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CES: YouTube’s Felicia Day talks mobile, future of content

Entertainment Matters ambassador recently launched Geek & Sundry

It’s fitting that Hollywood is represented by a YouTube star at the Consumer Electronics Show this year.

Along with roles in “Supernatural,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” Felicia Day has generated an online fan following through her digital series “The Guild,” now in its sixth season, and recently launched YouTube network Geek & Sundry, dedicated to the Internet’s geek culture. Channel airs “The Guild,” which took home more than a dozen honors from CES’ Intl. Academy of Web Television Awards last year.

This year, Day serves as the ambassador of Entertainment Matters, after last year’s host Eliza Dushku. As more independent content creators like Day find ways to self-distribute their projects, CES focuses on new revenue-generating opportunities through mobile screens and set-top boxes to elaborate smart home theater systems.

Before heading to Las Vegas to rep the intersection of entertainment and technology, Day spoke to Variety about the ever-changing digital space, the massive influx of online content and the possibilities that await content creators.

Variety: How should content creators use new tools to distribute and market their projects?

Day: “Everything is being transformed by technology. I started ‘The Guild’ five years ago, and nobody had heard of social media; it was just emerging. I was one of the first entertainers on Twitter, and now I don’t think anyone can underestimate the power of social media — as far as creating fanbases and community and driving audience.”

Variety: What role can social media platforms play?

Day: “Having a presence on social media and marketing constantly around that social media is completely 100% necessary, because the video is just a conduit for connecting to people in real life. ”

Variety: Does that put a strain on the kind of content you create?

Day: “It’s like improv: If you get a first laugh, you go after that laugh. But you don’t know necessarily what people are going to respond to until you release it. Being flexible and spontaneous and inventive is super important, because it makes the audience feel like you’re responding to them and their experience.”

Variety: Who is your audience?

Day: “All the statistics say that young people, under 18, primarily consume their content on a mobile device … that is definitely going to be something that, down the line, is going to influence what we can make and how we deliver it. Is it a question of doing shorter-form content? Not necessarily, because they say that kids are definitely watching longer content on mobile.”

Variety: With all the new types of screens — especially mobile — on the market, what kind of content holds the most value?

Day: “There’s a lot of junk food out there, and, yes, it might get a lot of traffic, but at the end of the day, the thing that will last and have legs and be able to go beyond the moment it’s consumed is the storytelling that we’re used to seeing in movies and on TV.”

Variety: How have mobile devices changed your viewing habits?

Day: “I can’t imagine that when the iPhone first came out, people were constantly checking their phones while watching a movie. But I was doing that last night … I was watching ‘Lincoln’ on a screener, and I was constantly learning about him and the Thirteenth Amendment. I don’t think it was lessening my experience, I think it was enhancing my experience. This is really what the future holds, and it’s really the people that adapt and invent around these new screens who are going to define the (digital) space.”

Variety: Why produce “The Guild” for the Internet?

Day: “I wrote a story that I wanted to tell that wasn’t going to get told in mainstream, and one of my producers had done some videos for the Web, so we decided to shoot the first part of my script and release it. I’m the tech girl, so when I saw that I had a video that I wanted people to watch, I just became myopic and looked at every single tool that was available to me to be able to get that out there, because, really, we had no money to publicize anything.”

Variety: What lessons have you learned from the Internet?

Day: “What we’re doing with Geek & Sundry is creating an audience that can be transferred from show to show, because that’s the only way to really rise above every single person making a cat video or their own music video. 2013 is going to be the year where the real estate is continuing to be gobbled up and people will jockey for position — and the bar to entry will be much higher for somebody that doesn’t already have an established Web presence.”

Variety: How do you monetize online content?

Day: “At the end of the day, it’s all about audience and whether or not you have a specific audience, so if you do a 30-second ad on TV, you have a loose idea about who’s watching that … but (consumers) are all playing an iPad game, they’re all watching something else on their phone while they’re watching TV. So if you can identify someone who can actually be an active consumer of that product, even if it’s a fraction of the people you think you’re reaching on a 30-second ad, it actually might lead to more sales and more engagement if you’re able to target your audience better.”

Variety: Is there a real difference between content made for TV and the Internet?

Day: “Clearly the scale is just completely different. You spend $2 million to $3 million on an hour of (TV) content, and online you’re expected to make a lot more content — maybe a year of content (with the same budget). You can have a teenager in England who gets more traffic with him and a webcam than anything that has a lot of money invested in it. It’s very challenging to know what to make and what audience you’re trying to reach. As far as ‘The Guild,’ it was definitely done with a very small TV crew (of around 25 people). It was pretty big for a Web show.”

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