Remember Lonelygirl15, that fake YouTube vlog filmed in some guy's bedroom, starring an actress pretending to be adorable jailbait? It's now a $5 million web production company. Business Insider explains how this happened.
"Lonelygirl15" started out as a simple web video series about a girl with a webcam. The first video starring "Bree" was uploaded onto YouTube on June 16, 2006, and it was portrayed as the 16-year old's first attempt at video blogging. (Below, the first lonelygirl15 first video.)
Less than three months later, it was revealed that lonelygirl15 (also known as LG15) was a professionally produced show and that Bree was really an actress named Jessica Lee Rose. Even as people were upset that lonelygirl15 was a fictional video blog, people kept on watching and the creators turned LG15 into a multi-million dollar company.
The creators of lonelygirl15 consist of an attorney (Greg Goodfried), a former plastic surgery intern (Miles Beckett), and a screenwriter (Mesh Flinders). Beckett and Flinders first met at a karaoke bar for a mutual friend's birthday party in April 2006. Flinders told us via email that Beckett "wanted to tell a story about a videoblogger on YouTube."
"I saw that the most popular content on YouTube was stolen content from major networks or video bloggers," Beckett told us over the phone.
The two met regularly and came up with a story centered around a character, Bree/lonelygirl15. Within a matter of six weeks, Beckett and Flinders teamed up with Greg Goodfried for his legal expertise, cast actors Jessica Lee Rose and Yousef Abu-Taleb to star in the series, shot the first video in Flinders' bedroom, and uploaded it onto YouTube.
Beckett, the former surgeon-in-training, tells us that the original plan was for the YouTube videos to serve as a prequel leading up to a DVD release. They would have shot the DVD in the style of "The Blair Witch Project" in which "fans" of Bree search for their beloved video blogger. However, as lonelygirl15 gained more and more followers, the creators saw a real opportunity to turn Bree's online musings into a web series.
"In those days YouTube was much more of a community than it is now," Flinders told us. "And it felt like we were part of something that was growing every day."
Then came the big revelation that Bree was actually a fictional character and read lines from a script. Any press is good press however as Beckett tells us "viewership numbers actually went up" with the most views coming in the Spring and Summer of 2007.
After the reveal, Flinders, Beckett, and Goodfried were afraid that people would stop watching a video blog centered around a fictional teenage girl. Flinders told us that they "felt compelled to take the show out of Bree's bedroom and amp up the mystery elements... I was also tired of my bedroom being the primary set for the show."
At the same time, Beckett and Goodfried were able to create a profitable digital production studio called LG15 Studios/Telegraph Ave. Productions. From a 5-figure deal with Ice Breaker's gum to a 6-figure Neutrogena deal, the LG15 writers would incorporate these products into Bree's life in certain episodes. Other product integration and licensing deals easily turned lonelygirl15 into a profitable web video series.
Beckett and Goodfried also created a lonelygirl15 spin-off in England called "KateModern" on Bebo. The British web series would include more product integration and sponsorship deals overseas. Mesh Flinders left the show at the end of 2007 to pursue his own ambitions of becoming a feature film maker.
In 2008, Goodfried and Beckett renamed their company to EQAL and focused more on creating web properties and communities. EQAL received $5 million in funding led by Spark Capital in 2008, but earlier this year, they bought out their investors.
Beckett and Goodfried still run EQAL to this day, and they have partnered with the likes of Paula Deen, Alicia Silverstone, and Philadelphia Cream Cheese.
As for Mesh Flinders, he's still writing screenplays and is a social media consultant. "Lonelygirl has opened a ton of doors for me and made things possible that wouldn't have been possible otherwise," Flinders told us. "I can't imagine my life without it."