YouTuber Spotlight: Philip DeFranco
If I asked you to think of a “YouTube institution”, someone whose content is almost a staple of the site, who would you come up with? Shaycarl? Shane Dawson? Ray William Johnson? Personally, my first choice would be Philip DeFranco, a.k.a. “sxephil”. In the space of five years, DeFranco has established himself as the preeminent source of news and commentary on the site. He is also a reliable source for analysis of the YouTube platform, by sometimes posting his thoughts about the future of the site or about promising new talent.
Even though his own content has taken a number of forms over the past five years, DeFranco’s motivation to post videos hasn’t changed: he wants to inform his audience of how he feels about current affairs and pop culture, and possibly bring important issues to the attention of a viewer demographic that wouldn’t otherwise become involved. Read on for more on Philip DeFranco and why he makes for a valuable YouTube subscription!
Originally from The Bronx, New York, DeFranco attended Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and East Carolina University before starting his first YouTube channel, sxephil, on September 15th, 2006. DeFranco began building an audience by speaking frankly in his videos about pop culture, entertainment news, politics and world events. His The Philip DeFranco Show, or “PDS” follows the format of most news shows, with DeFranco as a host introducing his stories and other special segments (examples in the current show include “What the F*** People?” and “Stuff Phil Likes”). These are combined with DeFranco's unique blend of satire, irony and self-deprecating humour to create a frequently funny, often informative package of content.
DeFranco has become known for rapid-fire editing and jump cuts, meaning his videos have a very informal appearance despite being shot in HD on a DSLR camera. DeFranco has spoken in the past about disliking the idea of the Philip DeFranco Show conforming to any one format, and so his main videos often have no consistent intro and outro sequences, and sport ever-evolving themes and schedules. Sometimes DeFranco will present a set number of stories in videos posted three times a week, other times he will modify the schedule to include fewer stories talked about in more detail and post them five times per week.
I find that DeFranco’s main show is actually a good source for news on the topics he covers, especially the more eccentric stories not picked up by the big networks. He presents himself as being an equal with his audience, simply offering his opinion on crazy politicians or talking about dirty side of the entertainment industry, but never taking himself seriously. He is extremely frank in his coverage of stories, sometimes bordering on the offensive in the effort of getting his point across, and so some viewers take issue with his flippancy about abortion, racism or other controversial issues.
He also likes to include segments on attractive women, which the female portion of his audience sometimes objects to. He does this mostly to please his male viewers and attract new traffic by using thumbnails of scantily-clad women and provocative titles to advertise his videos. DeFranco has admitted to being ashamed of this, acknowledging that many people on the Internet will only engage with his videos on the basis of sex appeal. DeFranco still structures the majority of the show around the important stories, and to me, this means he may actually be bringing significant content to those viewers who only click on his videos for the women.
DeFranco also runs two more channels, a more informal vlog channel (like many YouTubers) titled The Vloggity, and an entertainment-themed show named LikeTotallyAwesome, or LTA. Like the main channel, these two destinations have changed often over the years.
The vlogs usually take the form of testimonial videos with few or no cuts that give insights into DeFranco’s life, and sometimes become the destination for month-long series called Project 30s, where DeFranco tries something new each day for 30 days. The LTA channel has been used for everything from celebrity interviews, video game commentary, an entertainment-news show like the PDS, and is now where DeFranco runs a thrice-weekly movie review show. The LTA Movie Club has a schedule based on audience participation, where DeFranco reviews films chosen by his viewers for the first part of each video and then runs excerpts from video responses sent in from viewers offering their reactions.
Through all this, DeFranco has built a considerable audience, with 1.6 million subscribers to the main channel, 578,000 to the vlogs, and 462,000 on LikeTotallyAwesome. One of the things that really draws me to his videos are the insights he provides on the YouTube industry. Because DeFranco was one of the first content providers to make a name for himself as a YouTube Partner (meaning he gets a share of the ad revenue made on his videos), he has an intimate knowledge of the way the Internet media industry works.
Sometimes he speaks about meetings he attends with the YouTube brass and other Partners, and offers comments on how the site can be improved or how other people can break into the industry. It’s that “meta” side of his videos that (as a media blogger) I find especially compelling, because it’s a way to understand how the YouTube platform is evolving (check out my recent article on how online video will kill TV).
DeFranco shoots the majority of his material in a studio that he founded to support the creation of Internet video. DeFranco actually formed a company around it called DeFranco Inc., where he employs a number of editors, shooters and a business team responsible for DeFranco-themed products like posters and T-shirts. Because DeFranco allows his audience to see how his videos are produced, content posted on his vlog sometimes intersects with that of other YouTubers.
It’s through this outlet that we catch glimpses of other YouTube personalities who associate with the studio to produce their own content and ship their merchandise. YouTubers Toby Turner, iJustine, and Tony Valenzuela of BlackBoxTV are friends with DeFranco and sometimes pop by the studio or meet up with DeFranco during vlogs. Like DeFranco’s comments about the YouTube distribution model, I find these crossovers fascinating, because it shows the community aspect behind the top-quality content on the site, and proves how professional connections can be beneficial even in the production of Internet video, which is still battling the connotation of being a destination for amateur material.
(By the way, he's also a major fan of Doctor Who, so he gets all kinds of bonus points for that)
Are you a part of the “DeFranco Nation”? Do you think people like Philip DeFranco are an integral part of modern media? Or do you find him to be crass and unfunny? Whatever your thoughts, post them in the comments below, and check out my other articles on YouTube’s various personalities: