Services & Software

Vine famous: Twitter's quirky app unleashes a new wave of video stars

The loopy video app is providing young adults, aspiring actors, and YouTube stars with a new place to showcase their quirky creativity -- and stars are emerging.

Brittany Furlan is the queen of Vine, the 6-second video app where Hollywood hopefuls are attracting millions of fans.
Brittany-Jayne Furlan. Photo by David Zayas Jr. #zproductions

Brittany-Jayne Furlan will do just about anything to make people laugh. She'll hijack strangers' shopping carts, party balloons, and cocktails; read a bedtime story to a person asleep at a bus stop; or try to force-hold someone's hand -- all while a smartphone camera records the stunts.

Though Furlan's antics may sound obnoxious, her 2.2 million followers on Vine can't get enough. Nor can established comedians like Jimmy Kimmel or Chelsea Handler, who have featured Furlan's short comedic masterpieces on their programs. Now it's not uncommon for Furlan's Vine videos to rack up tens of thousands of likes and shares, dubbed "revines," in a matter of hours.

Vine, the Twitter-owned mobile app where 6-second clips loop, has provided Furlan and a smattering of young adults, aspiring actors, and YouTube stars with a new video platform where they can demonstrate their quirky creativity and attract instant celebrity.

Now playing in Vine's Explore tab: Channels. The categories help creators get their 6-second clips in front of more viewers. Screenshot by Jennifer Van Grove/CNET

Launched in late January, the application was initially a moderate hit with creatives, techies, and brands. By early June, Vine had amassed 13 million registered users, and that month it became the most downloaded nongame app in Apple's App store. Next to Instagram's 130 million active users, Vine's audience sounds teeny. But it's growing at a rapid clip, and in just the past month it's become the app for a crop of emerging video stars and millions of hooked fans.

Hollywood and (Re)Vine
Twitter won't talk about the video app's burgeoning audience. But a person familiar with Vine's operations confirmed what I've long suspected: A July 3 update to the Vine iOS application, combined with a similar Android release a week later, changed everything.

Simple though the features may seem, when Vine added channels to the Explore tab and introduced the revine, the application was fitted with the right mix of materials to turn creators into stars and make 6-second clips viral hits.

Like the Hollywood hopefuls accruing hundreds of thousands of followers each day, Vine is having a moment. For proof, look no further than Vine star Nicholas Megalis, who has a following of more than 2.3 million fans. In about a month, Megalis' "Gummy Money" video has amassed 1.5 million likes, 295,000 revines, and 130,000 comments.

YouTubers Andrew Bachelor and Iman Crosson have migrated to Vine and have established, in a matter of a weeks, larger followings than they have on YouTube.

Crosson, who goes by Alphacat online, is known for his YouTube video impersonations of Barack Obama and makes his living creating Web content, a career he owes to the success of his YouTube channel.

The classically trained actor from Ohio only started using Vine in June. He teased early followers with a promise to produce Vines as Obama once he hit 20,000 followers. The ploy worked. Crosson, now with more than 650,000 followers on Vine, said he added about half a million followers between July 11 and August 11.

To increase his following, Crosson often teams up with Bachelor, Furlan, and other top Vine personalities. The collab-and-cameo tactic is one they picked up from YouTube, Crosson and Bachelor said.

"All of the top Viners and I have become friends because we came up together on Vine," Furlan said. "We reached out to one another on Twitter, got together, and made some 6-second video collabs."

For Bachelor, a comedy sketch artist who goes by @KingBach, Vine could mean the difference between landing an acting gig and losing it to a bigger name. "Whenever you walk into, any network, they want to know what your following is, because they'll pick a Kevin Hart over me any day," Bachelor said.

Bachelor, who discovered Vine in May through Furlan, has made a science out of studying what people respond to on Vine. The result: 1.6 million followers and more gigs. "At the end of the day, fans are fans, and fans equal money," he said.

Mainstream with Millennials
As with so many new social tools, Vine is cool with the younger set. "Vine is mainstream amongst Millennials," said Brian Solis, an analyst who studies digital preferences among young people for Altimeter Group. Gen Z, those born between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s, is also "all over Vine," he said.

Kids have told Solis that they didn't pay attention to Vine at first, but after it got bigger, they liked the idea of outdoing each other.

"I really do think the Vine star is going to be the next big thing," he said.

And being "Vine famous" is already a thing, at least in fame-focused Los Angeles. Furlan, for one, says she gets spotted daily thanks to her Vines. "I've even been hanging out with friends who are lead characters on network TV shows and people come up to me and recognize me from Vine and have no idea who my friends are," she said.

Vine's 15 seconds
Given the fickle nature of young people, and how fast apps can rise and fall -- remember Viddy and SocialCam? -- it's of course too early to declare Vine a winner. No Hollywood producer or major music label has plucked a Vine user and turned the video celeb into a true superstar, as happened with, say, Justin Bieber on YouTube.

The app is also only as good as its top creators, some of whom, like Furlan, say they'll lose interest if Vine, like Instagram, lets users import previously recorded video. Vine's unique appeal is tied to the challenge of creating something entertaining solely by shooting inside the app and not having access to special effects, save for those manufactured through ingenuity.