WOMAN AT PTA MEETING: The PTA put together this event tonight because, you know, as parents, we’re all going through the digital revolution with our kids. We have Douglas Rushkoff, who’s a writer and lecturer—
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF, Correspondent: [voice-over] I’ve been speaking at events like this for more than 20 years now.
PARENT: My sister has two Twitter accounts—
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: I’ve written books and taught classes about this stuff, so people turn to me for answers.
PARENT: What do you do in the case of extreme bullying?
PARENT: My son plays a game. It’s called Starcraft.
PARENT: How much does that show up in tracking?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] I don’t thinks going to affect the kid’s job for the rest of their lives.
[voice-over] But lately, I’ve been wondering. Are we all asking the wrong questions when we focus on the technology itself, rather than what’s behind it?
[on camera] Kids are spending more and more of their time in digital spaces that they don’t have even a basic understanding of what they are, where they tilted, what are they for. The problem, as I see it, is what are companies doing to our kids through technology, and how can they and we be made more aware?
[voice-over] Technology is here to stay, and it’s changing all of our lives, especially those of our kids. But how? What do these web sites and apps really allow teens to do? What is it they ask in return? And are kids aware of any of this?
It hasn’t always been like this. When we made the FRONTLINE documentary Merchants of Cool back in 2001, the media environment was quite different.
["The Merchants of Cool" 2001]
FRED DURST, Limp Bizkit: Hey, what’s up. This is Limp Bizkit and you’re watching TRL, if you didn’t notice already.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: MTV was the mighty behemoth growing rich exploiting kids’ desire to be cool.
WOMAN: Can I take your picture for a street culture web site I work for?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Corporations were chasing kids down, taking teen culture and selling it back to them.
[www.pbs.org: Watch "The Merchants of Cool"]
Today’s teens, like this group of high school friends in Montclair, New Jersey, don’t need to be chased down. They’re putting themselves out there on line for anyone to see. They tell the world what they think is cool, starting with their own on-line profiles.
SCOTT: Are you doing a profile picture or a cover photo?
DARIUS: I don’t know. Do you want me to do it—
GENNA: But you can’t have a cover plot by yourself.
SCOTT: Listen to Genna. She’s a master of Facebook. Come on, we’re trying to get 400 likes!
GENNA: A profile picture is kind of, like, how you want people to visualize you. You put your best foot forward. And your cover photo kind of tells about your personality.
KATIE: OK, guys, do you think Darius should do this picture?
GENNA: That picture? As his profile picture?
DAISY: I vote no.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: What is it you want the profile to accomplish?
SCOTT: You want it to show the true Darius. And I mean, usually, when you think of Darius, he’s always smiling. He’s always a happy guy to be around.
DAISY: Oh, it’s so cute!
DARIUS: So it’s this one?
ANNIE: Yes. Yeah, it’s really cute.
SCOTT: We found a photo of when he’s, like, smiling and being his true self.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Is it true you now?
DARIUS: My profile is definitely a true me now. It’s definitely true me.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] Compared with the kids I met 13 years ago, this group seems so sophisticated.
GENNA: What’s your caption going to be?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: But as they sat there doing a virtual makeover on their friend’s profile, they revealed a vulnerability.
SCOTT: How did you get almost 400 likes on your profile picture?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Likes.
[on camera] You were kind of surprised at her high number of likes? Why is that? You think 300, 400 is a lot?
DARIUS: For example, we just posted a picture of me, my new profile picture, and I got, like, 14 likes.
DAISY: Boys get less than girls, though.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It’s only been 20 minutes, though.
DARIUS: Yeah, but she got 300.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] Likes, follows, friends, retweets— they’re the social currency of this generation, Generation Like. The more likes you have, the better you feel.
WILL: You can’t wait to find out whether people like you or not, so you need likes and stuff like that, instant gratification.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] You get them, you give them, and everyone knows how many you’ve earned. The number is right there for anyone to see.
[on camera] Are the likes you get— are they about you, or are they about the profile picture?
DAISY: That’s what you sit in front of your computer for an hour trying to figure out. It’s cryptic.
ANNIE: It’s very cryptic.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] And when a kid likes something on line — a product or a brand or a celebrity — it becomes part of the identity that they broadcast to the world, the way a T-shirt or a bedroom poster defined me when I was a teen. For kids today, you are what you like.
GIRL: I like Urban Outfitters.
GIRL: Joke pages.
GIRL: Too many to name, really.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Ceili Lynch of Mount Vernon, New York, likes The Hunger Games— a lot.
CEILI LYNCH: This is, like, my number one kind of thing. Like, I— obviously, I like other books and I like other fandoms and stuff, but not as much as The Hunger Games. Like, that’s my top one.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Her Tumblr blog and Twitter feed are filled with pictures and links to the billion-dollar franchise.
CEILI LYNCH: And I’ve been a fan of the books ever since I was younger, like, when they first came out. I found out about this web site, and I saw that they were having, like, these little contests on it, and so I was, like, “Oh, I really want to win these contests.”
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: The Hunger Games is about teens forced by adults to battle each other as a form of public entertainment.
ACTOR: ["The Hunger Games"] I’m going to kill you.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Being a fan isn’t so different. The movie’s official web site allows kids to compete with each other for virtual prizes by sharing its content on Twitter. It’s called “retweeting,” and when it comes to The Hunger Games, Ceili’s among the most prolific in the world.
CEILI LYNCH: It’s like an accomplishment. Like, it’s just really cool to be able to, like, think of yourself of as, like, one of the people that likes The Hunger Games the most, being one of those people who loves it so much that it’s, like, you’re one of the top fans.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] So there’s a way to almost verify your centrality.
CEILI LYNCH: Yes! It’s, like, a way to say to people, like, “Yes, I am one of the top fans, actually. Look at the web site!”
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] More than any generation before them, today’s teens can speak directly to the artists, celebrities and brands they like. And sometimes, they get a reply.
CEILI LYNCH: A couple of the other actors and actresses from the first movie have noticed me. Jack Quaid, who played Marvel from District 1, he was, like, my favorite actor. I don’t know why, but I became super-obsessed with him. So I was, like, tweeting him, like, “My only goal anymore is to get you to tweet me back.” And he tweeted me, like, “Oh, go check it off your list. Now go save the world. And hurry.” So that was really, really cool for me.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] Does that motivate you to share things in hopes of them kind of noticing?
CEILI LYNCH: Yeah. I mean, I’ve tweeted them a bunch of times, like, hoping they’ll retweet me and stuff because its really cool, like, them noticing you.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] It’s cool because when a kid likes something and that thing likes her back, other kids notice. And then they like her, too.
CEILI LYNCH: The Hunger Games official Twitter, they retweeted me, and I gained, like, 60, 70 followers. It’s kind of, you know, self-empowering to know that, like, “Oh, I’m one of the top fans on their web site.”
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Empowerment. It’s a word you hear a lot when kids talk about social media.
GIRL: I think that social media—
BOY: —really has empowered me.
GIRL: It’s a way of letting people know you’re there.
GIRL: Definitely gives me a voice.
GIRL: —show my talent to the world—
BOY: —broaden who you’re talking to.
GIRL: They’ll just post whatever they’re feeling.
GIRL: There’s no one there that’s saying, “You cannot— you can’t say that.”
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Once teens have created on-line identities, they have an array of tools through which to express themselves to anyone interested enough to listen.
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] Hey, everyone, it’s Tyler. I’m a vlogger on YouTube. I got in trouble because I don’t have a filter on my mouth.
I talk about my life on line. That’s what I do.
[video] I went to an ugly sweater party—
But I’ve been doing it since 2007. I had just gotten my first laptop and I discovered YouTube
[video] I just wanted to do a really quick update while I’m at home doing my laundry—
I had just gone off to college. I was 18. And my three best friends went to three different schools, and so I had, like, Facebook to keep in touch, but I also wanted to keep in touch in my own little way.
[video] I noticed one thing about my new haircut, it does this optical illusion called “Humongous Forehead Syndrome.”
And I remember one video had 100 views, and I was, like, “I do not have 100 friends.”
[video] I want to say I’m so thankful for all the new subscribers. I mean, the numbers go up and up and up.
I have 100 videos just talking about everything.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Well, not everything, just the things he likes.
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] This one’s got “The Untold Story of One Direction.” Girl, we are in for a treat!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Like Ceili and her Hunger Games, Tyler Oakley is obsessed with pop culture. He’s Ceili on steroids.
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] I absolutely adore these two bowties!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And social media lets him share his obsessions with the world.
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] Oh, hey! Welcome to my room!
If you were to, like, go hog wild about somebody or put, like, One Direction posters all over their wall—
[video] I really— I have no excuse for this.
—people might like look at you weird. But on the Internet, like, people are, like, all about it.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And guess what? Getting people to be “all about” something is big business. Major corporations have long spent billions trying to get kids to engage with their products and brands. Now that the way kids consume media has changed, the companies that want to reach them know they need to change, too.
BONIN BOUGH, V.P., Global Media, Mondelez Intl.: The icons of this generation are the like button, the tweet button, the reblog button. I mean, this is the biggest transformation that we’ve had in terms of communicating with consumers in our lifetime. In our lifetime! And so to not learn how to participate in those channels is outrageous. So to stand on a sideline is not an option.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: As a corporate marketing executive, Bonin Bough understands that when kids like something, it becomes part of who they are. And if kids want to express themselves by advertising his company’s products, like Oreo cookies, he’s happy to oblige.
BONIN BOUGH: The strategy was to reimagine pop culture through the eyes of Oreo. We called it “Daily Twist.”
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Take the issue of same-sex marriage. If you’re in favor of it and want the world to know, Oreo is there to help.
BONIN BOUGH: Here, this platform gave something as simple as a cookie — a cookie — a cookie, which is, you know, two chocolate— and cream in the middle— the ability to have a perspective on culture that was so profound.
STEPHEN COLBERT, Comedy Central: Oreos are gay!
BONIN BOUGH: That one post alone had a million likes. A million people took an action to say, “Yes, I associate with that. I like that piece of content. That piece of content speaks to me.” That’s profound. Those are big, big numbers.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And those numbers are extremely valuable.
CHARLES DUHIGG, Author, The Power of Habit: There is right now a huge, huge, commercial push or corporate push to collect as much data as possible. When you hit “Like,” when you retweet, when you make any expression on line, you’re creating data. You’re creating a demographic profile of yourself.
DARIUS: Everybody go like my profile picture!
DAISY: Everybody go like Darius’s picture!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: When Darius’s friends like his profile picture, Facebook sees who he interacts with the most, information that would be valuable to advertisers.
When Daisy likes dozens of brands on Facebook, those brands can learn more about a potential customer, and all her friends, as well.
When Ceili and her friends retweet news about The Hunger Games, the movie studio is able to track the response in real time.
When Tyler goes on YouTube in search of the things he likes, YouTube — which is owned by Google — can track his every move.
This is where the currency of likes turns into actual currency.
CHARLES DUHIGG: Companies know how to take that data and turn it into money. The people who are handing over the data, because they’re hitting, I like this or I like that, or they’re telling all their friends, “Will you please come like me,” they have no idea what the value of that is.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: So all those selfies you take so that people will like them on Instagram? They helped that company sell for a billion dollars. Send a tweet, and you helped raise the value of Twitter to around $30 billion. And Facebook? It’s valued at around $140 billion.
Those numbers aren’t based on profits— not yet, anyway. Those prices are based on the volume of likes they can generate. And likes don’t generate themselves. That’s why companies need kids to stay on line, clicking and liking and tweeting. How do they do that?
PROMOTIONAL VIDEO: Who wants to win a call from Lady Gaga? Who wants to win a phone call from Lady Gaga?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: By giving kids a chance to be a part of the game— fame by association. You may not be as famous as Taylor Swift, but your photo can be part of her promotion for Diet Coke.
PEPSI COMMERCIAL: Ladies and gentlemen, show some love for Beyonce!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Send Pepsi your selfie, and maybe it’ll be included in this intro to Beyonce’s Super Bowl half-time show. Reach out to any celebrity or brand on social media, and there’s an implied promise they might reach back
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] And bam! There I am in the commercial. That’s, like, literally a check off the bucket list.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Tyler Oakley is proof that it works— at least for the skilled liker.
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] Like, oh, my gosh, I am so excited for Lady Gaga tonight!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: His success in this game of likes is reflected in his numbers
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] Darren Criss, stop it!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: After seven years of talking about his obsessions, he’s won over three million subscribers to the YouTube channel he created.
TYLER OAKLEY: I don’t know how it happened. It just happens out of the blue, and it happened, like, without intent. And I think a lot of what I did was just talk about what I love, and people gravitated toward it. And it’s opened up a lot of opportunities. And it opened up a lot of doors.
[video] I felt so VIP official with, like, my lanyard—
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: He’s covered MTV’s Video Music Awards on Twitter—
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] I’m so excited! I wish you were all here with me.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: —is a frequent guest on a pop culture show on YouTube—
TYLER OAKLEY: When I, like, fangirl about things, I think people really relate to that.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: —and when he went to see One Direction in concert last summer, Tyler Oakley, professional fan, had quite a few fans of his own.
TYLER OAKLEY: The interesting thing about traditional celebrities and then YouTubers— for a fan, they run up to me in the street and they, like— they act like we are friends. Part of the reason why a lot of people, like, relate to me, is that I am just one of them.
[www.pbs.org: More from Tyler Oakley]
[video] Oh, hey, girl, come on in!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: But he’s not, really. Beyond his massive following on YouTube, he has over 800,000 followers on Facebook, a million and a quarter on Instagram, approaching two million on Twitter, and the numbers are rising every day. Tyler is a millionaire in the currency of likes.
But social media is all about sharing, and that includes sharing the wealth. When kids with large audiences work together, everyone benefits.
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] Well, hello, everyone. My name is Tyler Oakley, and I am here with—
OLI WHITE: Oli White!
TYLER OAKLEY: My favorite thing to do on my channel is, like, collaborations.
[video] Christmas gives me, like, anxiety—
All of us YouTubers are realizing, OK, there’s no point in not wanting to help all of us be successful and all of us rise together.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Here’s how it works. Tyler does a video with Oli White, introducing his three million subscribers to Oli, who has just 300,000.
OLI WHITE: [video] Hey, guys, so today, I am with Louise.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Oli does one with Louise, who has a million.
LOUISE: [video] Woop, woop!
[video] I am here with Hannah Hart today.
HANNAH: [video] Hello.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Louise brings her audience to Hannah, who has 920,000.
HANNAH: [video] You met Shane Dawson today?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Hannah is very happy to work with Shane, a comedian and musician with an astounding 5.4 million fans. And Shane shows up in a video with Liam Horne. You probably don’t know Liam yet. He only has 45,000 subscribers. But that’s going to change.
LIAM HORNE: [singing, video] Hey, sexy lady, Shane’s got a message for you, so I’m going to sing it for you—
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Liam isn’t trying to be a YouTube personality, though. He’s a relatively unknown musician hoping to make the big time. To do that, he’s turned to a new kind of company called theAudience. It’s a talent agency, publisher, promoter and network rolled into one. It’s the brainchild of Oliver Luckett.
OLIVER LUCKETT, CEO, theAudience: What we do here at theAudience is we run a publishing network. What we do is we basically run the social media on behalf of entertainers and artists and musicians and actors, and we help them express themselves inside of this medium.
How many days of shooting was this?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It used to be that if a kid didn’t have good connections, hard work and talent was the only path to fame, and even that was no guarantee. But today, there’s another route, build and leverage a social network.
OLIVER LUCKETT: The piece that you did with Shane Dawson, I mean, that’s got two million views in two weeks.
LIAM HORNE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
OLIVER LUCKETT: And suddenly— and you read every comment on your YouTube, they say, you know, “Shane brought me here, but now I love you and now I want you”— you know, “now I want to know more about you.”
LIAM HORNE: Well, what they’re doing right now is kind of the job of what a record company would do for me. Like, they’re building my fan base for me and helping me with media stuff.
Sawyer Hartman showed up. He was, like, really cool, like—
OLIVER LUCKETT: The big YouTube kid? Yeah, he’s got, like, half a million followers, right?
LIAM HORNE: Yeah.
OLIVER LUCKETT: Yeah. That’s awesome.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Liam has genuine talent, but it’s almost beside the point. To get ahead, he needs to attach himself to others who have mastered the game of likes — kids like Acacia Brinley, who has over a million followers on Instagram. She’s only in the video for a few seconds, but she’s a critical part of the marketing plan.
LIAM HORNE: All these people in my video already had their own amazing followings. It’s, like, a million followers here and there, and of course, they’re all in my video and they tweet about it, and like, talk about it and Instagram it. So all their fans are, like, “Wait, who’s this kid they’re all hanging out with?” And they’d all come over. So it’s just— it’s basically just merging the fan bases all together, you know?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: From the outside, this does sound empowering, a bunch of kids working together, helping each other to get ahead without having to rely on the usual corporate suspects.
But look a little closer. Is this a music video or an ad for the Ford Fiesta?
OLIVER LUCKETT: It’s nice to see that at every step of the way, brands have been willing to step in and help pay for the videos. You know, this first video, we got support from Ford Motor Company. You know, and this last one, you had— what, Adidas gave you stuff and—
STAFFER: Young and Reckless.
OLIVER LUCKETT: —Young and Reckless. So it’s nice to see that your art is being funded, you know, as well.
Oh, those are bad.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It’s a perfect mashup of culture and commerce.
LIAM HORNE: I love you, man. I love you.
OLIVER LUCKETT: It’s Christmas!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Everybody seems to be getting what they want. Take Steven Fernandez, a 13-year-old skateboarder from Compton, California.
KIDS: Is that that famous kid? Oh, my God! Hey, Steven! And he’s famous?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] I like the whole question, “Are you famous?” It’s not, “Is he on TV, is he an actor, is he a good skateboarder?” It’s famous. That’s that word.
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: Yeah, they need to stop worrying about their followers and start worrying about the money.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] Steven’s been worrying about money all his life. His family has never had very much of it.
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: This is my living room. This is where my dad sleeps. I lay down there sometimes. All right, let’s go to my room.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Two years ago, he started putting videos of himself up on YouTube.
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: I started in skateboarding. That’s the number one thing I love to do. The first video I ever posted, I didn’t think no one was going to like it. Like, I mean, I just posted it, and it started getting views. I was hyped. I was happy. I didn’t think it was going to go that far.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: But it did. He got hundreds of views, then thousands. Soon all those little likes turned into YouTube gold, corporate sponsorship.
[on camera] How did, like, the first company find you?
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: Primitive was the first company that sponsored me. I made a video of skating, and Andy, the dude from Primitive, saw it, and he was, like, “Yeah, let’s get this dude on this company ”
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Does it go right to cash sponsorships?
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: They start giving you clothes, and then it goes to money
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] Today, he’s a walking billboard for his sponsors, literally head to toe.
[on camera] The sneakers?
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: Well, these are Supra.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And the socks?
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: These are DGK socks.
[video] DGK board, A-struts, Gold Wheels, Grizzly Grip. Oh, yeah, and thanks to all my sponsors for helping me out. Appreciate it.
I was, like, “Man, if I can keep doing this, I can actually support my family and get them off the poverty and, like, this little hood.”
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: YouTube cuts him in on the cash from ads placed on his videos. But up to now, his sponsors have been paying him largely in skate gear or branded merchandise. That’s not enough to vault him out of Compton. But then, Steven’s not riding to fame on his skateboard talents alone.
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: [video] I think I just [expletive] my pants!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Lots of kids can skateboard. Steven needed a way to cut through the clutter.
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: Once you start doing these funny videos, you get more than skater fans. I started to get bigger and bigger.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: So now Steven goes by the nickname “Baby Scumbag.” More than a skateboarder, he’s a raucous, raunchy Internet sensation banking huge numbers of clicks and views and likes.
KID: Are you famous? Do you so something?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] How do you judge whether a video’s doing well?
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: The views, the likes, the shares on Facebook, the likes on Facebook. The more views I get, the more comments I get, that’s more money I get.
[video] Are you crazy? You’re trying to see [expletive] that bad? Are you happy now?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] Baby Scumbag’s views are rising as his content gets racier. He still skates, but gets hundreds of thousands of views on videos like these.
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: [video] Any normal guy can get a girl, huh? Hey, cuties, you guys want to touch my [expletive] ? Oh, my God, I think I found a white girl that can twerk!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: So now when Steven goes out to make a video—
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: [video] Today I’m going to be holding hands with random people.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: —he often leaves the skateboard at home.
DANAH BOYD, Ph.D., Author, It’s Complicated: Young people want attention. They want validation. And that’s actually not new. It’s just that now the possible stage on which you can operate on is much bigger. At the same time, the ability to get attention in a place where there’s tons of information, when there are tons of people competing for attention, is also harder.
When your business depends on the number of clicks, the number of page views, the number of ad impressions, what you really need from people is their attention—
WOMAN ON STREET: I’ve seen your YouTube videos!
DANAH BOYD: —because it’s a way of actually capturing money, as well, because it’s— it’s the car crash.
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: [video] It’s taffy! It’s very rare, bro.
They watch these things because people wish they hanged out with models by doing these videos, but— but it’s all fun.
Right here, Angel!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF, Correspondent: As if to prove the point, Steven introduced us to a friend he said was the best skater at the park, better than himself. Angel’s got the moves, but most of his videos only have a few hundred views.
[on camera] You’re making YouTubes and stuff, too?
ANGEL APARICIO: Yeah, whenever we go skate, we just film a little bit of stuff, you know. Eventually, it’s enough footage to actually, like, get it on YouTube.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: How many views does your stuff get?
ANGEL APARICIO: The video with the most views, of course, is, like— it has Steven in it. So that one has, like, 38,000 views.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: If you don’t have a zillion hits, then you generally wouldn’t get noticed by a sponsor.
ANGEL APARICIO: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, there are videos out there got, like, upwards of 10,000 views, and those are the ones that people really look at. So unless, like, you’re on one of those channels, then I feel like you’re not going to get that much recognition.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Is there stuff you can do to make something get seen more?
ANGEL APARICIO: Just doing crazy stuff, like what Steven does, like, how to get girls and all this stuff, because those get, like, hundreds of thousands of views. So yeah, there’s that.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] Thus a generation was empowered through interactive media.
SETH GODIN, Author, Blogger: Why on earth would someone spend all those hours to make a YouTube video of them doing something absolutely stupid and insane? They’re only going to get a check for $3 for doing it. But money isn’t the only currency.
VIDEO GIRL: This is a condom—
SETH GODIN: And when you can see that you have 5,000 followers on Twitter, or when someone recognizes you as that kid who did that stupid stunt on a mountain bike and broke your arm, suddenly, your arm doesn’t hurt because you know you’re famous.
BOY: Everybody desires to be famous.
BOY: Facebook famous.
GIRL: Instagram famous.
GIRL: The most popular person on YouTube.
GIRL: It’s way easier to become famous for something outrageous.
GIRL: Girls will post, like, half-naked pictures.
BOY: Make a video and get, like, a million views.
BOY: Get as many friends, as many likes as possible.
GIRL: You want to be liked.
GIRL: Will this get likes?
GIRL: It’s all about likes.
STEVEN FERNANDEZ: [video] Let’s see how this works out—
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: But how much fame is enough? Does the quest for likes ever end? What happens if you finally go all the way, not some niche sensation on the Internet, but a bona fide Hollywood star? The kind of heights reached by Ian Somerhalder.
IAN SOMERHALDER: ["Vampire Diaries'] You’re just so pretty.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: He has wealth and fame and immortality as the star of the smash hit series, The Vampire Diaries. He also has Oliver Luckett, who handles his social media.
IAN SOMERHALDER: Welcome to my world.
OLIVER LUCKETT: How are you? Have you been killing again?
IAN SOMERHALDER: I don’t think PBS would like the blood. [laughter]
OLIVER LUCKETT: It’ll spice it up a little!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Ian may be living every kid’s dream, but he’s still reducible to his numbers of likes, though his numbers are little different than yours.
OLIVER LUCKETT: Right now, you’re actually at 6.3 million fans. You’re now reaching 24 million unique people a month.
IAN SOMERHALDER: We were looking at the live numbers of the show, and what you guys have created has a higher number value than actually the viewership of The Vampire Diaries in the United States. It’s just crazy to me!
OLIVER LUCKETT: Yes, for you.
IAN SOMERHALDER: Thank you, buddy.
OLIVER LUCKETT: Thank you. It’s all you, dude.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Oliver’s just being modest. The content may be Ian’s, but as he showed me, Oliver’s company is running the show.
OLIVER LUCKETT: It has a calendar of content that’s coming out. You know, if we looked, this is— these are two objects that are coming out right now. It’s been approved by the artist.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] And then when it goes out, you can track how well it did.
OLIVER LUCKETT: Exactly. If I look at the Facebook post analysis, I can see pretty much in real time what those objects are doing. This picture, “Coming home from work, luckiest dude in the world,” of him and his newborn puppies, reached 5.4 million unique people with 8.9 million views, right, with 377,000 stories generated about it. And so, you know, the list kind of keeps going on every time he talks. And sometimes twice a day, three times a day, he’s reaching three to six million people.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Now, if I’m a brand—
OLIVER LUCKETT: Right, then you want to be in this business.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: —I want some of this!
OLIVER LUCKETT: Absolutely.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: How much— how much you going to— how much does it cost me?
OLIVER LUCKETT: It is going up. Literally, our business has done that [gestures] in the last five months.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: I mean, show me what kinds of products or brands that Ian’s followers like.
OLIVER LUCKETT: Sure. Sure. So if I go in and start looking at this platform—
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] And there they are, your likes— dissected, analyzed, and in Oliver’s hands, monetized.
OLIVER LUCKETT: If you start looking at “Beauty and Health,” for instance, you know, it’s Origins, right? That makes total sense.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: If you like Ian and you like a product or brand, Oliver knows.
OLIVER LUCKETT: 6.7 percent of the Origins audience interacted with Ian Somerhalder’s content.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And those interactions can mean prized endorsements for Oliver’s clients.
OLIVER LUCKETT: So if you’re connected to Ian and he likes the product, and then you like Ian and you like the product, then now you’ve got a double endorsement to your friends.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It’s an asset Ian can use however he wants, whether it’s building up his nonprofit foundation or other, more profitable pursuits.
IAN SOMERHALDER: I now understand that understanding how to quantify that value is huge. It is the coolest thing, pretty much, since sliced bread.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Maybe it makes sense that Oliver’s company is called theAudience because, in the end, that’s what he’s selling. And remember, the audience is you.
[on camera] So I get social media and I use social media to promote my career so that I can get to the point where I have a social media network that I sell.
OLIVER LUCKETT: That’s exactly right. You are your own media company, 100 percent. That’s every single person’s goal in this, the smart ones. But it’s all very transparent. It’s all very obvious, you know?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] Obvious and transparent, or simply invisible?
Want to see how it actually works? Take a look inside the offices of TVGla, a social media marketing agency just outside of Hollywood.
TVGLA STAFF MEETING: So we’re brainstorming on the superhero movie. And of course, our target, millennials.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: TVGla has promoted movies like Wolverine and The Expendables and TV shows like Homeland.
KENDRA CAMPBELL-MILBURN, Sr. Director, Social, TVGla: We start with a research and strategy phase, where we really dig into who that audience is, and then we figure out how that audience uses social media to communicate.
TVGLA STAFF MEETING: You can also sort of ask people “Which power would you want,” and then you have people tweet their responses, but—
KENDRA CAMPBELL-MILBURN: The challenges would be using that audience in the way that you want to use them in order to see the results you’re looking for.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: In other words, instead of selling the product to the audience, the idea is to get the audience to sell the product for them. They want to make the interactions seem open and transparent, but all that transparency takes a lot of planning.
TVGLA STAFF MEETING: Doing something with green screen, where people walking down the street can walk up to it and be inserted into the scene—
DIMITRY IOFFE, CEO, TVGla: It’s all about continued more openness because that openness, you know, starts creating essentially what most brands want, which is trust. You want to trust in any conversation that you believe what that person on the other side is telling you. And it’s no different between a brand and your best friend.
TVGLA STAFF MEETING: What if you could, like, insert yourself into a news report, and you could share that video with your friends?
DIMITRY IOFFE: You’ve got the line in and you’re reeling in the fish. So it’s not like— you can’t jerk it too fast. You know, you can’t give it too much slack. You’ve got to feel constant tension.
TVGLA STAFF MEETING: —a hashtag that’s revealed at the end of the credits, that pulls everyone back to, like, pulling out their phone and tweeting something.
KENDRA CAMPBELL-MILBURN: Then you start really deploying, heavily, your engagement strategies, creating memes, letting the audience caption those memes, getting them to enter into a sweepstakes or a contest, asking them to share your content— you know, “Like this post for X” or “Share it for Y.”
DIMITRY IOFFE: It’s all about trying to figure out this pipeline of connected pieces that are going to continue that audience to be essentially your best marketer because that’s the hope.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF (on-camera): Just take a look at two of the biggest movies aimed at teens, The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire.
GIRL: Catching Fire is coming out.
GIRL: I’ve seen the ad on line.
BOY: —commercials on YouTube—
GIRL: A lot of my friends would post pictures.
GIRL: —are tweeting a lot about it.
GIRL: Like, new movie posters, and like, the outfits—
GIRL: —like this page about The Hunger Games movie—
GIRL: It’s exciting. It lures you in.
GIRL: Yeah, I am excited about it coming out.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: What’s designed to look like a grass roots wave of excitement is actually a meticulously planned marketing strategy. It may be “catching fire,” but it was doused with gasoline beforehand.
BROOKS BARNES, The New York Times: Absolutely nothing is left to chance. I mean, with The Hunger Games, I had the sort of rare chance to look at what their strategy was of, like, day by day, hour by hour, what they’re putting out in the world. You know, 12:00 noon Pacific, Yahoo page goes live, 3:00 PM, Tumblr photo of this person gets released, 6:00 PM, this. The goal is to create a controlled brushfire on line. And so the fans at a certain point are convincing each other, “Oh, wow, look, that’s really cool. Did you see that?”
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: So Ceili, sitting in her bedroom, trying to win sparks and badges by liking The Hunger Games, isn’t just being marketed to, she’s actually part of the marketing campaign itself.
CEILI LYNCH: You get, like, 10 sparks or 15 sparks for sharing something or making something on Tumblr, whatever, Twitter, Facebook. So that’s basically what they use to, like, show how many— you know, how much stuff you’ve shared. This is basically how I find out, like, news about The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, like, casting information, you know, like, who’s on what magazine cover, like, stuff like that.
BROOKS BARNES: All those little tidbits can serve as fuel for this on-line fire they’re trying to create. And that is how they both keep interest up, they keep the flames burning, and they prep the next one.
CEILI LYNCH: I find about it. I tweet about it then. And, like, more people see it. And basically, it’s just, like, one person finds out, it goes to, like, two more people, and then it just kind of, like, multiplies. [laughs] Catches fire!
BROOKS BARNES: Every bit of it is being manipulated from the beginning of the campaign to the end, a year out. Your 16-year-old is right now starting to have an interest in movies that are a year away, and she’s thinking it’s organic. Meanwhile, there’s a studio back there counting how many times does she click on it.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: We asked Lionsgate to talk to us about their marketing for Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire, but like many companies we approached, they declined.
BROOKS BARNES: The studios worry that the minute that they show you that there’s a man behind the curtain pulling all of these strings that the audience will start tuning out. So they’re sort of really working hard to pretend that it all happens by magic. It’s Hollywood. It happens by magic, right?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: But to the studios, the real magic is that kids like Ceili are happy to work for free promoting their films.
CEILI LYNCH: It’s a lot of work to, like, do all of this. It’s— like, it takes a lot of time to, like, retweet everything, to like everything. So I was liking and sharing all these posts for, like, four to five hours. My hands were so tired after! It makes me feel like a worker, but it’s all worth it in the end because I get more sparks.
[www.pbs.org: Share your thoughts]
JANE BUCKINGHAM, President, Trendera: Your consumer is your marketer, and I think that’s a real shift because it used to be a one-way conversation of the marketer to the consumer, and now the consumer is doing as much as the marketer is in getting the message across. There is this unique moment where they are wanting to be as much a part of the process as a company will let them be.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Lots of companies are happy to put kids to work, and not just at marketing. Sometimes they’ll let them provide the content for the whole show. Trending 10 is a new kind of program on the Fuse network. It’s sponsored by Trident gum, made by the same company that makes Oreos. It decides what content to feature by monitoring social media feeds.
BONIN BOUGH, V.P., Global Media, Mondelez Intl.: We start the day off by looking and seeing what conversations are spiking on Twitter around music.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, the kind of music teens love to talk about.
BONIN BOUGH: And then we create a show in the morning based on what’s actually being talked about on Twitter.
SHOW HOST: Lady Gaga premiers “Applause” music video on “GMA”!
BONIN BOUGH: So then we create a show around that. And then we create 20 pieces of content throughout the day, that’s distributed on Twitter, around how the conversation is changing. And so that’s real-time video content creation around discussion that’s actually happening, taken from where the discussion started, and putting it back into the discussion in this fluid ecosystem between TV and Twitter in a way that’s never been done before.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Did you get that? Kids are coming up with the content, then helping to promote it back to themselves in an endless feedback loop between broadcast and social media.
SHOW HOST: What do you guys think? Share your thoughts on the subject over at Trident gum and at T10.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And of course, selling Trident gum.
BONIN BOUGH: Guess what? When we’re using Twitter to distribute video that has Trident branded around it, from a Trident show, and you’re watching, that’s signaling you to remind you to go pick up Trident gum at point of buying.
ALISSA QUART, Author, Republic of Outsiders: Companies focus on marketing to teenagers because they hope they’ll form a brand loyalty with a product. And so now that it’s sort of just blossomed on the web, the sky’s the limit for commercial culture. I don’t think there’s a sense of— like, there’s any shame in being marketed to or marketing.
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] Pepsi sent me to New Orleans for the Super Bowl and—
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Tyler Oakley doesn’t have any problem with it.
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] Oh, my God, look at how cute my jersey is!
I have done a lot of work with, like, Pepsi, Audible, Warby Parker, MTV, tons of brands
[video] The link to that is below, so be sure to click that and—
I have been fortunate. A lot of brands believe in me.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: He’s been so successful at turning his YouTube channel into a marketing juggernaut that he’s now considered an expert, even advising corporate executives how to master the economy of likes.
EXECUTIVE: So talk about your work with Taco Bell.
TYLER OAKLEY: So Taco Bell is great. I literally was just on the phone with them this morning. They have been really at the forefront, I think, for YouTuber interactions.
[video] So there I was in bed, minding my own business, tweeting at Taco bell, saying, “I’m protesting Taco Bell until they address the absence of a Cool Ranch Doritos taco.” Retweet—
They have a voice. They’re cool. They’re fun. And our people get excited when we are tweeted by them
[video] Come here. Come closer. Can you see the label? Can you see what kind of taco that is? I’m getting an exclusive first bite—
The second when a brand is, like, “We trust your judgment,” I’m just, like, “Oh, my God, you’re the best thing ever,” and I’m 10 times more likely to, like, give a real good, genuine integration.
[video] [expletive] that’s good!
I do a lot of, like, brand integrations whenever it works, but I try to keep it minimal.
[video] Yeah, that’s a cool ranch. That’s the best.
EXECUTIVE: So how did you feel like that content with the brand played out with your 12-year-olds?
TYLER OAKLEY: Surprisingly, they can always tell if a YouTuber is, like, pushing something. So I try to keep it transparent and honest because they know it’s my job and they know that I have to pay bills. They get that, so it’s all good.
EXECUTIVE: So what do you think is the future of the Taylor Oakley brand?
TYLER OAKLEY: World domination! [laughs] With brand deals.
My plan for the future is world domination, but in my own— by my own rules, which is the coolest part because it’s, like, I am doing what I love, and I feel like a lot of opportunities are there if I want to work for them.
[video] Catching Fire is on Audible, so Audible.com/tyleroakley, you get your first book free.
JASON CALACANIS, Founder, Inside.com: Selling out is not selling out anymore, it’s sort of getting the brass ring. It’s like if you get Taco Bell to sponsor your stuff, it’s, like, “Hey look, I’m important enough that Taco Bell realizes you’re an important audience to reach, so let’s all geek out about Taco Bell for a video. I don’t care.”
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] We just bumped into John Mayer because who else would you bump into at a Taco Bell party?
ALISSA QUART: I say that, like, selling out doesn’t even exist as a term. I don’t hear young people talking about selling out. I don’t even— I’m not sure they even know what it means.
GIRL: Selling out? Can you define that?
BOY: Well, selling out means, like— it could mean different things.
GIRL: I guess, I don’t know, I think first about a concert that’s, like, totally sold out, like, no tickets left. That’s probably not what you meant, though.
GIRL: I don’t know what that means.
BOY: You can sell out, like, an album or you could, like, sell out, like— like you’re a sellout, like you’re nowhere in life. You’re never going to get back on top.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: So Tyler has millions of likes in his pocket, which he can trade to brands in exchange for their sponsorship. Has Tyler won the game of likes? And is this really social media’s promise of self-determination, promoting movies in exchange for virtual prizes, playing the class clown in public to get free skateboard gear, expressing your identity through junk food advertisements?
Can kids really win when they don’t make the rules? Maybe that’s why some of them are opting to become the game makers themselves.
ALISSA QUART, Author, Republic of Outsiders: A lot of the people who created this culture are kids, or were kids when they created it, so it does actually reflect a teenage zeitgeist. It’s not the adult advertisers versus the, you know, supplicant teens of yore. It’s now, like, the teenagers are creating this architecture. They grow up and they become, you know, super-rich Silicon Valley types. And then there’s this giant underclass of people forced to go “Like, like, like, like, like,” and who are probably around their age, you know?
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: So who are these young power players of generation like? And what are they choosing to build?
BRIAN WONG, Kiip: I’m immortalized as the “19-year-old founder,” but I’m 22 now.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: When Brian Wong was still a teenager, he devoted his considerable talents not to chasing likes on social media but to creating an advertising network called Kiip.
BRIAN WONG: Kiip is a rewards network, and it takes moments that already exist in apps and games, moments in time that, again, are meaningful to you, and having brands be there to make that moment even better.
KIIP STAFFER: In this case, which is a fitness application, the user just completed a workout.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: App makers can use Kiip’s network to turn virtually every moment of your life into a branding opportunity. Level up in a game or accumulate likes on a social app, and seemingly out of nowhere comes a coupon for a free product.
KIIP STAFFER: It says, “You just earned a Kiip reward.” Brand logo’s right here. User clicks on that, and boom, they just got their reward. They’re awesome.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It’s a seamless blend of marketing, media and everyday life. But Brian’s more than just an ad man, he’s actually a kind of psychologist.
BRIAN WONG: There are nuances on how you present things that create different psychological responses. We don’t even call ourselves ads to consumers. Terminology we use is “rewards” and “moments,” and there’s really no mention of “ads” or even “media.” As we go out and we experience the world, the things that make the most impact on us are the ones that come up serendipitously. So that’s the psychological principle we’re offering.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Serendipity by design. It’s almost Orwellian. But maybe it was inevitable. After all, this generation has grown up in the arena of likes. So it’s no wonder that they’re also becoming master manipulators of social media themselves, like the hidden game masters in The Hunger Games.
CEILI LYNCH: The Hunger Games kind of is— it represents social media today. Like, social media kind of rips people apart. They are all put into this arena where you’re forced to try to survive on your own
ACTOR: ["Hunger Games"] This is important because higher ratings will mean sponsors.
CEILI LYNCH: Well, they have sponsors, usually, when they go into the arena.
ACTOR: ["Hunger Games"] And to get sponsors, you have to make people like you.
CEILI LYNCH: They have to, like, do things in order to get people to like them.
TYLER OAKLEY: [video] Push the Like button now.
CEILI LYNCH: The game makers, which are the people that kind of control this arena, the game makers sit and watch them. But basically, they’re in there alone trying to survive.
ACTOR: ["Hunger Games"] You really want to know how to stay alive? You get people to like you.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: In the end, that’s how the game of likes is played. It feels empowering and it feels like a social community, but ultimately, kids are out there alone, trying to live and survive, kids like Daniela Diaz, an 8th grader in southern California, who has only just begun her journey into the arena.
DANIELA DIAZ: [video] Got to get in the zone!
In my imagination, I see myself standing in front of a crowd, in front of thousands of people. I love to sing and singing is my passion. And I breathe music.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: About a year ago, she starting making videos at home, encouraged by her mother, Manuela.
MANUELA GUTIERREZ: I mean, I don’t want to brag, but I always thought she’s had a pretty special voice. So I kind of nurtured it. It was, like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe you’re making me do this.” And I said, “Do it. Do it.”
She just locked herself up in that room, like, I think it was a couple of hours, and she did the videos.
DANIELA DIAZ: Then I put it on my Instagram, and people started to view it. And I was so happy I started getting views, which I didn’t think was going to happen. So it kind of blew me away.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [on camera] More people than you knew in real life.
DANIELA DIAZ: Yeah.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And then how does it feel when you see, “Oh, my gosh, another 100 people have viewed this thing”?
DANIELA DIAZ: It feels overwhelming. It’s unbelievable.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And then the videos changed from just music to—
DANIELA DIAZ: To not just singing anymore.
[video] Dear diary, Dani’s do’s and don’ts, middle school melodrama—
I thought it’d be a cool idea to let people know that I want to interact with them
[video] I’m going to help you guys. I’m here for you. So just make sure you comment, and I’ll get to you.
I like interacting with my fans.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It’s funny to say it like that.
DANIELA DIAZ: Yeah. It tingles!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: What, because it’s new or— but do you feel it’s true, though? I mean—
DANIELA DIAZ: Well, I’ve had comments on there saying, “Wow, Daniela, you’re my idol. I’m your biggest fan.” That was the first time I was exposed to the word “fan.” So I guess I can say I have one “fan.”
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] It used to be ordinary kids didn’t have “fans.” Now everyone wants more, and the whole world can watch as the numbers rise or fall.
MANUELA GUTIERREZ: Instagram is what she uses, and so I’ve noticed, because I’m also the one that takes the pictures on that— I said, “Wear this, wear this, and I will take the picture. I will tell you how many likes. You’re going to get over 150.” And she does. I hate to say it, but if I have a full body picture, she will get tons of likes. And that’s just the reality. I mean—
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Listening to her, I realized how pervasive this value system of likes has become—
DANIELA DIAZ: [video] You have a chance to get your name on this wall, this gorgeous wall!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: — that it’s right there, the wall, the interactivity, the offer of fame by association. Kids take the very marketing techniques that have been used on them and use them on one another, all in pursuit of the same prize.
DANIELA DIAZ: [video] All you have to do is subscribe and like all my videos.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It’s the paradox of generation like. These kids are empowered to express themselves as never before, but with tools that are embedded with values of their own.
DANIELA DIAZ: I’ll get a couple of likes, I’ll get a couple of views, I’ll be happy with myself.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Getting likes does feel good.
DANIELA DIAZ: [video] Keep tuning in! Bye!
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: At least in the moment.
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
NEXT ON FRONTLINEHunting the Nightmare BacteriaEncore PresentationJuly 7th
FRONTLINE Watch FRONTLINE
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2015 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.