MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Asian-Americans have never been a big enough or cohesive enough fragment of the culture to support a whole TV network like BET or Univision. But now, online video is a vibrant alternative to television.
And that means a fan base of mostly Asian teens is enough to support a new kind of star. Corey Takahashi reports.
COREY TAKAHASHI: At the moment, there's one YouTube celebrity with more subscribers than anyone else, not Lady Gaga, not Justin Bieber, either.
Mr. RYAN HIGA: First things first, I'm not your average teenager...
TAKAHASHI: More than three million fans on YouTube have signed up to receive updates and videos from a college student who was raised in Hilo, Hawaii. His name is Ryan Higa.
Mr. HIGA: As long as I can remember, I've been training to become an ASS, an agent of secret stuff.
TAKAHASHI: Higa's latest 35-minute movie is called "Agents of Secret Stuff." It's an action-comedy set in high school. It features a who's who of YouTube celebrities. The video's clocked well over eight million views in the past two months.
(Soundbite of video)
Unidentified Man #1: You must operate cautiously.
Mr. HIGA: I will not fail.
Unidentified Man #1: Cool, peace out.
TAKAHASHI: A Pasadena-based production house, Wong Fu Productions, directed, co-wrote and co-produced the project with Higa. Philip Wang is a co-founder, and he also acts in the movie.
Mr. PHILIP WANG (Co-Founder, Wong Fu Productions): People, especially through YouTube, they're finding types of entertainment that are just from people that are just like themselves or people that they can relate to a little bit better than, you know, some unattainable movie star or TV star.
And so when they see people like Ryan, or they see people like us, you know, it's someone that they feel a more personal connection to.
TAKAHASHI: Stars like Ryan Higa can earn up to six-figure incomes a year, based on ads YouTube pairs with their videos.
Mr. GEORGE STROMPOLOS: It's not all a Hollywood ecosystem anymore.
TAKAHASHI: George Strompolos used to cultivate online video talent in his former job at YouTube. Now he's working with many of the same stars as a producer in Los Angeles.
Mr. STROMPOLOS: For whatever reason, the studio system is not creating, in this case, Asian-American celebrities. So fans of Ryan have actually elevated him to that level through their own means. In this case, that's through YouTube and through the Internet.
TAKAHASHI: But even Philip Wang of Wong Fu Productions will admit one downside to this newer pathway to stardom.
Mr. WANG: We have lost a little bit of the classy kind of stars, you know, from, you know, the Frank Sinatra or Gene Kelly age.
TAKAHASHI: As Ol' Blue Eyes might say, in the YouTube age, it's even more about doing it my way.
For NPR News, I'm Corey Takahashi.
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