DigiTour Media Finds a Large and Young Audience for YouTube Stars
The Citi Field stadium parking lot was full of hundreds of screaming young women. On the hot and sunny first Saturday in June, DigiFest NYC had come to town, bringing three stages and more than 80 of YouTube and Vine’s biggest stars. The screaming started hours before the festival actually started, however, by people who had paid for early VIP access. Nash Grier, Cameron Dallas, Carter Reynolds, and Midnight Red were in the press tent, and these young women wanted their attention.
Don’t recognize those names? If not, it’s not surprising. DigiFest has an extremely targeted demographic. Nearly all of the screaming women were young teens or pre-teens. The people they were screaming for were just as targeted: mostly cute young men, mostly teens themselves. These online stars had built fan bases in the millions by regularly posting music videos or clips of themselves clowning around with friends. They know how to grow an online fanbase, spending hours on social networks interacting one-on-one with their passionate supporters. In the press tent they were just as outgoing, giving out hugs and taking selfies with as many young women as they could. By the time the festival started, those hundreds of screaming fans were joined by several thousand more.
The company behind DigiFest NYC, and other concerts and festivals like it, is DigiTour Media, founded by music executive Meridith Valiando Rojas and producer Chris Rojas in 2010 (they’ve married since founding DigiTour) to bring YouTube and social media stars to real-life audiences. While the company started out by touring popular YouTube comedy and music acts like the Gregory Brothers and Karmin, which appealed to a slightly older demographic, Valiando Rojas and her partner soon learned that targeting younger teens was a surer bet.
“The fascinating part about it is a lot of them are not singers,” Valiando Rojas explains. “A lot of them are vloggers, they’re Viners, they’re entertainers, they’re comedians, and they’re also not manufactured. They’re coming to these events, and they’ve created their brand and their persona based on their own authenticity. So they act silly, they talk to their fans directly, and there’s no Lou Pearlman putting them together. They’re not puppets in any way, so the girls really appreciate them.”
There are many things about a DigiTour festival that make it unlike any other multi-stage concert. One is the parent tent near the front, where parents can stay close to their kids without getting too close; it’s also the only place at the festival to buy beer. Also, many of the acts don’t actually have an act, since they create videos where they talk about their thoughts and lives, and many of the sets are only 5 minutes long. In New York City, headliner Fifth Harmony got the longest set at 45 minutes. Dallas and Grier, who are so popular they signed a movie deal with AwesomenessTV in April, only got 10 minutes.
Never heard of Midnight Red? That’s okay with DigiTour Media, since thousands of teenage girls have. (Photo by Troy Dreier)
“That’s the attention span,” Valiando Rojas explains. “If somebody’s over the age of 18 and they don’t get it, I usually say that’s fine because they’re not supposed to. Our fans are telling us what they want to see and how they want to see it. They’re our creative director and we’re building these shows based on how they consume entertainment, which is bite-sized.”
While Valiando Rojas says the young women in the audience would probably be happy with the talent simply standing on stage and waving hello, she’s not OK with that. DigiTour produces segments for its top draws, bringing in writers and improv coaches for Saturday Night Live-style sketches. The goal is to create a live version of what these stars already do well online. DigiTour currently holds about six festivals each year, and tours a smaller group around for 2 1/2-hour shows, going to 18 to 25 cities during 3 or 4 weeks.
The IRL (In Real Life) Experience
Valiando Rojas’s career started in a music industry that was changing quickly. At age 15, she interned for Clive Davis’s J Records, and by 18, she was working for Columbia, where she did A&R while simultaneously attending Davis’ Department of Recorded Music at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. These were the early days of MySpace, when the online world was beginning to exert a strong influence on music marketing. While she started in an industry full of lavish music videos and excess, that world was changing, and social media was becoming extremely important. Her moment of inspiration came in 2009, when she though of a way to combine the traditional music industry and the new online reality.
“I saw a really big light bulb go off, and I was really excited and interested in bridging the gap between new media and traditional media,” Valiando Rojas says. “There were all these new artists emerging from social platforms -- YouTube becoming the one that I paid the most attention to -- and they aggregated millions of followers, and they were still in their bedrooms shooting cover videos or vlogs. I wanted to bring them out, give them a vehicle -- literally, a tour bus -- and I wanted to put on a concert. I wanted to put on a tour, and I wanted to really see how the fans that they aggregated online would translate to live ticket sales.”
Despite the expense involved in throwing a high-profile concert, DigiTour didn’t raise a lot of money at the start. Valiando Rojas and Rojas tapped their savings, and took in some money from family and friends, as well as an unnamed angel investor. “When done right, the concert business is self-liquidating,” Valiando Rojas says. YouTube was the title sponsor for the first tour in 2011. A few years later, however, big names came to DigiTour eager to write checks.