YouTube stars take shtick live and show biz profits

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NEW YORK -- A capacity 12,500 tickets were sold. More than 70 performers appeared on three stages. There were 150 security guards, a necessity whenever swarms of shrieking teenage girls assemble. Coke sponsored a live Web stream of the festivities.

The latest incarnation of Lollapalooza or Lilith Fair?

Not even close. This is DigiFest NYC, part of a booming corner of entertainment where social media stars -- people who have created mass followings on YouTube, Instagram and Vine -- step out from behind their bedroom webcams. The festival, which rolled into the parking lot Saturday afternoon at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, in the borough of Queens, was headlined by Our2ndLife, or O2L, a group of guys who became famous by making a video recording of themselves trying to balance cotton balls on their heads and drinking anchovy and hot pepper smoothies.

"It's all about bringing the Internet to life," said Meridith Valiando Rojas, a co-founder of DigiTour Media, a Los Angeles startup that last month attracted Ryan Seacrest and Advance Publications, the parent company of Conde Nast, as investors.

As YouTube personalities grow in popularity and prove more than flashes in the pan, traditional media businesses -- talent agencies, book publishers and TV networks -- are rushing to capitalize. The biggest push has come from concert promoters betting that millions of clicks on popular videos will translate into ticket sales. DigiTour Media sold 18,000 tickets last year, and it expects to sell 100,000 this year and 250,000 in 2015.

A surge in social media tours and festivals is simultaneously predictable and counterintuitive. Fan bases, whether built the old-fashioned way or online, need tending. Yet many of these YouTube celebrities have no experience performing in front of anyone, much less thousands of people; they make their videos alone in their basements or backyards. And what makes a person a great creator of YouTube videos -- like dispensing beauty and fashion advice -- does not necessarily translate onstage.

"I worried it would get pretty awkward pretty quick," said David Malloy, the founder of Teen Hoot, a new Tennessee entertainment company. "These creators, some of them famous for making six-second Vine videos, have to do more than get up there and smile and giggle."

After a successful run of concerts in Nashville, Teen Hoot -- short for hootenanny -- has expanded this year to bring YouTube celebrities to San Diego and suburban Seattle. Playlist Live, a Florida festival dedicated to social media stars, will hold a three-day offshoot at the Meadowlands in New Jersey in November. About 18,000 attendees are expected in August at VidCon, a California event managed in part by Hollywood's United Talent Agency; online video fans stand in line for hours to get autographs and see YouTube personalities perform.

The growth has gone global. DigiTour has a European division. In the spring, a new traveling festival called YouTube FanFest sold thousands of $62 tickets in Singapore and also traveled to Sydney and Mumbai, India.


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