10: YouTubers and Transmedia Storytelling

When I think of transmedia franchises, the first things that come to mind are Disney franchises such as the princesses or Star Wars, or video game franchises such as Resident Evil or Halo. However, I’m not a huge fan of any of those things, so I want to offer a new take on transmedia storytelling through a fandom that I am more familiar with: YouTubers. I’ve been a fan of the YouTubers danisnotonfire and AmazingPhil for about five years now. Dan and Phil started vlogging on YouTube around 2009. While they started out just uploading vlogs and livestreams and updating their social media accounts, they added a gaming channel, DanandPhilGames, in 2014, and released a mobile game and a board game since then. They have also released two books and went on two worldwide stadium tours. With 13.8 million combined subscribers on their three YouTube channels, Dan and Phil have created a huge fan base that continues to make content and theories beyond what Dan and Phil make themselves.

You wouldn’t typically think of vloggers as having a transmedia franchise. However, I think that they meet the criteria for transmedia content just as well as other franchises, just in different ways. In “Searching for the Origami Unicorn,” Henry Jenkins defines transmedia storytelling as storytelling that “unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole”, and “any given product is a point of entry into the franchise as a whole” (95-96). This is true of Dan and Phil. You can watch Dan or Phil’s channels separately, but, as they are roommates and best friends, they often appear in each other’s content, and you can’t understand one’s life story without the other’s. Likewise, you don’t have to watch their gaming channel to understand their individual vlogs, but they often reference content and give exclusive information in one channel or the other that helps viewers make sense of the other channels. You can also watch them on YouTube without following them on Twitter, for example, but following them on Twitter gives you more insider knowledge into their lives which helps contextualize their vlogs, and vice versa. You can apply the same logic to their games, books, and tours.

As in Jenkins’ example of The Matrix, Dan and Phil have collaborated with many people to make this kind of following possible. They collaborate with YouTube and YouTube Red, who employ them, give them ad revenue, and advertise them on the site; Random House, who produces their books; Big Potato Games, who made their board game; Mind Candy, who created their mobile game; Phil’s web developer brother, who created their merch site; and many other YouTubers within the vlogging community.

Jenkins says that transmedia work must “come to us ‘as a completely furnished world so that its fans can quote characters and episodes…’” and must contain “a rich array of information that can be drilled, practiced, and mastered by devoted consumers” (97). This accurately describes Dan and Phil’s (often overzealous) fandom, who takes quotes from individual videos and texts and uses them in online communication with other fans (recent examples can be found here and here). “Bonus content” like in Jenkins’ Matrix example further furnishes the world, such as Dan and Phil’s April Fool’s Day joke YouTube channel DanandPhilCrafts. Overall, Dan, Phil, and the fans use Dan and Phil’s everyday lives to tell a story and keep the story going indefinitely, because, as Jenkins says, transmedia stories’ primary goal is “to prevent closure from occurring too quickly” (95). While I don’t enjoy fandoms and myself am not part of this communication between fans, I am amazed at how quickly content in this fandom spreads and enables fans to collaborate to circulate content and create new content, similar to Matrix fans. In these ways, I think YouTubers such as Dan and Phil have created a franchise that makes for a perfect example of transmedia storytelling.


Word Count: 658


Works Cited:

Jenkins, Henry. “The Origami Unicorn.” Convergence Culture, 93-130. New York University Press, 2007.