‘YouTube stars on ad-supported video platforms’: how a furry celebrity web series developed

Every year Black Tag Fest, a furry get-together in New Jersey, attracts thousands of furry friends. Some spend the weekend competing in the days-long tournament, but for others, the appeal is more relaxed. “We’re…

'YouTube stars on ad-supported video platforms': how a furry celebrity web series developed

Every year Black Tag Fest, a furry get-together in New Jersey, attracts thousands of furry friends. Some spend the weekend competing in the days-long tournament, but for others, the appeal is more relaxed.

“We’re not looking for competition,” said Ms. Thelma Blackwell, of Manhattan. “We’re looking for community.”

Black Tag is the brainchild of Black Barbers, a fur-heavy, New York City-based after-hours café and bar. When Thelma Blackwell, the owner, saw that while so many furry events were planned by experts, Black Barbers was offering the bulk of its content to humans online, she knew there had to be a way to attract the furry community.

The Black Barbers YouTube channel had 3.2 million subscribers at press time, which is more than many TV shows.

Founder and owner of Black Barbers, Mr. Blackwell wanted to make Black Tag Fest something like a “home away from home” for fellow furry members.

Some of them had stopped attending their beloved events because of the time commitment and what they considered “niche” activities. Some had accepted that they were gradually losing their sense of community.

So Thelma and her husband, Joe Blackwell, created a family-friendly free video channel. The pair hoped to attract furballs who might stop by the cafe to grab a bite, but were confused by the length of time they required to be part of Black Tag Fest. When a new influx of friends arrived on Friday evening, which Black Tag Fest usually attracts, it became clear that Black Barbers was known as a place to watch Thelma’s YouTube channel for 10 to 15 minutes before she’d start uploading new videos.

Though initially incredulous, Mr. Blackwell, also the band and DJ-merchandiser for Black Barbers, became excited about seeing their formula expand into a stream. One night, they streamed videos of the latest Black Tag Fest events, which left him so impressed that he decided to expand Black Tag’s community-focused focus to more official videos.

Black Tag’s first official video, last fall, was called “Is there anywhere I can go with my furters that I can’t go to Black Barbers?”

Within the first week of its airing, the video was viewed by 2,000 new ears.

“I didn’t anticipate it to do the numbers it was going to,” said Mr. Blackwell. “Black Barbers was doing so well and growing exponentially that I figured Black Tag could absorb some of that popularity.”

While Black Barbers has seen its YouTube channel grow, so has Black Tag, with growth hovering around 5,000 fans per week in recent months. Mr. Blackwell plans to stop moderating Black Barbers’ videos and turn the new video channel into a public-facing production company.

The web series has racked up a solid list of celebrities to guest, including Mr. Blackwell’s husband, rapper J-Gon, and TV personality Brooke Axtell. (Brains are hot.)

“We all want to get on board,” said Mr. Blackwell, “so that we can gather more and more fans and increase revenue.”

To that end, he’s looking to develop short films for Black Tag’s subscribers, each of which has a running time of three to seven minutes. Though he hopes to produce at least two per week, it may not happen until Black Barbers’ feedback show and Harlequin deal are finalised.

Given the declining viewership for broadcast television, Black Barbers is now positioning itself to be a third outlet for its members, just like “YouTube stars that are on ad-supported video platforms, like cat videos,” said Mr. Blackwell.

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