How Vine makes tomorrow’s stars in six seconds flat

Vine, Twitter

Twitter’s Vine app only launched in January 2013 but has become a powerful network of new stars attracting the attention of the TV and music industries.

Its top Viners have millions of fans and draw large crowds on the increasingly popular real-world tours, where they appear with digital stars from YouTube.

It’s a far cry from Vine’s launch, when it was pitched as a way to share “little windows into the people, settings, ideas and objects that make up your life”, using up to six-second videos that would loop when watched within Vine’s app or on Twitter.

Initially on iPhone only, Vine has since launched Android and Windows smartphone versions as well as a website, added video-editing features and the ability to “re-vine” clips to your own followers and started tracking “loop counts” to show how often each video has been watched.

Research firm GWI estimates that 4% of British mobile internet users are using Vine’s app, although that rises to 16% for 16- to 19 year-olds. In the US, those figures stand at 9% and 25% respectively.

“Every month, more than 100 million people watch Vines across the web and there are more than 1bn loops every day,” said Vine in an August blog post.

This audience is creating its own stars, with the biggest Viner, Nash Grier, accumulating 9.3 million followers and more than 900 million loops of his videos. By contrast, Justin Bieber, usually one of the biggest stars on social networks, is only the 57th biggest star on Vine with 2.1 million followers.

“The recent explosion of Vine stars is unsurprising,” says Allan Blair, head of strategy at digital agency Tribal Worldwide. “YouTube has been the most influential medium for teens and the wider youth audience for quite some time now. Vine is a logical extension of that but with an intensive burst perfect for the increasingly short attention span of Generation Z.”

Vine’s six-second time limit on videos is seen as one of its creative strengths. “The restrictiveness of the six seconds has also been a driving force for creativity, in the same way as Twitter’s 140-character limit,” says Damian Collier, founder of Viral Spiral Group, which was one of the first multi-channel networks (MCNs) signing up Vine stars.

“As a creator, I love how with the time constraint Vine really challenges my creativity,” says Vine star Amymarie Gaertner, who has more than 3.1 million followers. “With so many categories and ways to showcase users’ content, Vine encourages all users to be versatile with their creativity.”

It is little wonder traditional media companies are swooping to sign up talented Viners. Musician Shawn Mendes is a good example: he signed a deal with Universal Music Group’s Island Records in June. That month, his first single sold close to 200,000 copies, while his debut EP in July topped Apple’s iTunes chart 37 minutes after being released. Independent artist Joshua Micah is another success story: he started recording “Six Second Covers” of famous songs, and now has more than 490,000 followers and 31.2 million loops of his songs.

In the UK, comedian Dapper Laughs, likened to offensive dinosaur Roy Chubby Brown in the Radio Times, had a top 10 hit on iTunes with his song Proper Moist earlier this year before striking a deal to front his own dating show on ITV2.

“I believe he is the new Cilla Black,” said the show’s executive producer, Dan Baldwin, although Laughs – favoured topics: “Girls/Dates/Mates/Banter/Work/Sex/Family” – is advertising his Christmas gigs with the decidedly un-Cilla-like warning that “anything and everything goes… If easily offended please stay away”.

Brands are also flocking to work with Vine’s big stars. Ford launched its Mustang car in Europe through a Vine campaign devised by Viral Spiral, while Fanta is investing in its own #FantaForTheFunny comedy channel on Vine.

“It appeals to brands because it’s a relatively low investment compared with, say, a YouTube video, with a high payoff for success,” says Pete Wood, social media director at digital marketing agency 360i London. “A branded Vine is four times more likely to be shared than a branded video. The platform also has high penetration in youth culture, a notoriously tricky demographic to be relevant to.”

“Actors and musicians are no longer your only bridges to reaching a highly engaged audience with your message,” adds Elise Bartlett, general manager of marketing agency GrapeStory, which has a number of Vine stars on its books. “Brands are seeing the value in working with social media celebrities while they are gaining visibility and acclaim, as it tells their younger consumers that the brands understand their tastes as well as the up-and-coming celebrities who are important to them.”

Vine has had its share of controversies. Grier was recently accused of homophobia after posting a clip in which he shouted the insult “Fag!”. The 16-year-old has since apologised for being “young, ignorant, stupid and in a bad place” when he posted the video. Vine has also faced tricky decisions over pornography, banning sexually explicit clips in March 2014. “We don’t have a problem with explicit sexual content on the internet – we just prefer not to be the source of it,” explained the company at the time.

Copyright has also been an issue, with Prince’s label demanding in April 2013 that it remove clips shot at his gigs. Meanwhile, this summer’s World Cup popularised the practice of recording clips of goals on TV and sharing them to Vine and Twitter, a practice now being cracked down on by the English Premier League. “It’s a breach of copyright and we would discourage fans from doing it,” said a league spokesperson. “We’re developing technologies like gif crawlers, Vine crawlers, working with Twitter to look to curtail this kind of activity.”

What next for Vine and its stars, though? Some are exploring other digital platforms, from YouTube – Grier recently signed a deal with AwesomenessTV, the YouTube network owned by Hollywood studio DreamWorks Animation – to Snapchat and Instagram, where there are thriving groups of short-form video creators. Vine doesn’t have ads, so it doesn’t earn revenue from clicks, but top Viners are working with brands more, so they’ll get money to make sponsored clips or feature their products. Some have started to upload compilations of their clips to YouTube, where they can earn ad money.

Live gigs are also a growing source of income for Viners: the Digifest NYC festival in New York last June attracted 12,500 fans, while clips where a Viner spins around to reveal a crowd of thousands of screaming fans at a live event are increasingly common.

But a Viner’s core activity remains the app and the website, with its 100 million viewers and culture of music, gags and bite-size video-blogging. “Anyone can become a Vine star, it’s video for everyone,” says Pete Wood.

Allan Blair suggests that talent is the only barrier: “Only the best, most creative minds shine through, making it the perfect breeding ground for those who can go on to greater things.”

ON THE VINE: 10 to watch

KingBach Visual comedy turning a shrewd eye on social awkwardness, racism and the nature of friendship.

Nicholas Megalis US-based musician whose videos invariably have a comic touch, food (from sausages to pineapples) and the odd toy penguin.

Brittany Furlan Short-form sketches from a comedian whose talent is already seeing her looking beyond Vine to TV.

Dapper Laughs Laddish laughs from a comic sometimes dismissed as a poor man’s Danny Dyer (who poked fun at himself in a clip with the actual Danny Dyer).

Amymarie Gaertner Although dance moves are her speciality, Amymarie adds in dashes of comedy and collaborations with other Viners. And dogs.

Zach King Magician exploring the visual illusion potential of the short-form video, from printing pets and mutant room-cleaning to a cardboard invisibility suit.

Jack and Jack Big on Vine, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram alike, the Jacks blend music, jokes and teen culture.

Us the Duo Married musicians who, besides recording their own material, publish six-second covers of Pitbull, Calvin Harris, Justin Timberlake and more.

Ben Phillips KFC, Burger King and a precocious child named Harley star in this British Viner’s comic clips.

Reid Wiseman Wiseman is an astronaut working on the International Space Station. But also shooting Vine clips.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Stuart Dredge, for The Observer on Sunday 28th September 2014 07.30 Europe/London

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