For more than 50 years, Q Scores has been the industry standard by which the media business has quantified the star power of celebrities, from music to movies. Now, the company is extending its oversight to the new wave of digital influencers.
Shared exclusively with Variety, the data provide unprecedented insight into the impact of this new breed of talent from YouTube and other global platforms, and show how these stars measure up to the traditional personalities Q Scores has been rating since 1963.
In its first publicly disclosed measurement of influencers, Q Scores discovered in the first quarter of this year that compared with, say, TV stars, awareness of the digital talent pool is still quite low, even among U.S. teenagers. But it found that the level of fan engagement around influencers is stronger than that in most sectors of the celebrity universe.
Among teens, the highest Q Scores for digital talent went to a cappella group Pentatonix and 26-year-old comedian Ryan Higa, who both had a positive Q Score of 30. That means 30% of those surveyed who know of Higa count him as one of their favorite personalities. Pentatonix has a slight edge over Higa by a second Q Score measure — familiarity — with 24% of those surveyed saying they were familiar with the singers, as opposed to 23% for the comedian.
While the annual surveys Variety commissioned over the past two years without Q Scores indicated that YouTubers are just as popular as traditional celebrities, Q Scores numbers tell a somewhat different story. Even the highest-scoring of the 32 YouTube stars that Q Scores measures can’t hold a candle to the highest-scoring film, TV, and music stars among respondents in a given demographic. For instance, among teens, as many as 50 celebrities in traditional entertainment sectors have much higher scores than the top YouTubers.
Of the traditional stars measured in this study, the highest rated among the 13- to 17-year-old demo ranged from Tom Hanks, who has a positive Q Score of 46, to Beyonce, with 32.
Measuring by familiarity only, hundreds of personalities who aren’t native to digital have higher scores than Pentatonix, the top digital stars, at 24%, indicating that for all the progress YouTube celebrities have made, they are still very much niche talent.
That said, it’s surprising to see that the top YouTubers are on par with some high-profile traditional celebrities; Pentatonix, for instance, has the same Q Score numbers as recent Oscar winner Brie Larson.
But there’s an even clearer indicator of the marketing bang of this new breed of talent: Looking strictly at positive Q Scores regardless of familiarity demonstrates the incredible level of engagement digital stars have earned in the decade since the sector emerged. YouTube stars as a whole score slightly ahead of many other segments of the talent population measured, including musical performers, news personalities, models, reality TV stars, and chefs.
Naturally, among older demographics, the awareness and favorability levels of digital stars change, and even various YouTubers resonate more with specific age groups.
PewDiePie, for instance, has the highest Q Score among 6- to 12-year olds (40) and 9- to 14-year-olds (38). But that score falls to 15 in the 13- to 24-year-old demographic, where Jenna Marbles and Grace Helbig rank highest. Among total viewers over age 6, Higa, Smosh, and Helbig all tie for first, at 23.