Traditional nets can't offer niche styles that flourish in digital space

The advent of high-quality YouTube dance channels has changed the game for both the amateur and pro hoofers who used to flock to the web to watch mostly homegrown vids.

The DanceOn Network on YouTube has established itself as a key player in this digital evolution. DanceOn has seen noted success with “D-trix Presents Dance Showdown,” a weekly competish show in the same vein as “Dancing With the Stars,” but with YouTube celebs.

What’s more, “Showdown” and similar YouTube channels are beginning to monetize dance in the digital spectrum, landing brand sponsorships to help legitimize their productions. Ubisoft’s “Just Dance 4″ joined “Showdown” for its second season and was integrated into the competition show’s content. (“Showdown’s” seminal season ran without any sponsors.)

Leading investors are taking note as well. Allen DeBevoise, CEO of Machinima, is one of the primary investors in DanceOn along with Untitled Entertainment’s Guy Oseary.

“Showdown,” which just wrapped its second season, boasts $100,000 worth of prizes and is hosted by “America’s Best Dance Crew” alum D-Trix. Judges panel includes choreographer Laurieann Gibson, “DWTS” vet Joey Fatone and YouTube celebs such as Ryan Higa.

Second cycle of “Showdown” pulled over 23.5 million views on YouTube, more than double its first-year run. Viewers are also highly engaged with “Showdown,” as season two garnered more than 1 million audience engagements, including fan likes, favorites, comments and votes.

Gibson, who initially rose to fame as choreographer on MTV’s “Making the Band,” has considerable experience on broadcast television. But, for her, moving into the digital space with “Showdown” was a no-brainer.

“I came to YouTube because I wanted somewhere to tell the truth,” Gibson told Variety. “Shows like ‘America’s Best Dance Crew’ were great vehicles initially, but once you start minimizing styles or allowing the panel to be people who don’t understand the history of these dances, you have to go somewhere else.”

Fellow judge Fatone echoed her sentiments. “It’s hard for shows like ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and ‘ABDC,’” he said. “For me, watching and being on that side, things get too overly produced.”

Indeed, YouTube has typically been where dancers can spread their creative wings with greater ease compared to cable and broadcast dance shows that call for broader appeal. The Jon Chu-spearheaded “LXD” series helped paved the path for future YouTube dance productions, bringing sophisticated storytelling and cinematography to dance in the digital space.

Since then, Chu and fellow “LXD” exec producer Hieu Ho recently launched YouTube channel DS2DIO, a dance lifestyle channel that strives to aggregate high-quality dance lessons, shows and competitions in one place.

Channels such as Showdown, DS2DIO and others have offered content creators room to experiment within the genre, giving dance programming the patience that cable and broadcast nets can’t often afford. What’s more, the high digital views on these shows have proven the audience appetite for dance that may be too niche for broadcast but is still extremely popular.

“YouTube has helped other people around the world discover dance,” said Fatone. “It’s great to be able to see dance styles from around the world. Before YouTube, you used to have to go to that specific country to witness a dance style and learn it, or see it on a VHS tape. Now, you snap your finger and it’s there.”

As shows such as “Dance Showdown” draw and refine inspiration from broadcast, it’s yet to be seen if these digital dance shows will transition over to traditional TV networks. Currently, “Dance Showdown” is eyeing a third season slated for the spring. Fatone sees much potential within the digital world for future programming, though.

“These people that upload dance videos to YouTube have millions and millions of hits,” Fatone noted. “They must be doing something right.”

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