Indie Spotlight: Funded By $166K Kickstarter, Electropop Group Studio Killers Are Bringing Their Animated Alter-Egos To Life In ‘404’

We receive a ton of tips every day from independent creators, unaffiliated with any major motion picture studios, television networks, new media studios, or other well-funded online video entities. Indie Spotlight is where we shout out a select few of them, bringing you up to speed on the attention-grabbing films and series you probably haven’t heard of. Read previous installments here.

On Jan. 1, things changed radically for some YouTube creators. Those who make content for kids had their videos stripped of personalized ads, a policy change that’s reportedly cost them as much as 60% of their AdSense revenue. But other creators are also being caught up in the sweep: creators who make content that isn’t for kids, but could be considered “child-attractive.”

Creators like Studio Killers, an independent electropop audiovisual group. The foursome has been on YouTube since 2011, uploading new tracks and–crucially–eye-catching animated music videos to go with them. Studio Killers’ content isn’t for kids, but because said music videos “feature music, animation, and are incredibly colorful,” the group worries their channel’s earning potential will be sapped.

Studio Killers’ members have always kept their real-life identities mum, instead portraying themselves as animated characters: frontwoman/artist Cherry, keytarist Goldie Foxx, DJ Dyna Mink, and manager Bipolar Bear. Their animated alter-egos have proven popular; music videos that feature Cherry, Goldie, and Dyna have gone viral, amassing 8 million, 14 million, 20 million, and as many as 48 million views.

But even before Jan. 1, those views weren’t paying the bills. All four members were working side gigs to cover the rent and the cost of putting together content. So, with the threat of potentially devastating revenue loss looming, Studio Killers decided to try something new.

They launched a Kickstarter to fund the pilot episode of 404–an animated series parodying classic magical girl series like Sailor Moon and featuring their fan-favorite characters.

“Thrown into cyberspace and left fending for their very existence, Cherry and the Studio Killers are building an army of LGBTQ+ positive misfits and outliers on a quest to overthrow the Evil Algorithm, a deep state-like organization that is destroying the internet and erasing all its weird wonders,” reads the series’ official description. “Style battles, a war between cats and porn, a whole planet dedicated to taco memes–there’s so much to explore and save!”

Cherry and co. reached their $115K goal in just three days, and by the end of the campaign, had raised more than $166,000 to bring a 22-minute 404 pilot (with a brand-new song) to life.

“Cherry and the Studio Killers’ big dream is to create an animated series to push this project to the next level and to deliver the kind of amazing jaw dropping content they’re known for, but with a much healthier business structure,” the group wrote. “Getting an animated series signed with a network or VOD would drive all our other content.”

They added that some partners and networks had expressed interest over the years, attracted by the success of their music videos, but Studio Killers is, for now, opting to self-produce 404, because “ultimately development, pitching, and negotiations often take several years, with the additional added 1.5-3 years of production before the fans get to see anything at all, if ever. We’d really prefer not to keep you in the dark THAT long.”

Following the Kickstarter’s success, Studio Killers have buckled down to work. 404 doesn’t yet have an official release date, but for now, there’s plenty of content on the group’s YouTube channel to tide fans over–and introduce new viewers to the gang before they set out to save the cyberworld.

Got something you’d like to see featured in Indie Spotlight? Be sure to contact us here. For best coverage, please include the full film or a full episode in your email.

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PewDiePie Returns To Daily YouTube Uploads After “Really Healthy And Good” Break

PewDiePie is back. YouTube’s most followed creator (who’s not a media conglomerate) has resumed making daily videos after taking the first significant break of his career. In his newest upload, PewDiePie–real name Felix Kjellberg–tells his 103 million subscribers that, looking back at his content from before the break, “You can tell just how tired and frustrated I was.”

Kjellberg, who joined YouTube in 2010, took one brief break in November 2016, but otherwise held to an almost-daily upload schedule of content like meme reviews and occasional video gameplay. He began publicly mulling a more substantial break in June of last year. At the time, his channel was in a relative decline, partially because his long-running subscriber battle with Indian record label T-Series had just concluded, and partially because he was facing a new round of criticism from the Christchurch shooter’s use of “Subscribe to PewDiePie.”

By “relative decline,” we mean his monthly views were down from around 500 million at the height of the battle to 300 million in June. But the very next month, they jumped to an all-time high of 577 million. Why? Because Kjellberg returned to playing Minecraft.

The popular sandbox game pushed his channel to over 600 million views in August. And unlike many of Kjellberg’s daily meme review videos, his Minecraft uploads could be monetized. He seemed to be in a general upswing; YouTube even embraced him after a two-year cold shoulder.

Then, in December, Kjellberg quit Twitter, lamenting that it was full of “virtue signaling”–a term generally used in a derogatory way toward people who make public statements against bigotry. Shortly after, he uploaded a YouTube video complaining about the platform’s new, stricter harassment policy, which cracks down on videos that contain malicious insults targeting race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. In that video, he said he planned to take a break because “I’m tired. I’m very tired.”

He officially went on break Jan. 15. During that time, he traveled to Japan with his wife and fellow creator Marzia, and avoided social media entirely. Other than that, he “hasn’t done much, it’s been nice, actually,” he told viewers in his new video. (For those curious, he got 217 million views in January, down from 303 million in December.)

After spending most of the 15-minute return video reviewing memes left by fans on his subreddit, Kjellberg got unusually serious. “Thank you for all the nice and lovely supportive comments while I was gone,” he said. “It really cheered me up. I really appreciate that. I think it’s been really healthy and good for me to take this break, and I appreciate everyone’s patience while I was gone.”

He indicated his intention is to pick up right where he left off, resuming his old daily upload schedule. But for the first time, Kjellberg seems to be less committed to that regimen. “Daily content, back at it again,” he said. “I will try, at least. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

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Father Of Alison Parker Files FTC Complaint Against YouTube, Alleging It Refuses To Remove Videos Of Her Death

In 2015, journalist Alison Parker and her coworker Adam Ward were shot and killed while on air. Following her death, Alison’s parents Andy and Barbara began campaigning for stricter gun control in the U.S.–something that drew the ire of conspiracy theorists who believe attacks like Alison’s and the Sandy Hook massacre are “false flag” attacks arranged by the government.

These theorists produced a “rabbit hole of painful and despicable” YouTube videos about Alison, “including claims that Alison had plastic surgery and was living a secret life in Israel,” Andy said in March 2019. At the time, he’d just begun working with the Georgetown Law Civil Rights Clinic, and together, they planned to push YouTube to remove conspiracy videos about Alison–as well as uploads showing the graphic footage of her murder.

Now, their efforts appear to have escalated: Andy and the clinic have filed an official Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaint against YouTube for failing to remove aforementioned videos about Alison, as well as other conspiracy/graphic videos like them, the Washington Post reports. Because there isn’t a U.S. law banning YouTube from hosting disturbing footage, Andy and the clinic have hinged their complaint on YouTube’s own terms of service.

“Videos of Alison’s murder are just a drop in the bucket,” the complaint says. “There are countless other videos on YouTube depicting individuals’ moments of death, advancing hoaxes and inciting harassment of the families of murder victims, or otherwise violating YouTube’s terms of service.”

Andy told the Post that he’s been flagging relevant videos, but “Nothing’s coming down.”

YouTube tells Tubefilter that since 2015, it’s removed thousands of videos containing footage of Alison’s shooting.

A spokesperson added, “Our Community Guidelines are designed to protect the YouTube community, including those affected by tragedies. We specifically prohibit videos that aim to shock with violence, or accuse victims of public violent events of being part of a hoax. We rigorously enforce these policies using a combination of machine learning and human review.”

To the Post, YouTube said that it does make exceptions for graphic material that has educational, news, scientific, or artistic value–including news coverage of Alison’s case that contains footage of her death. Videos like that are age-restricted, the platform said. (They’re also demonetized.)

The complaint also probes how quickly YouTube is able to catch violating content

Spencer Myers, a member of the Georgetown Law clinic who’s involved in the complaint, said that along with violating its own TOS, YouTube is potentially violating the FTC’s guidelines against deceptive trade practices. “Google and YouTube are engaged in essentially lying to their consumers about the type of content that’s on their platform, and how consistently they review that content,” he explained. If that is proven, it’s enough to pin YouTube with violating parts of the FTC Act concerning deceptive trade, he said.

Based on Myers’ comments, it seems the complaint isn’t only about whether YouTube removes videos about Alison, but also about how quickly it does so. Andy and the clinic are not the first ones to complain about YouTube’s content removal practices. We’ve written about YouTube’s 10,000-person fleet of human moderators (and the toll their job can take on them), the sheer amount of content YouTube deletes, and how it mobilizes to handle crisis situations where graphic footage is being disseminated.

But we’ve also written about YouTube channels like Susu Family, which was filled with strange, sexually suggestive videos of a Vietnamese woman and her children. We (and others) warned YouTube about that channel in December 2018, and YouTube removed it. But a simple search today shows that hundreds of Susu Family and similar videos are still being uploaded to YouTube and allowed to remain there.

As for whether this complaint could result in another hefty FTC fine for YouTube, it’s possible, but not a sure thing. The FTC specifically says that filing a complaint “will not guarantee that their problem will be fixed.” When a complaint is received, the FTC files it into a database that more than 2,300 law enforcement organizations and officials can access, including the IRS, state Attorneys General, and the Better Business Bureau.

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Hila Klein’s ‘Teddy Fresh’ Streetwear Brand Teases SpongeBob SquarePants Collab

In yet another sign that it has arrived as a formidable streetwear force, Hila Klein’s Teddy Fresh clothing brand is on the verge of dropping its biggest collab to date — a collection alongside the iconic Nickelodeon character SpongeBob SquarePants.

Teddy Fresh began teasing the collab on social media earlier this week, in a post (below) stating that the collection would drop next Thursday at 1 pm ET. A photo showcases what appears to be three shirts touting Teddy Fresh’s bear mascot alongside SpongeBob himself. Spongebob, launched in 1999, is a merchandising powerhouse for ViacomCBS-owned Nickelodeon, having reportedly generated upwards of $13 billion in merch revenues alone for the company as of 2017.

While neither pricing details nor the full item lineup have been unveiled just yet, details about the collaboration began leaking late last month — including a sheet of paper from a retail partner (likely Zumiez) instructing stores to “display all the Teddy Fresh x Spongebob Squarepants you received in a highly visible location how you see fit.” The sheet also lists about 20 SKUs, though it isn’t discernible what they are from the available info.

This isn’t Teddy Fresh’s first collab. The brand previously paired with fellow streetwear brand RipNDip (which is also stocked at Zumiez) for two different collections. In their first outing in Oct. 2018, items ranged in price from $12 for a sticker pack to $80 for a hoodie.

Teddy Fresh is the brainchild of Klein (who also serves as its CEO), who is one half of the married duo behind the popular YouTube comedy and commentary channel h3h3Productions. That said, Hila and her husband, Ethan, have not posted a video on that channel (6.6 million subscribers) in roughly eight months — instead focusing their efforts on The H3 Podcast, which is also distributed on YouTube and counts 3.7 million subscribers across two channels.

Teddy Fresh officially bowed in Oct. 2017 and received a major distribution push the following July through a pact with Seattle-founded Zumiez, which counts 607 stores across the United States.

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Prada Taps TikTok Megastar Charli D’Amelio For Milan Fashion Week Appearance

TikTok appears to be receiving a warm embrace by the luxury fashion industry.

And if storied French house Louis Vuitton has a hankering for YouTube vloggers, having partnered extensively with creators like Emma Chamberlain and The Dolan Twins, Prada may have its sights set on the Bytedance-owned micro-video platform. The Cut reports that the Italian brand invited breakout TikTok star Charli D’Amelio to sit front row at its show yesterday at Milan Fashion Week.

D’Amelio, 15, a dancer who has amassed a stunning 28.4 million TikTok followers on the strength of her slick choreography and miming skills, was likely paid for her attendance, as she also posted several Prada-tagged TikTok videos, including a dance routine of sorts alongside several runway models. Furthermore, D’Amelio was seated at the show next to Derek Blasberg — who was hired by YouTube in 2018 to oversee the platform’s work in the fashion space. (Under Blasberg’s tutelage, YouTube launched a standalone ‘Fashion’ vertical in September).

The Cut notes that several fashion brands are warming to a TikTok stars. Eighteen-year-old eboy Noen Eubanks (9.8 million followers) was tapped in December as the face of Celine, while Dolce & Gabbana invited Chase ‘Lil Huddy’ Hudson — the founder of TikTok creator collective The Hype House, and D’Amelio’s rumored boyfriend) — to its most recent showing in Milan, according to The Cut. Dolce & Gabbana, for its part, has long been hip to the influencer game, having in previous seasons invited social stars like Lele Pons, Juanpa Zurita, Rudy Mancuso, and Anwar Jibawi to walk the runway.

D’Ameliowho signed with UTA last month — has shared a total of three Prada-tagged posts on TikTok, as well as one Instagram photo.

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Mitú Acquired By Fellow LatinX Digital Media Purveyor Latido Networks

Latido Networks, a multiplatform media company that creates content for LatinX millennial and Gen Z viewers, has acquired fellow LatinX digital media purveyor Mitú. (LatinX refers to people of Latin American cultural or ethnic identity who reside in the U.S.)

“Media companies simply cannot be relevant going forward without a strong foundation in the United States LatinX community,” Jason Peterson, the CEO of GoDigital Media Group — Latido’s parent company — said in a statement. “The acquisition of Mitú makes our foundation much stronger.”

In addition to Latido, GoDigital Media’s portfolio includes the indie label Cinq Music, digital rights management company AdShare, and digital supply chain company ContentBridge. After the acquisition, Mitú will coexist alongside Latido Networks — the company’s media division that comprises a 24-hour connected TV channel called Latido Music, the Latin music-focused YouTube multi-channel network VidaPrimo, and multicultural audio company reVolver Podcasts, in which Latido holds a minority stake.

“Leveraging our combined audience, content production expertise, and distribution footprint will unlock substantial value for Mitú, Latido Music, and our other media brands,” Stephen Brooks, the president of Latido Networks, said in a statement. “Digital consumers are omnivores whether it’s social media, YouTube, audio, or long-form or short-form digital. Adding Mitú to Latido Networks is an important dish to a full-course digital meal.”

Mitu, founded in 2012 and headquartered in Los Angeles, says its content reaches 91 million American viewers each month. Prior to its acquisition, the company had raised $52 million in venture funding from the likes of LEAP Global Partners, Upfront Ventures, Verizon Ventures, and WPP.

Nevertheless, it’s possible that the acquisition served as lifeline of sorts for the company, amid reports that it had been failing to pay YouTubers that were part of its multi-channel network their rightful ad earnings as far back as last August and September — as outlined by vlogger SuperHolly (3.4 million subscribers) in a video that has been viewed roughly 1.2 million times. That said, creators tell Tubefilter that payments have restarted in recent weeks.

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YouTube TV Adding HBO, HBO Max, Cinemax To Channel Lineup Come Spring

YouTube TV is finally adding HBO to its channel lineup — a highly-anticipated addition almost exactly three years after the launch of the live TV service.

YouTube TV will carry HBO and sister pay channel Cinemax — as well as forthcoming subscription service HBO Max — as part of an expanded distribution deal with parent company WarnerMedia, The Hollywood Reporter reports. HBO Max, launching in May 2020, will comprise all of HBO’s programming as well as other films and series from the WarnerMedia portfolio. HBO and Cinemax — including both linear and on-demand programming — will also arrive on YouTube TV this spring.

Other WarnerMedia-owned television channels — including CNN, TBS, TNT, and Cartoon Network — have already been carried on YouTube TV since 2018. The pricing for the HBO, HBO Max, and Cinemax add-ons has not been revealed.

“As consumers’ media consumption habits continually evolve and the landscape becomes more and more dynamic, our goal remains constant, and that is to make the portfolio of WarnerMedia networks available as widely as possible,” Rich Warren, WarnerMedia’s president of distribution, said in a statement.

YouTube TV currently offers more than 70 channels and is priced at $50 per month. In its most recent earnings report, parent company Google confirmed that YouTube TV had upwards of 2 million subscribers in the U.S.

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YouTube’s Next Music Original Is ‘Terms And Conditions,’ About The U.K.’s Drill Scene

A significant chunk of YouTube’s recent content slate has been taken up by music-themed originals, and that likely isn’t going to change anytime soon. The platform today revealed its next project, Terms and Conditions: A U.K. Drill Story, a feature-length documentary about London’s drill music scene.

The film profiles a range of people associated with the scene, including rappers, mothers who’ve lost sons to violence, police officers, community leaders, and lawyers, Variety reports.

For those not in the know, drill is a style of trap music that commonly features dark beats and gritty lyrics. It was born in South Side Chicago in the 2010s, and has since been embraced overseas. In London, anti-knife activists have blamed drill music for the rise of gang violence–and last May, they protested outside YouTube’s London HQ, trying to convince the platform to remove drill music videos.

YouTube refused, with U.K. managing director Ben McOwen Wilson saying, “While some have argued there is no place for drill music on YouTube, we believe we can help provide a place for those too often without a voice.”

Now, drill is the star of Terms and Conditions, a film by lauded documentarian Brian Hill. Hill often makes films for the BBC, and has been honored with BAFTAs for his work on feature-length documentaries Feltham Sings and Only Human. His most recent film is The Life After, which follows Irish people who lost loved ones during the Troubles.

Hill told Variety working with YouTube to profile drill was a freeing experience, because “there are a lot of people at the BBC who are very nervous about the political situation” with the genre.

YouTube is also mindful of that, the platform’s EMEA head of originals, Luke Hyams, said. He explains YouTube has “treaded carefully” due to last May’s protests, but ultimately believes originals should be provocative to catch audience attention.

“It’s important now in the age of social media and search and discovery that when you make something for YouTube, where content can get lost, [it] can serve as a discussion starter,” he said. “That’s why we went into ‘Terms and Conditions,’ and want to do docs.” Hyams also said YouTube hopes Terms and Conditions can draw in more documentarians willing to make films about culturally relevant and topical issues.

The film will premiere Feb. 26 on urban music YouTube channel GRM Daily, which has 2.63 million subscribers.

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Twitch Star Dr DisRespect To Pen “Memoir” About His Gaming Persona For Simon & Schuster

From the small screen to the book store aisles, Twitch star Guy Beahm is readying a multimedia takeover, having just inked a book deal to publish a memoir from the perspective of his streaming persona, Dr DisRespect. That character, a self-described ruthless competitor, sees Beahm on-stream bedecked in a black mullet wig, sunglasses, mustache, and a tactical vest.

The book — tentatively titled Violence. Speed. Momentum., a popular Dr DisRespect catchphrase — will recount the character’s comedic backstory. Beahm is writing the project for Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, The Hollywood Reporter reports. It is slated to hit shelves next spring alongside a companion audiobook read by Beahm.

According to a description obtained by the Reporter, the book sarcastically claims it will cover “what it’s like being the greatest gamer in the history of the universe, and possibly the best overall human being.”

Gallery Books acquired rights to the book from Beahm’s talent agency, CAA, the Reporter reports. Beahm also has a scripted — and potentially animated — television series based on the origin story of Dr DisRespect in the works. That venture, announced in December, will see Beahm partnering with Skybound Entertainment, the multi-platform production company founded by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman.

Beahm, who streams multiple titles, counts 4 million subscribers on Twitch and 1 million YouTube subscribers.

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Facebook Unveils Creator-Centric ‘Studio’ App For Upload Management, Video Analytics, More

Today, Facebook is launching a long-awaited mobile version of Creator Studio — an until-now desktop-only platform that enables content creators and video publishers to manage their uploads, track performance metrics, and connect more seamlessly with fans. Creator Studio is currently available globally on both iOS and Android.

In a blog post, Facebook called the Creator Studio app “an evolution of and mobile complement to” the existing web platform. The app will provide data and engagement metrics — including total number of ‘one-minute views’ and ‘average minutes viewed’. It will also enable creators to: edit video titles and descriptions, as well as delete existing posts and to publish drafted posts; read and respond to messages and comments; toggle between multiple Facebook Pages; and receive notifications for key account milestones.

This isn’t Facebook’s first bat at a creator-centric app. In 2017, the company launched a standalone Facebook Creator App that was subsequently discontinued. Facebook tells Tubefilter it sunsetted the initial Creator App because it focused on less-vital features like Live video previews and exclusive Stories stickers — as opposed to foundational, on-the-go creator necessities like performance insights and Page toggling.

Creator Studio launched on the web last September as a replacement for the Creator App, and now Facebook says its mobile iteration will serve as a companion tool — meaning it will not have all of the capabilities of the desktop version. For instance, while Creator Studio on desktops enables users to integrate their Instagram accounts, the app does not provide this same ability (at launch).

“The new experience offers the same actionable insights and meaningful engagement metrics, all from the ease of a mobile device,” says Jeff Birkeland, Facebook’s head of creator and publisher experience.

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