BURBANK, California — How do you react to poor fan reaction?
That was the question that Benny and Rafi Fine, the brothers known for their popular YouTube channels, had to ask themselves in January after many of their viewers became angered over their (now defunct) initiative.
The duo’s goal was to give creators worldwide access to 11 of their company’s various shows and trademarks, including their franchise of “react” videos (in which groups of people, including kids, teens and adults, react to various topics). But many argued the “React” brand is not the Fine Brothers’ to license and viewed it as an attempt to claim profits over every “reaction” video out there. It only took five days before the pair .
Now it’s been eight months since the drama and Benny and Rafi have moved on, with hopes that their fans have too. The new challenge they face is getting their audience to trust — and care — about them again.
For the Fines, that means refocusing on doing what they do best: Making and distributing content.
“Our intentions were not what people thought they were. It was a very simple plan from our regard: A cool new initiative that wasn’t going to do anything bad to anyone,” Rafi said in a recent interview with Mashable at the Fine Brothers Entertainment office in Burbank. “People still think we’re trying to do something bad.”
“It was what it was,” Benny added. “There’s not much you can do about the reality when those things happen, beyond trying to look through clouds of it, find out what’s the essence of this, realize, learn from it. We learned this is not something we should be doing — let’s just move on from on it and go back to what we had been doing. We’re fully and totally refocusing.”
Benny and Rafi, who grew up in Brooklyn, have a typical brotherly rapport.
At 33, Rafi, the youngest, is slightly more hipster and mellow. He is often seen sporting a beanie. Meanwhile, Benny, 35, speed talks his way through conversations, with Rafi either interrupting or finishing his sentences.
The duo has been making online content since 2004, before YouTube even launched. They were instrumental in the success of Maker Studios, now owned by Disney.
Now, Fine Brothers Entertainmentn functions as a full-fledged media company, studio and network.
The company produces 10 serialized shows every week for over 20 million YouTube subscribers, as well as other digital platforms and linear television.
That includes scripted, non-scripted, animated, sketch, interactive, and, of course, the react videos.
The company’s videos get nearly 150 million views each month, and their channels overall have more than 5 billion lifetime video views. There are now about 55 people working at FBE full-time, who produce an average 12 videos per week.
Over the last year, the Fines have made a handful of big hires, including Brandie Tucker,who produced Big Brother and Hell’s Kitchen, and Andrea Kinloch, who previously worked for AOL Original Video and Warner Bros.
“It’s definitely been a year of building out a team we can grow on top of and scale in a much easier and faster way,” Rafi said. “With so many new platforms, we have to innovate how to make content on such a mass scale. On top of it, we’re also making TV shows and features and everything.”
Now, they are in the process of expanding their offices, by adding another floor with tons more studio space.
The Burbank office space (of which they inhabit three floors of) is not the average studio set-up.
For starters, the office is sort semi-hidden: there’s no sign outside the building indicating that it’s FBE’s headquarters (so fans don’t crowd outside, FBE execs said).
The first thing guests are greeted with at the reception area is a table filled with books written by YouTubers —and snacks. Lots of snacks.
The bright blue walls are decked out with Fine Bros Entertainment memorabilia, including a few boards which people who have participated in “React” videos sign. They also proudly display some of their many awards, including a Webby, a Streamy Award and a Daytime Emmy.
Before expansion, there were just two sets utilized by all staffers, with a white board outlining the daily filming schedule for each space. With the added floorspace, employees will be adding areas for filming.
Much of the third floor will remain dedicated to the post-production team, which holes up in areas. (One of the editing suites is appropriately nicknamed “the lair.”)
Upping the slate
To the average Hollywood honcho, it’s hard to explain what exactly FBE is. That’s where Kinloch, Tucker and Matt Labate VP of Channels, Strategy and Audience, come in.
Tucker comes from the TV development world, where she produced TV series such as Big Brother, Hell’s Kitchen, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? and the upcoming show on MTV Epic Win!.
Her goal is to build a bridge with traditional Hollywood outlets.
Luckily, FBE has already built itself in Hollywood enough to have brand recognition. The company has been behind TruTV show Six Degrees of Everything, Nickelodeon’s ReactToThat (made in partnership with Nick Canon) and ABC Family’s Superfan Suite for its hit show Pretty Little Liars.
“Fine Bros Entertainment knows fandom better than anyone,” Tucker told Mashable. “We know how to tap into what people obsess over. And that’s valuable.”
Kinloch, meanwhile, is responsible for making deals with brands and licensing content (including to international TV networks and education partners).
The hope is that people see FBE for what it is: A nontraditional entertainment company capable of doing traditional material while still tapping in to digital audiences.
“We’re not necessarily the influencer but we’re not traditional media,” Rafi said. “We’re very much a hybrid. We find ourselves in that middle ground.”
Another company that has mastered this hybrid is Rooster Teeth.
The Austin-based production company, behind hits such as Red vs. Blue, was founded in 2003 by YouTubers Matt Hullum and Burnie Burns and then acquired by digital entertainment company Fullscreen in 2014.
Since then, the company has amassed more than 20 million subscribers to its YouTube Network, as well as 3 million unique monthly visitors to its RoosterTeeth.com hub and 1.8 million registered community members.
FBE has always been working on expanding its slate, but ove the last year the focus was to delve into more long-form projects.
So in January, it came as no surprise when one of FBE’s projects was announced as part of YouTube Red’s first line-up of originals
SING IT!, a half-hour sitcom that provides a satirical take on singing competition shows, was made in partnership with traditional studio Mandeville Films.
The 10-episode show is a workplace comedy about a singing competition show (a la American Idol or The Voice).
It features a mix of traditional and digital stars including Mircea Monroe (Hart of Dixie) Missi Pyle (Gone Girl), Debby Ryan (Disney Channel’s Jessie) and Mark Sullivan (Guest of a Nation). It also includes actual singing competition alumni, including Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo (the married couple that competed on American Idol) and Leah Lewis (The Voice Season Four). Guest stars include Sasha Pieterse (Pretty Little Liars), YouTube stars Sam Tsui, Todrick Hall and Tim DeLaGhetto.
With Sing It!, YouTube Red viewers could actually vote for which fictional contestant they want to win ahead of the final episode. Contestants were then eliminated based on who viewers pick, giving an immersive element to the digital show.
FBE also just relaunched the animated series Emo Dad. The entire season is on Fullscreen’s SVOD service already but episodes also become available weekly on YouTube.
“There’s kind of a trifecta of things always going on at our company,” Benny said. “There’s the digital side of things, which is just as big as it’s ever been and growing on month-to-month basis. At the same time, opportunities with shows like Sing It! are leading to other things and now we are starting to move toward more long-form scripted [content]. The brand integration side is the third wing.”
Up next? “Soo many things,” Benny said.
Among the new projects: The company’s first feature film, titled F*&% the Prom.
Plus, Fine Brothers Entertainment will have a new addition to its growing react franchise called “CELEBS React,” which will launch later this year.
FBE partnered with Fullscreen for the show, which will live on the Fullscreen’s SVOD platform and the FBE channel.
The overall goal is to “extend olive branches” to as many distribution outlets and create quality content, the Fine brothers said.
But even as FBE continues to grow — both in terms of content and company size — Benny and Rafi emphasize they want to remain connected with their fans and the digital world.
They end every Wednesday all-hands meeting with two traditions.
The first, reading a round-up of notes from the office’s “good shit” box, where employees can submit compliments about each other. For example, one employee wrote a note praising another for “slaying” in a recent video shoot.
Then, the Fine brothers read a fan letter. On this particular day, Benny chose one that was written out on a typewriter.
Benny read an excerpt aloud:
“I’ve been struggling with depression, but your shows mean so much to me. They introduced me to a whole world of pop culture.”
The entire room applauded.