This story is available exclusively on Business Insider Prime.
Join BI Prime and start reading now.
- Amp Studios is a new talent incubator and content group founded by 22-year-old YouTube star, Brent Rivera, and his manager and business partner, Max Levine.
- The 10-person creator team generates more than a billion views on social media each month, occasionally crossing into traditional-media formats like television.
- Amp said it recruits new talent based on the quality of their content rather than follower count, hiring creators with just a few thousand fans and growing their audiences to more than a million followers by cross-promoting across its existing creator channels.
- The Huntington Beach, California-based company is experimenting with creating ‘characters’ on social media, adding a superhero named Zapp to its roster of Instagram and TikTok accounts.
- It hopes to become a Disney Channel for the digital generation, Levine told Business Insider.
- Click here for more BI Prime stories.
Brent Rivera first rose to social-media fame around a decade ago, when six-second Vines were the norm and YouTubers were focused on uploading videos rather than building direct-to-consumer brands.
Now the 22-year-old is navigating a much more crowded digital-media space, and betting that creating compelling storylines on platforms like TikTok and YouTube matters more than being an influencer with a big following (which he also is).
Rivera and his business partner and manager, Max Levine, cofounded Amp Studios, a talent incubator and content studio focused on 10 online creators. The pair told Business Insider the goal is to build a version of the Disney Channel for the YouTube age.
The company’s talent roster has some big digital personalities like Rivera, his sister Lexi, the Stokes twins, and Ben Azelart. But its latest recruit, 21-year-old Pierson Wodzynski, had just a few thousand followers when the company first signed her. And Amp recently launched a superhero character, Zapp, who’s played by an unidentified actor and remains in-character in videos on on TikTok and Instagram.
By focusing on storylines and building out of a slate of content channels tied to characters rather than just influencers or online personalities, Amp’s strategy is similar to the YouTube-focused media company, Brat, which creates scripted, teen-focused shows for a digital audience.
“A lot of groups of creators kind of look at it from, ‘Hey, we’re going to add influencers or talent.’ We kind of look at it from a perspective where it’s like, we’re a content company, so we want to add more channels to our network,” Levine said.
“It could be human-based personalities like a Ben or Lexi Hensler, or it can be character-based IP,” he said. “Kind of like how Disney has different types of programming,” he added. “When I was growing up it was ‘That’s So Raven,’ ‘Lizzie McGuire,’ but they also had ‘Kim Possible’ and ‘Lilo and Stitch.'”
While Disney is pouring resources into getting younger audiences interested its Netflix competitor, Disney Plus, Amp (and Brat) think there’s appetite for cheaper, social-media-focused programming built on revenue from YouTube advertising, branded content, merchandise (Rivera’s “Relatable” clothing line launched this past weekend), and other forms of media monetization.
Amp’s talent are testing the waters with legacy media like TV, but social content always comes first
Rivera, who serves as Amp’s CEO, has 58 million followers across digital platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. He’s also broken into more traditional forms of media, starring in a two-season Hulu original series, “Light as a Feather,” and appearing in a TV commercial for Pop-Tarts with one half of Amp Studio’s twin-set, Alan Stokes.
But his goal isn’t to become a traditional Hollywood star.
“You need to be careful,” Rivera told Business Insider. “We can do mainstream stuff and I encourage it. But at the same time, we have to make sure we keep up with what we’re doing. You should be posting every week on YouTube even if you’re a series regular on a show. Wait a couple years and if that show pops off then great, you can kind of settle down a bit. But if it doesn’t, you have something to lay back on.”
“The core really is creative content for social media,” said Levine, who serves as Amp’s chief operating officer. “In my opinion that is mainstream. Especially for young people. Kids are on YouTube and TikTok and Instagram versus watching television.”
Amp sells its creators to brands as a package deal
While Amp’s talent have acted in television commercials, its creators say they draw most of their earnings from brand sponsorships on social-media and YouTube advertising.
“Some brands are reaching out to us to do an individual brand deal, but they’re all overseen by Amp and definitely looked at as a group-type thing,” said Ben Azelart, one of the first creators Amp signed on to its talent incubator.
Amp tries to coordinate brand partnerships across its talent pool, with all business opportunities managed by the studio. While social-media sponsorship opportunities are often set up on a one-off basis tied to an individual post on Instagram or TikTok, the company is leaning into selling its creators as a group.
“What we’re starting to do a little bit more is proactively develop creatives and kind of go to our brand partners being like, ‘Hey, we had this really cool idea and how can we make this work with you?'” Levine said. “It’s like developing a content slate and bringing it to them.”
The company recently promoted the film “Countdown” across multiple Amp creator accounts on TikTok and Instagram. It’s done activations with companies like Chipotle and Amazon in the past.
Amp currently makes money by collecting a percentage of earnings across all revenue streams from its talent, including advertising, brand sponsorships, and merchandising. The company said it hopes to continue to diversify its business by getting into more owned-and-operated ventures like production and character IP.
What it means to be in a ‘creator group’ for Amp’s talent
The concept of forming a social-media content group isn’t new.
Creators have been teaming up (and in some cases living together) since the early days of Vine and YouTube. Vine star Logan Paul moved into an apartment complex in 2014 with other top Vine creators on the aptly named Vine Street, and today’s TikTok stars have been taking over mansions in Los Angeles, in some cases with the financial backing of their talent management agencies.
But Rivera isn’t interested in living with his 10-member creator team, he said.
“I’m not a huge fan of ‘collab houses.’ I just don’t think they’re sustainable,” he said. “It can get really messy. Maybe some drama happens and then someone moves out and then people take sides and it’s just a whole thing.”
While Amp Studios’ talent don’t live together, they do live close to each other, with some of the group’s members residing in the same apartment complex. They also hang out almost every day, and repeatedly referred to themselves as a “family” in interviews with Business Insider.
One of the main benefits of working in a creator group is the ability to cross-promote each team member across each other’s channels. When a social-media newcomer like Wodzynski, who has fewer than a million followers across all platforms, appears in one of Rivera’s videos, she can instantly gain exposure to a much larger audience.
Amp Studios touts its ability to grow a creator’s audiences on its website, and each of its members have all grown their follower counts significantly since joining the group.
Amp team member Ben Azelart’s Instagram following nearly quadrupled in the year after he began posting content with Rivera, growing from around 250,000 followers in May 2017 to roughly 960,000 a year later, according to data compiled by the social-video analytics firm, Tubular Labs. He now has 4.6 million followers on Instagram, 2.9 million YouTube subscribers, and 6.2 million TikTok fans.
“That growth that Amp has brought me, just being in this awesome group, it’s been very successful in that sense,” Azelart said. “Obviously Brent has a huge following and that helps to reach a different audience.”
Azelart helped bring in his friend and fellow creator Lexi Hensler to the Amp Studios team. Hensler had about 10,000 YouTube subscribers when she made her first video featuring Azelart in December 2018. A year later, her account jumped to around 550,000 subscribers, according to Tubular Labs’ data.
“I was the baby of the group,” she said. “Even with the growth, the best part really is learning new stuff every day,” she added.
Amp doesn’t require a set amount of follower growth or video views for its talent. Both Hensler and Azelart said they set their own subscriber growth goals each month.
Amp Studios considers its creators to be self-employed
Because the Amp team all live within a close radius of each other in Huntington Beach, California (one of its newest members, Jeremy Hutchins, relocated to California from Ohio last month), being an Amp creator generally doesn’t require commuting.
The group films at Rivera’s house or each other’s apartments, though they often use Target stores as a backdrop in videos. This isn’t product placement. The group isn’t paid by Target to film in its stores, and they’re occasionally told by its employees to stop filming.
“Target’s always fun to get a public reaction,” Hensler said. “It’s somewhere where we just tend to go a lot anyways. For the most part, we keep it at Brent’s house. It’s always a perfect hub for all of us to meet up at.”
The group generally doesn’t script or storyboard their videos, but they do take notes in their phone to plan out what they need for each video.
Amp Studios doesn’t reimburse its talent for any supplies they purchase for a video, and it also doesn’t offer traditional employee benefits like health insurance. Azelart and Hensler consider themselves self-employed and are on their parent’s health insurance plans.
Podcasts or animated characters could be next for Amp, but for now it’s focusing on its core audience on social media
While Amp Studios is still an upstart, the company is already generating more than a billion views each month across its creators’ channels.
Levine said its focus is on social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok, but the company is eyeing other types of media down the road.
“We’re looking to expand our production capabilities on the general studio side of things so we can produce more premium content,” Levine said. “[We’d] build out a slate of characters or even a slate of podcasts or other forms of video content too,” he said. “Initially we’re just trying to really prove out the characters that we’re building and test out storylines and see what’s working, what’s not, and then invest from there.”
For more on how Amp Studios and other talent incubators are building media businesses on social-media, check out these other Business Insider Prime posts:
- A ‘twinfluencer’ with millions of followers says he’s leaning into TikTok for brand sponsorships and getting ‘low 5-figure deals’: With 15.1 million TikTok followers, Alan Stokes and his twin brother, Alex, are represented by Amp Studios, a new content studio and talent incubator.
- YouTube stars Rhett and Link explain how algorithm changes supercharged their business to an estimated $17.5 million in yearly income: YouTube creators Rhett and Link built an 80-person media company with millions of followers. Here’s how they’ve avoided creator burnout along the way.
- How TalentX plans to rule TikTok, starting with 32 influencers and a Los Angeles mansion: TalentX Entertainment is eyeing brand partnerships, merchandising, live events, and television and film development for its roster of TikTok stars.