It would be hard to spend much time on YouTube and not notice AtheneWins.
Fronted by the fetching onetime candidate for the Belgian senate, Tania Derveaux, the collective behind the videos are a group of five underemployed 20-somethings in Antwerp. Together they’ve created the 14th most-subscribed YouTube channel of all time, and currently one of the most-popular. Last week, they racked up nearly 5 million views and edged out BarackObamadotcom for the top spot.
It’s not hard to see how they pull it off: the videos address topics with powerful geek appeal from gaming to net neutrality to Derveaux’s advice on how to pick up a woman at a bar (confidence, nice shoes, no white socks.) Among the group’s projects is “iPower,” dedicated to principles like “being open minded” and “putting your vision into practice.”
Ringleader Driese “Reese” Leydon says Derveaux is the hook that draws in viewers for what are, essentially, just videos of a bunch of guys sitting around talking. “We always have a duality going on,” Leydon says. “On the one side we are activists – on the other side we are doing entertainment to keep the platform we have and reach out to new audiences.”
The quick backstory on AtheneWins: Leydon and four compatriots founded a political party known as Nee (‘no,’ in Flemish). Derveaux drew international attention in 2007 when she ran for the Belgian senate promising blowjobs to the first 40,000 who signed up on the Web as supporters.
After the foray into politics, they tried their hand at making a feature film, but found their calling when they discovered they had a knack for making very popular YouTube videos.
Along the way they also became outspoken YouTube critics, but that changed three months ago when they became YouTube partners, allowing Google to sell ads against their videos. Initially they believed this would persuade YouTube to flag fewer of their videos for deceptive or sexual content. Now, they’re hoping it will become a business.
So far, they’ve received one check. It’s early to tell whether this will provide sustaining employment for the group, but they have high hopes. Leydon won’t discuss the terms of AtheneWins’ deal with YouTube, but the standard agreement pays producers 55% of ad revenue.
So far, the goals are modest. The group’s main source of funding has, until now, been their generous parents.
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