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Being a YouTube Star During COVID-19

As many industries shut down or furlough, Preston Arsement's studio is hiring and thriving.
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Preston Arsement

With much of the nation stuck at home with nothing to do, one of the most popular YouTube stars has a captive audience that will probably never be replicated.Grapevine-based Preston Arsement is growing and adjusting to a massive audience boost.

Arsement, known as “Preston” online, has accumulated over 7 billion views and operates a 25-person staff running a number of Youtube channels with content that ranges from Minecraft gaming videos and hide and seek in the mall to throwing pizzas while driving go-carts. As CEO, he brings in $14 million a year from a number of different revenue streams. While many companies are furloughing, laying people off, or shutting down completely during the pandemic, his digital media studio TBNR is hiring. The channels have seen a 30 to 50 percent increase in viewership in the last few weeks.

It hasn’t all been rosy for Arsement, as he has had to shift all video production to gaming and live broadcasts, rather than his more highly-produced content that has him out in the world. But with sponsors taking notice of his increased viewership, he predicts more growth ahead.

Arsement has enough previously produced material to last until mid-April, but is looking ahead to be prepared for when he has to double down on digital content and gaming videos, where viewers watch him play a video game with live narration. The change in content hasn’t hurt his viewership. In the month of March alone, his videos had 500 million views.

“A lot of eyes are now at home,” he says. “So how do we continue to capture that audience with the content we’ve been creating, now that we have these new roadblocks in place, and how can we continue to create good consistent quality content?”

Videos that once included SWAT teams or the World’s Strongest Man are now limited to Aresment and his wife, who are making videos in their home or the warehouse where the team usually films. The target audience is children, so Arsement feels the added responsibility to model social distancing in his videos.

Part of that process has been charity videos, where he gives away money to different causes. Recently, he has given $70,000 away via challenges with his wife, with the winner picking the charity. Recipients have included the North Texas Food Bank and the World Health Organization.

While some videos have included humorous takes on hand-washing and social distancing, Arsement sees his videos as an escape for kids who don’t want to  needlessly worry about the pandemic. “I just want to escape it because my parents are talking about it,” Arsement says of his viewers’ mindset. “I just want to have this place where I can truly escape.”

And while some media struggles to keep advertisers interested, Aresment says brands are still making contact and looking for space to reach his millions of viewers. He will be soon doing campaigns on Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok about COVID-19 for the State of Texas.

With editors and producers working remotely, the company is still producing around 20 videos a week. Working at home was seamless for most of his employees he said, and they are looking to expand, add more channels, and hire more production staff as they do so.

Digital content production was already one of the fastest growing industries in media, and forcing everyone to stay at home has only increased its hold on viewership, especially amongst younger demographics. Arsement has enjoyed the growth, but knows he will have to stay agile and innovative to maintain his numbers after everyone is allowed to return to normalcy.

“It’s just gonna be really tricky, because I think that if they’re not able to creatively pivot, they’re going to start to see viewer drop off,” Arsement says of digital content producers after COVID-19. “With everybody still being at home, everybody has the same rule set, nobody can leave, nobody can do specific things. So it’s gonna really come down to the individual and how creative they and their teams are.”

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