The death of Fullscreen

A YouTube rival is closing down in January, and it’s a bigger deal than you’d think

Have you ever heard of Fullscreen? The chances are, you haven’t – and that’s a shame. Come January, you will probably never hear anything about it again.

Fullscreen is, in fact, a video media company. Back in April 2016, it launched an online video subscription site, designed to rival the more dominant and competitive services like YouTube Red – premium-tier on-demand video sites, which create their own exclusive original content as well as hosting other shows.

“We wanted to provide a new platform for the breakthrough creators, personalities and storytellers of social entertainment  – and the fans who love them,” says Fullscreen’s CEO and founder, George Strompolos. The “mission” of Fullscreen, he affirms, is “to empower creators”. Since its release it has indeed been host to a number of excellent original serials produced by emerging online influencers, comedians and filmmakers.

“Millions downloaded our app and hundreds of thousands became paying subscribers.”

Strompolos himself had previously worked for YouTube and the company that owns it, Google. An intimate awareness the growing gulf between the corporation and its talent would certainly account for the centrality of community and creator-collaboration in his new company’s mission statement.

Interestingly, the majority of Fullscreen’s more prominent content creators – the likes of Grace Helbig, Shane Dawson, Jack Howard, Dean Dobbs and Hazel Hayes – first found their creative feet (and their media following) on YouTube. Many of them are still creating content on the site. However, whilst YouTube’s format may have favoured these talented, though medium-sized, content creators in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the same cannot be said of the site today.

Sure, YouTube’s corporate evolution may not have affected so much the giants of the community, with subscribers well into the millions. But the increasing precariousness of YouTube’s ad-revenue system, the inaccessibility of its algorithm, the ever-growing pressure to produce videos with high production value, and the recent introduction of its premium tier, YouTube Red, have been pushing its smaller creators under. Even taking into account the additional revenue provided to creators through working with brands and in-video product placement, making videos on YouTube alone simply isn’t enough to pay the bills of an aspiring filmmaker.

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Financially, staying with YouTube is becoming less and less of an option for ‘breakthrough creators’. As such, many have utilised external measures in order to stay afloat – often it’s through Patreon, or streaming sites like Twitch. In the case of aspiring YouTube filmmakers, collaborating with Fullscreen would have been ideal.

One of Fullscreen’s latest and most compelling serials would be psychological crime thriller Prank Me, created by Jesse Cleverly and Paul Neafcy, and directed by YouTube filmmaker Hazel Hayes. Hayes has already illustrated her ability to unsettle in her YouTube portfolio, perhaps most notably in her short-film SEPTEM. In Prank Me, she generates a stomach churning sense of unease and dread, and she places her finger to the pulse of current fears about the culture of viral prank videos on YouTube.

The serial plays out the story of teen vlogger Jasper Perkins, as pressure from his expanding fan base leads him to conduct increasingly dangerous pranks, leading him down a criminal road from which there is no way back. The series focuses on the troubling human implications of current social media. In nurturing an intense anxiety about the disturbing potential of current or imminent technology, it stands strong as a sister to shows like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. Hayes has a power to craft a drama that at once captivates and unsettles, treating frightening concepts with exceptional nuance

Yet, despite the excellent quality of original serials like Prank Me, and the initial promise of the site in general, Fullscreen’s video on-demand subscription service is set for closure in January 2018.

Whilst Fullscreen may not have taken the internet by storm, one cannot underestimate the significance of its closure. It shows just how hard it is going to be for the medium-sized creators of YouTube to break away from the platform which made them. At the same time, it says a lot about the increasing willingness of creators to break away in the first place. Fullscreen’s site is not the first competitive effort to go south, and it won’t be the last, either. But it’s only a matter of time before something could stick. If a competitor has the right idea, the right form, and at the right time with support from sufficiently influential creators, then YouTube, along with its premium service, could be in trouble.

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Nevertheless, Fullscreen’s closure is a real tragedy for many reasons. In particular, its mission statement put community at the core of the company. This element of community is something which YouTube appears to have lost along its corporate journey, but is also something which was vital in YouTube’s definitive success. Additionally, as the company puts in its twitter statement, the impressive quantity and quality of content that they have already produced in the brief time since their launch will have to be given out to “a different home”. At this stage, it is difficult to say where this “home” might be. Optimistically speaking, they could find a home on a recognised site like Vimeo. More pessimistically, they could be placed on another site even lesser-known than Fullscreen, or put back onto YouTube where they’ll be lost to obscurity, or maybe they won’t be re-uploaded anywhere at all.

But perhaps most tragically of all, Fullscreen’s closure will go unnoticed by many, since nobody seemed to know what it was, or what it stood for, in the first place.