By IAN YEE
THREE years ago, a little short film titled My Generasi was killing it on social media. You could hardly turn on your phone or computer without it popping up somehow.
The film’s success was a huge turning point for the local YouTuber community, then a ragtag bunch of semi-professional filmmakers who were just starting to gain something of a cult following online.
Today, Jin Lim and Reuben Kang of JinnyBoyTV, the YouTubers who produced My Generasi, still get a kick out of watching the film.
They were watching it on their workstation in a small, dark room in Jin’s condo – which is basically JinnyBoyTV HQ – giggling at how much skinnier they were back then.
They then turned their attentions to the other YouTubers who acted in My Generasi (all pro bono, by the way). They laugh at how Dennis Yin was bald back then, how Joseph Germani has bulked up, and how Dan Khoo looks, well, exactly the same.
It has only been three years since R.AGE’s first interview with Jin about My Generasi, but it already seems like a lifetime away for Jin and Reuben, and probably all the YouTubers who have seen their stars rise beyond what any of them could’ve imagined.
JinnyBoyTV has gone from a two-man YouTube channel producing short videos, parodies and sketches to a full-out creative agency creating big campaigns for corporate clients.
Both of them have quit their full-time jobs, they now have two employees (they’re looking for more), they have a seemingly constant stream of clients, they’ve organised plenty of successful events featuring international YouTube stars from around the world, and they’re about to move into their first proper office.
“And we have a lot more gear now!” added Jin. The video production gadget geek in him clearly enjoys having the mountain of camera equipment growing in his living room.
“When we first hit 100,000 subscribers, YouTube gave us a cash grant, and we pretty much spent all of it on hard drives! We had so much footage to archive.”
They’re now closing in on 600,000 subscribers, and their videos have been viewed an incredible 81 million times on their YouTube channel alone. No surprise then, that they were named Influencer of the Year at the inaugural Influence Asia awards last month.
In essence, these two goofy guys-next-door have – to a certain extent – changed the landscape of Malaysian media.
The Couch with JinnyBoyTV: Ep. 1
YouTubers like Jin and Reuben make money mostly through a combination of YouTube ad revenue (you allow YouTube to place ads in your videos, and YouTube pays you based on the number of views and clicks) and “native advertising”, where the sponsors’ products or services are incorporated into the videos.
“With ad revenue, of course the more views you get, the more revenue you receive. But it’s not constant – during the holidays like Hari Raya and Chinese New Year, you will get more of those pre-roll and banner ads on your videos,” said Jin.
They get a lot of offers for native advertising, which can be much trickier, but it’s a challenge the guys relish.
“I think there’s a clear misconception,” said Reuben. “A lot of people think YouTubers are only doing branded videos, but we try to make it our story first, and then we’re just incorporating the brands into the story.”
Branded videos help everybody at the end of the day. It helps us continuously create videos.”
– Reuben Kang
The guys estimate that they turn down around 80% of the native advertising opportunities they receive, mostly because those brands wouldn’t fit in with any of their videos – and they get some pretty weird requests sometimes.
“We were approached to do a video for an awning company once,” said Reuben. “Nothing wrong with that, but I guess we weren’t creative enough to come up with a good story that could feature awnings…”
Another guy approached them to do a video about his life story, and asked if they could post it on JinnyBoyTV.
“He’s not local, and he was willing to pay! He thought his life was quite interesting,” said Jin.
“We also get requests for wedding videos, but we don’t want to ruin the most important day in someone’s life!” added Reuben with a laugh.
One request they get quite a lot, which they don’t mind, is to show up at proms or birthday parties.
“We get invited to a lot of birthdays,” said Reuben. “There was a high school that invited us to their prom, so we said yes, and they were like, ‘how much do you charge?’ But we were like, ‘no, we’ll just drop by’.”
“Yeah, they were very nice,” recalled Jin. “We like to just go out and meet the people who watch our videos and talk to them. It’s quite overwhelming.”
Between their video shoots and public appearances, Jin and Reuben have quite a bit on their plates.
As event organisers, they’ve also managed some pretty big events, bringing in international YouTube stars like David Choi, Kina Grannis and Wong Fu Productions.
And that’s why Jin made the tough decision to walk away from his full-time job as deejay on Hitz.fm last year.
As he had a slot on the coveted morning show, he was getting up at 4:30am every day, doing his show from 6am-10am, and staying back into the afternoon to plan for the next day.
“After that, I still had to work on my YouTube business, which was growing rapidly. There were a lot of missed opportunities at the time, both locally and internationally.
“So I told my bosses: ‘Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but I have this business of my own I want to try and build’.”
Haters gonna hate
Despite their mass appeal, Jin and Reuben admit they’ve been dissed a fair bit by mainstream or commercial filmmakers.
“I think it’s unfair, because they are comparing us with themselves, and saying the quality of our work is not up to par with theirs,” said Jin.
“But filmmakers have their niche, and we have ours. We’re not trying to create the same quality as them.
“In fact, I’m surprised why people are still watching and sharing our videos! But because they do, we keep doing what we do.”
Reuben added that the style of filmmaking YouTubers are popular for – short, light-hearted and humourous takes on trending topics – simply evolved naturally with the technology that became available.
“I came from the mainstream side (he worked in an advertising agency before quitting to focus on JinnyBoyTV), and I always had respect for what mainstream filmmakers were doing.
“But films also evolved when television came around, and now television formats are also changing,” he said.
On social media, however, arguably the new “mainstream”, things are going much better.
Their early years of having to deal with trolls and keyboard warriors on YouTube seem to be over.
And it has all culminated with their Influencer of the Year award, which was presented to them by K-pop star Tiffany Hwang from Girls Generation at a ceremony in Singapore.
“It was crazy! We wanted to take a photo with the audience on stage, so she offered to take it for us!” said Jin.
“But after that she took a picture with us, not for us,” said Reuben.
So we had to ask – did they party it up with Tiffany after that?
“Nope. We had to walk back to our hotel!” said Jin, laughing.
Reuben added: “It’s funny because people think it’s all glitz and glam being a YouTuber ‘cos we were there in our suits and all, but there’s so much more to it that people don’t see. We’re actually really simple people, and we work really hard on our videos.”