A first look at YouTube’s new TV stars

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John Green: Help from his history teacher

“The most exciting thing by far is to have a production,” John Green said with a laugh when I asked him about the differences between his new YouTube channel Crash Course and the things he’s been doing on the site in the past. John is part of the VlogBrothers, and has been producing YouTube videos with his brother Hank Green for years. For someone who is used to recording his videos with a $600 camcorder, having a dedicated team and professionally produced graphics makes all the difference.

The other big change is that Crash Course is topical: the channel is home to two science shows, exploring subjects on biology and world history. “We’ve been trying to make educational content on YouTube for many years,” Green told me during a phone conversation in late January. “But we’ve been doing it primarily in our basements, and we’ve been mixing that content in with other content.”

The new exclusive focus on education offers access to new audiences – the Greens are already talking to many educators who use their videos as part of their curriculum – but it also comes with new challenges. One is to get things right, which is why Green works with a number of experts, including a historian who also happens to be his former history teacher.

And then there’s that other problem: how do you make subjects like early civilizations not boring? “The challenge is making the content both accessible and nuanced,” Green told me, adding: “To both acknowledge the complexity of a course of study and make it fun and exciting. We work with really talented teachers and professors and educators and experts so that we can make sure we get it right.”

Early numbers show that they’re able to accomplish this goal: Crash Course has seen more than 720,000 video views since its launch two weeks ago. Videos about subjects like Mesopotamia and Carbon regularly get between 80,000 and 100,000 views. John Green couldn’t be more pleased with these numbers:

“I think it says a lot that there are 80,000 people in the first few days who are excited to watch genuinely educational content about college level biology and world history. It really stabs in the heart the lie that YouTube is about cat videos. It really shows, to me at least, that YouTube is about a lot more than just viral video.”