Streaming websites such as YouTube have forever changed how we see modern entertainment. Because it’s a much more direct connection with the audience, online content can cover more obscure topics while still being accessible to fans. A perfect example of this is “AWE me,” a YouTube channel created by Defy Media hosting such popular pop culture educational shows as Man At Arms and DIY Cosplay Shop. We spoke to Defy Media CMO Andy Tu about the creation of the channel, the blend of new and old media, and the future of online entertainment.
Innovation & Tech Today: AWE me features quite a variety of different shows. What was the initial concept for the channel?
Andy Tu: The initial concept – we saw a fair number of videos taking off that really captured this idea of an amazing thing, but that taught you something underneath it. Kind of going back to the early days of UGC, there were these tinkerers that were making amazing one-off videos that made you think, “Oh my god, I can’t believe that’s possible,” number one. And number two is “Oh my God, I can’t believe someone’s that obsessed with that thing to do it.” So people were taking their Xboxes and turning them into laser guns. And people were, craft people, that were building items that then would catch unbelievable amounts of traction online. And that idea that there wasn’t really a place for shows like this because TV was too formatted or these people were too obscure to have a platform and a voice to showcase what they were doing [which] led us to think launching a channel that was dedicated to that idea of blowing people’s minds was very worthy. And it started with a show called Man At Arms, which has gone on to be the premiere show on the channel and has had an amazing run and evolution of a hundred plus episodes in digital and now going to TV.
I&T Today: Man At Arms was the first one I was drawn to because I saw that they recreated the Power Rangers Power Axe, which I grew up with. So I immediately watched it and it’s just incredible how much work goes into that and how in-depth they go into making something so ingrained in pop culture.
AT: Yeah, that’s the remarkable thing about the show is that we would have thought, at a certain number of episodes, there would not be more weapons that were pervasive in culture to still keep building, and yet the backlog and the list of “to be filmed” episodes has never been greater. It had that ability as a show to dance between a bunch of different passion points or subcultures that still are mass. So one week you could build Wolverine’s claws or Thor’s hammer, which of course everybody in the world knows, and then next week, you build a weapon from League Of Legends, or an anime, which has gone on to be some of the biggest episodes we’ve ever done. So the layman in pop culture might not know them but the subculture makes them launch into the stratosphere, and the subcultures are massive in some cases.
I&T Today: Totally, so there’s no shortage of stuff to touch on for that show.
AT: And the good thing is that, as what used to be called nerd culture ends up becoming pop culture, it’s very helpful to us. So you can have a lot of different genres which lend very well to the Man At Arms format. Even as I look at the summer and the pipeline of summer movies which are poised to be enormous, and Wonder Woman and things like that. Those ones really become seminal moments for the fans.
I&T Today: Beyond Man At Arms, so many other shows have been added on. What was the process for gathering different shows for the channel?
AT: Those shows are all developed and created in-house. So we have a real remarkable group of production folks that have looked at what have we captured with Man At Arms that we don’t want to do any shows that are derivative of that, that feel like they coalesce across an audience that would be psyched to see another thing being built or another thing that can blow somebody’s mind. So we have some build shows like Super Fan Build and Super Gamer Build, and then we have some information or infotainment shows like Epic How To. Where nothing is built in an episode of Epic How To but this idea that you can actually win an Academy Award if you wanted to embark on that, how would you do it? Well, that’s just something epic that you can do with your life and we’re gonna show you if it’s within reason, or possibility, we’re going to show you how to do it. So the through line is that idea of AWE, the amaze, wow and educate, does it check those boxes? And we also wanted to make it approachable. So, with shows like DIY Prop Shop or DIY Cosplay Shop, this idea that, you know, you and I are very rarely going to go to the backwoods of Maryland and build a weapon from pop culture, just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. But if we do love something or we are passionate about something could we build our own replica hoverboard from Back To The Future? Our hope is that we have access points for the audience not to just have their minds blown by something they can’t do, but have their mind blown by something they can do as well.
I&T Today: Definitely. That’s such a great entry point into all the videos you have to offer. Because from there you start discovering and learning more. Like you said, there has to be a little education, but it’s also entertainment melded into one thing.
AT: Yeah, and for someone that’s really never gonna become a blacksmith, I still learn things about their craft, but also these moments of pop culture from doing a show like Man At Arms.
I&T Today: You and I both. I don’t see my blacksmith career taking off at this point quite yet. We’ll see how things go though.
AT: It’s never too late.
I&T Today: AWEme is yet another example of what’s possible in the world of entertainment beyond traditional media. What do you believe are some of those benefits?
AT: We’re seeing those lines blur for sure. Because, like we mentioned, Man At Arms is gonna have a format that’s on television this summer starting on the El Rey network in June, which is a different format and hosted by Danny Trejo, who we know and love. So we’re definitely seeing that blurring. I think if you went to a television executive and said “we’re gonna do a build from League Of Legends and we’re gonna build a sword”. If Man At Arms didn’t exist, I think they’d say that’s a pretty tough sell, a tough pitch. People watching traditional television are getting older and that audience is getting smaller. So we think there’s an underserved audience that shows like this are made for. The other thing, especially in its infancy, people weren’t used to seeing shows with this high of production value on the internet. I think they’re becoming more used to it, but YouTube was probably incorrectly stereotyped as having a lot of vlog content and a lot of stuff that wasn’t super highly polished and it’s a very expensive show to make by internet standards, but has opened people’s eyes to say, “Wow, that looks like or better than even the things I see on traditional television.” Which I think the audience pays attention to and respects, I think advertisers see and pay attention to and respect. And now, with it going to El Rey, I think media companies see and respect as well.
I&T Today: Are there currently any plans to expand to other shows on AWEme?
AT: Yeah, we’re always looking at who has great ideas, and are there people that are doing unbelievable things that we need to tell their story. And so active pipeline for development, nothing that we’re ready to announce just yet. But I also think people who are doing cool stuff have now looked at AWEme as a great platform to get their craft out there. And so we’ve done some one-off things that we always put under the banner of the AWEme Creators Series, of an amazing chalk artist that can do things in 2D that appear to be in 3D. And those are always good litmus tests to see if there’s more here that we should test our incubator or blow out into a full-blown format. So very active pipeline for development around the brand.
I&T Today: In just a few years, AWEme has amassed over 5 million subscribers on YouTube. What’s the key to growing such a dedicated online following?
AT: I think it’s trying to own that intersection of internet culture and pop culture. If we were only staying in one lane of genre or one lane of weapons I think it would really manifest as a fan club, which we don’t want. I think we have to keep pushing ourselves into different genres and verticals that continue to serve the audience that’s there, but bring new people our way. And we also do a good job of getting the show out there. So it’s not an accident that we do a weapon the same week that a movie comes out that it’s inspired by. Because we want to make sure the entire news cycle that’s happening around that title or around that movie, this matters during that window. So we try to time the calendar around when things are gonna peak and so when I look at the summer, there are weapons that are in movies that are coming out this summer that you will hopefully, knock on wood, see amazing weapons be built and launched in the same week those titles come out.
I&T Today: I noticed in the news recently a lot of advertisers were starting to pull out of YouTube because there wasn’t much control over which ads went where, I know there is going to start being a lot of changes to that. How do you think YouTube will adapt to that in the future, considering it’s such a large bastion of entertainment now?
AT: YouTube’s got the best engineering team in the world, or Google has the best engineering team in the world, so they’re gonna continue to optimize all the ways to keep brands safe and keep that heart of their operation alive and well. But, when you’re a brand and you want to be on any platform, the way to ensure that you’re safe, ensure that your brand’s safe, is by trying to buy shows and brand and channels that you want to work with. So, just like an advertiser would very rarely call Comcast as the platform and say “Hey, I just want Comcast”, they don’t do that. They call AMC and say “I want the Walking Dead”. Our hope as a company is that by creating outstanding programming and outstanding brands, even if it’s on YouTube, or on any of the other platforms that we’re on, come to us and want to buy against specific shows and programs and ultimately that behooves YouTube as well, because it’s ultimately gonna be money in their pocket. But we think the pullback is a bit of a kneejerk reaction, there’s a future where if you want to hit a younger audience, you really need to be on YouTube. No question.
I&T Today: What do you believe the future will hold for AWEme and online entertainment as a whole?
AT: We’re obviously very bullish on digital video content. And it’s because of the audience. We are great defenders of the audience and really have no business if we don’t super-serve them. And unlike traditional or the legacy television media, we don’t have a model unless they’re happy and watching and engaged. I say that because there’s a lot of cable channels that are north of channel 100 on your dial that don’t have a very big audience but they still have a business. And that world is changing meaningfully. That if you don’t have a big audience, the world of skinny bundles is not gonna have a home for you anymore. Because consumers like you and consumers like me don’t like the idea that we pay over a hundred dollars a month for hundreds of channels that we don’t watch. So, if you look at the products that have come out from YouTube launching YouTube TV or Playstation with Playstation Vue or DirectTV or Sling or Roku, anyone that’s trying to get a skinny bundle in front of you, you’ve got to survive in the world of choice. And because, in digital, we’ve only ever grown up in the world of choice, you’ve got to bring it to them and they have a decision whether they want to watch it or not. It’s not like they had a great timeslot. We think it’s just better built for a consumer choice world. And because that’s the world we come up in, we think that digital entertainment has a far greater advantage because it’s built around passion and not trying to force itself into a model.
I&T Today: Do you believe that, in that vein, there will be a lot more of that blurring of the lines between traditional media and this new wave of digital media?
AT: Yeah, I mean we honestly think that the word digital as far as digital video or digital media is going to continue to drop and be less and less important because the people that are now getting bigger out of digital really aren’t even doing it on digital. We’re doing multiple things that will likely have television. And for us it’s not like the endgame is television, it’s to have our media in front of audiences anywhere it’s applicable. So we want content on Virgin Airlines and Delta Airlines and longform television programs and we’re very focused on Facebook Video now as well. So wherever the audience is, they can help round out the model, is where we’re very excited to be.
Featured Image Courtesy Of Defy Media