Collaborations are key to surviving and thriving on YouTube, but that definition has changed repeatedly over the years. Shane Dawson is redefining that model with his new documentary series focused on Jake Paul, but it’s something he’s worked toward for months.
Dawson is the proclaimed king of YouTube at the moment. His controversial past, which includes wearing blackface and parodying a “ghetto woman,” seems largely forgotten by most of YouTube’s community. Instead, he’s the new documentarian expert, publishing series after series on some of YouTube’s most divisive figures: Tana Mongeau, Jeffree Star and, now, Jake Paul.
This isn’t a random thought; everything from the format to whom Dawson decides to focus his documentary on is an elongated collaboration.
It’s a facet of Dawson’s career on YouTube that animator Andrei Terbea, one of YouTube’s most acclaimed and beloved animators, speaks about in his most recent video.
Terbea runs through a history of YouTube collaborations, and how they changed to appease the ever-changing algorithm to appease YouTube’s recommendation monster. Creators would originally get together and, based on their popularity, would bring new audiences in. That still happens; Ninja collaborated with Drake to play Fortnite; David Dobrik collaborates with his entire Vlog Squad and ex-girlfriend Liza Koshy to bring in more viewers; and just about every YouTuber has participated in a mukbang with some other popular creator.
Collaborations on YouTube then developed into indirect relationships — think of it as the decision that launched a thousand commentator channels. People learned that if you put the YouTube creator’s name in the video that often resulted in more views, according to Terbea. This realization led to plenty of videos about creators like Jake and Logan Paul, who were constantly at the center of controversy. The process was so well known that Logan Paul even joked about it in a song.
“Put Jake’s name in the title and you can pay this month’s rent,” he sang on “The Rise of the Pauls.”
Dawson takes the collaboration process one step further. He extends the collaboration, turning one video into a three-, five- or even eight-part series. He puts the names of his subjects — Mongeau, Star and Paul — in the title. He collaborates with as many people as possible who are even tangentially related to the subject. All of this not only boosts the “tea factor,” a euphemism for hot gossip often used online, but also games YouTube’s algorithm.
Dawson uses both indirect and direct methods of collaborating, but because his series are so popular, hundreds of other creators use Dawson’s videos as a way to indirectly collaborate with him and soak up some of those views. It’s a never-ending process, but Dawson has figured out how to get ahead of the game.
Part of his success is based on where he lives. Los Angeles is a hub for YouTube creators, many of whom move out to the city in order to collaborate with other people. Dawson can do these type of hybrid collaborations because he can physically access other creators, and he understands how to use that to his advantage. He may not have cared about Paul before this, but Dawson understands that Paul is one of the most sought after, popular and controversial creators on YouTube. That makes him a goldmine.
Dawson has amassed more than 200 million views over a course of 12 videos focused on the three aforementioned creators. His videos bring YouTube to a standstill. There are comments from fans on other creators’ videos who post around the same time asking why they didn’t wait until a few hours after Dawson published his latest entry. People are looking at Dawson’s content design the same way they looked at long-term collaborations like Team 10 (Jake Paul’s creator group) and Vlog Squad (David Dobrik’s creator group).
Other creators have jumped on that bandwagon (beauty vlogger James Charles has formed a “Sister Squad” with the Dolan twins and Emma Chamberlain), but the next big venture is mini-documentary series either based on a popular creator or including them directly.
Whether or not people actually want more docuseries in their life, they’re here to stay for a while — and make top creators top dollar in the process.