In May 2010, well before the TikTok era, a 12-year-old from Oklahoma named Greyson Chance was invited to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”. Weeks earlier, Greyson had found early viral fame after posting her college talent show performance of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” on YouTube. When Greyson came on the show, where he sat in a plush chair directly across from the star of the day and discussed his coverage of Gaga, the YouTube video was viewed a million pages.
His appearance “Ellen” took him to a new stratosphere. In the following days, media coverage around the 12-year-old sensation exploded and her performance reached over 30 million views. The managers of Madonna and Lady Gaga began to represent him. Ms. DeGeneres signed him to a recording contract.
“It’s crazy to think of 30 million people,” Greyson said returning to the show two weeks later. “It just makes me happy.”
Next year, Ms DeGeneres will quit her daytime talk show, signing after a 19-season streak of light jokes, celebrity interviews and cash giveaways. But perhaps one of her show’s most enduring legacies was the role of the host in the early viral video economy: appearing on “Ellen” brought a viral sensation, a whole new wave of clicks, fame and money.
“She was behind the creation of viral content out of other viral content,” said Lindsey Weber, one of the hosts of “Who? Weekly ”, a podcast focused on celebrity culture. “She would take a moment that went viral and leveled it off.” She had so many viral people on her show, and being on her show was the height of their viral success.
As viewing habits have changed, Ms. DeGeneres’ role as patron of digital stars has changed.
Over the past year, shortly after Warner Bros. conducted a malpractice investigation on the “Ellen” film set, Ms. DeGeneres’ role in daytime television declined. Its audience figures have fallen 44% this season, and competitors like “Dr. Phil ”(2.4 million viewers) and“ Live With Kelly and Ryan ”(2.6 million) now beat“ Ellen ”by approximately one million viewers.
Likewise, if a YouTube or TikTok performance begins to gain momentum, a stop on “Ellen” is no longer a key step in reaching a new threshold of fame.
“Ellen could tear you off YouTube and make you a star,” said Joe Kessler, global manager of United Talent Agency’s UTA IQ division, which uses data analytics to advise clients on digital strategies.
Now, he said, artists can achieve similar success – if not even greater success – by engaging their fans and mastering the various digital platforms themselves.
“It’s interesting that the end of Ellen’s show coincides with the explosion of YouTube and other video platforms to the point where they are now the mainstream,” he continued. “Creators don’t need the traditional mainstream assertion to create huge audiences now.”
But before do-it-yourself content creation became an industry, there was “Ellen”. In 2010, five years after the creation of YouTube, the show introduces a segment called “Ellen’s Wonderful Web of Wonderment”, which promised to “find unknown talent online and share it with you!”
As more and more viral stars appeared on her show, every time an online video started to gain traction ten years ago, “people would respond or comment on these videos, ‘Tell Ellen! “Call Ellen!” Ms. Weber said. “It was oddly the next supposed step for everyone.”
The year after Greyson Chance appeared on “Ellen,” the show invited 8-year-old Sophia Grace, a booming internet personality, and her cousin Rosie to come over from England and do a one-song cover. by Nicki Minaj. This video now has over 144 million views on YouTube.
An “Ellen” appearance usually featured a twist, too. When Greyson arrived, Lady Gaga herself phoned the show to express her admiration for her performance. When Sophia Grace appeared on “Ellen,” Nicki Minaj made a surprise appearance and the 8-year-old threw herself into the singer’s arms.
And an appearance on “Ellen” had a dual purpose: it would both draw attention to the viral content, and the appearance itself could go viral too, which was a two-for-one way to reach millions. of people.
“The interviews she did with these viral personalities would bring in millions or tens of millions of views,” said Earnest Pettie, who leads YouTube’s trends and analytics team. “It would be as visible as the original source material itself. For many people, the interviews were their first exposure to viral figures. But people who were already exposed to it could go further than they could in a viral video. “
Money could be made, even if it wasn’t at an influencer level now. In 2009, when David DeVore posted a video of his 7-year-old son, also named David, returning groggy from a trip to the dentist, the video quickly gained millions of views and became one of the first YouTube successes. In 2010, Mr. DeVore estimated the family made $ 150,000 from the entire exhibit, including t-shirt sales. And they haven’t finished milking him yet either. Earlier this month, Mr. DeVore auctioned off “David After Dentist” as an NFT, or non-fungible token, digital collectible, BuzzFeed reported. It sold for $ 13,000.
UTA’s Kessler estimated that digital greats in the early 2010s could do in the middle of the six digits.
An influencer can now earn millions and, in a few cases, tens of millions. And as YouTube and TikTok helped the influencer industry take off, Ms. DeGeneres’ role as the creator of the digital king began to wane.
“If we compare that to now, people’s viral moments are shorter,” Ms. Weber said. “During the time it takes as a producer to call up and say, ‘Come on Ellen! there’s a new viral moment elsewhere. It will be outdated.