Are Online Channels the Future of Television for Teens?

Curator's Note

To consider teens and television today, we have to look online to the channels that are popping up to target teen audiences. Recently, television producers are moving online to find teens who have been spending more time on their computers and mobile devices. Producers are attracted to online channels by the increased creative freedom and better control over their content. Investors are attracted by the economics of cheap production, virtually free distribution, and potentially lucrative product placement and licensing deals. Advertisers are attracted by teens’ higher engagement with online content, willingness to share personal information online, and improved recall of online ads.

One of the most successful online channels for teens, Shut Up! Cartoons, is a YouTube channel that was launched on April 30 by Smosh, an online brand who has since been purchased by Alloy Digital (Teen.com and Gurl.com), a division of Alloy Entertainment, the company behind television shows like Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries. One of their most successful series is Pubertina, a show created by Emily Brundige that features an eleven year old girl named Pubertina, or "Pubes." She is not a protagonist you would typically find in primetime television, and the show has been the subject of much debate in the comments section where many (mainly boys) argued the show was offensive and disgusting, while many (mainly girls) argued that it was a funny show they could relate to. Pubertina has been very successful by internet standards with the debut episode getting over two million views, and the rest of the ten episodes totaling between 500,000 and two million views each.

In order to get that kind of success, these online channels have to somehow stand out in the vast ocean of content that exists online. To do that, many of these channels have borrowed from the television playbook and programmed their shows for specific dates and times. Producers hope they can create appointment viewing, which may help create “buzz” around some shows, and depending on their deals with advertisers, earn the channels more money for more views within a certain timeframe.

So if more teens are watching content online, and online channels are so attractive to producers, investors, and advertisers, are these online channels the future of television for the teen audience? Will they open up a space where unique series like Pubertina can get access to a wider audience?

Comments

Louisa Stein's picture

Jennifer—Terrific post! I’ve

Jennifer—Terrific post! I’ve been thinking about these questions myself, but I hadn’t seen Pubertina, and I’m especially fascinated by your description of the debates taking place in the comments, with boys critiquing the series as offensive and girls celebrating it as relatable. I have to admit that it made me quite uncomfortable to watch because it seemed to frame the female body as monstrous both overtly and in the animation… but I get that the very fact of offering this representation of tween-girl-monstrousness could be a very significant in terms of representing what adolescent femininity can be/acknowledging adolescent girls’ perspectives and experiences. I’m fascinated that this is coming to us via Alloy; what a different vision of adolescence than Pretty Little Liars (and I wouldn’t over simplify Pretty Little Liars, but it definitely deals with adolescent insecurities and potential monstrousness in a strikingly different way…)

But to get at your question, I do think this is a fascinating moment to watch as producers experiment with the possibilities of niche address in transmedia/web series storytelling to teen/millennial audiences. I’ve been thinking about this in terms of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries—how that series imagines and addresses its audience and invites viewers to participate and become co-creators across a range of platforms. Does Pubertina have a transmedia footprint/encourage viewer engagement/response beyond comments?

Karen Petruska's picture

Pubertina is comedy gold

I am so happy to be introduced to this series. Thanks for the post.

How often is “teen TV” about teens but not necessarily directed at teens? Drawing from Louisa’s comment, do you think someone experiencing puberty might find this show comforting, or is this more of a show for women who are far enough away from that awful time to see the humor? I ask, partially, because the idea of “appointment” television seems so old school that I wonder if it is in fact a strategy for older audiences, for whom television BOD (Before On Demand) seems natural. Or is this the new version of classics like “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (a personal favorite of the menstrual genre of teen literature)? It seems that web space offers so much more to teens in terms of community and conversation than the pamphlets and Judy Blume books of my youth. Do channels like Shut Up! seek to explore/expand those options, or does the end goal remain a relatively traditional model of television as ratings-dependent commerce?

Jennifer Porst's picture

Re. Louisa

Hi Louisa,

Yes, there are so many elements of “Pubertina” that are totally fascinating! It is really interesting to read through the comments, and see the strong emotions that this series evoked. And, yes, quite different from Alloy’s other shows! Maybe this is another example of the internet allowing companies a space to branch out and try to provide content that they know may have an audience, but not an audience big enough for television?

Re. the transmedia footprint/viewer engagement response: yes, the show has a presence on tumblr, twitter, and Facebook, and they sell some merchandise like t-shirts and dolls. There is a lot of fan art, and the creator Emily Brundige has been publishing a “Pubertina” comic on gurl.com.

I look forward to reading your post tomorrow!

Jennifer Porst's picture

Re. Karen's Pubertina is Comedy Gold

Hi Karen! Thanks for the great question! I do agree that this series seems to fall somewhere between something purely for teens/tweens and something for adult women. This may be in part due to the fact that the creator is a woman in her 20s, so perhaps you are seeing her perspective there?

I know that some of the comments from teen girls on youtube reflect their identification with the characters and story. Perhaps even more interesting was the fact that this series and its comments section opened up a space where teen girls could start talking with each other about issues related to puberty. There were quite a few posts where girls ask about what is “normal” and share what they and their friends have gone through. In this way, it might be the ideal outcome for this combination of television and the internet: providing a common text and space for discussion while still allowing for a certain amount of anonymity - thereby allowing open discussion of this somewhat taboo subject?

I’m not sure this was the intention of Shut Up! Cartoons, but hopefully, it will make it possible for companies to produce this kind of content in the future!

Dana Och's picture

Alloy

I am fascinated that this is happening through Alloy Entertainment, as we had an interesting discussion about it at CP during the ABC Family panel. I definitely think we will be seeing (and need to be doing) more work on them, as the transmedia stories being told/ marketed etc seem to be imagining the audience in interesting/striking ways (and I think that this connects with issues of narrative discontinuity in the shows, actually, because the transmedia elements are indeed more important than the actual text itself).

Amy Hasinoff's picture

Thanks for introducing me to

Thanks for introducing me to this series, really interesting! I hear what Louisa is saying about monstrosity, but I still think it could be a positive development, because so often the only role for girls (and women) on TV is to be “pretty”—pretty and good or pretty and evil, but pretty either way. So to have a wider range of female characters seems valuable. I am reminded of Lena Dunham’s character on Girls, and the harsh reactions to that not-always-sympathetic female character.

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