell, a comedian with 3.8 million YouTube subscribers. Online stars “have a built-in following and our audience are fans,” said Nickelodeon content development executive Russell Hicks.
CBS Corp’s digital unit talked to Internet personalities at VidCon about potential partnerships, said Jim Lanzone, president of CBS Interactive, which operates websites such as CBS.com, CNET and GameSpot.
The company is exploring distributing content from online video creators via its digital brands, he said.
“I don’t see this as either/or,” Lanzone said of broadcast programming and YouTube videos. “It’s different content, and both can co-exist.”
Other TV networks are trying out online stars.
Popular YouTube comedian Grace Helbig hosted eight episodes of a talk show this year on the E! network, part of Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal. E! has not decided whether to order a new season, a spokeswoman said.
Brandy Melana Walker, a 20-year-old YouTube creator, waited to audition for Nickelodeon’s casting team.
“It’s really cool to see the crossover from digital media to actual network television,” she said.
(Editing by Stephen R. Trousdale and Cynthia Osterman)