USA Today Talking Tech | YouTube fuels growth for online host Shira Lazar

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Article by Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY

HOLLYWOOD — Shira Lazar is mugging for three big television studio HD video cameras in front of a picture-perfect window overlooking Hollywood and Vine, plugging a telethon to raise money for the homeless.

Her two-hour Virgin Mobile sponsored telethon — to be shown on YouTube on Thursday — is just the latest for the woman who has been called everything from the "Stream Queen" to the "Ryan Seacrest of the Internet" by various online publications. If there's a red carpet tech event or live online extravaganza, odds are that Lazar is there.

By hitching her wagon to the rising fortune of online entertainment, and more specifically, YouTube, Lazar and business partner Damon Berger have built themselves a mini empire.

The host and executive producer of the Web-based What's Trending and Partners Project shows, she and Berger have written up more than $1 million in advertising revenues in the last year to sponsors including Virgin Mobile, AT&T and Samsung for their Disrupt/Group company. Trending and Project have positioned themselves as the venues for homegrown YouTube stars and celebrities who want to reach the massive YouTube audience.

She has more than 1.5 million followers on social media, on Facebook, Twitter and Google +.

Lazar has bounced back nicely from a potentially lethal 2011 speed bump., which ran Trending online for two years, dumped the show after the What's Trending twitter account tweeted that Steve Jobs had died — weeks before the Apple CEO's actual death.

"We know the value of what we're doing," says Lazar, 29, in an interview at her studio here. "When that happened, we said, 'We could stop right now,' or continue. We'd built up such an amazing community, and we knew that if we stopped, somebody else would try to do what we do. Instead, we pushed through and increased our viewership."

Trending began as an online program on YouTube and elsewhere focusing on all things Internet, a "talk show for the digital age," Lazar says.

But in August, Trending shifted focus to only emphasize what's happening on YouTube, a move that's paid off, Berger says, with 8 million views in the past two months. (The total is nearly 14 million views over two years.)

Trending moved from uStream and other partners to YouTube, where it runs Monday through Friday at 3 p.m. ET live. The show features a countdown of the top YouTube videos, and interviews and performances with celebrities (everyone from YouTube's iJustine to John Travolta and Arnold Schwarzenegger.) After the live airing, Lazar cuts the show into three pieces for later viewing. Partners, which runs weekly, interviews YouTube performers exclusively.

"We found we got huge viewership when we featured YouTube stars," says Lazar.With YouTube's 100-channel initiative — it's investing $100 million in the creation of new channels — viewers need help finding stuff, Lazar says.

"There's so much noise," she says. "A lot of people don't know where to go. There needs to be some sort of curation."

Her company also benefited from a YouTube investment as part of its Next Lab unit. Berger declined to discuss the size of the YouTube investment.

Douglas Scott, president of ad agency Ogilvy & Mather's entertainment division, has known Lazar for more than 10 years and is a big fan. He calls her "one of the most talented entrepreneurs in the world of tech today. She is personable, funny, connects with her audience, smart and sexy."

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On YouTube, anyone can submit videos. Folks who start building an audience can share advertising revenue with the Google-owned company by signing up for AdSense, Google's program that puts ads on your content. When the audience grows larger, the creator gets asked to join YouTube's Partner program, which gives a healthier share of ad revenues to the content creator.

The next step is selling ads yourself, and sharing profits with YouTube, which Disrupt does.

"If we know a brand wants to work with a musician, for instance, we'll tailor a cool show that will work for them, or work off site," Lazar says.

Beyond her studio in Hollywood, she also does live remotes at tech-related parties and industry events like the Consumer Electronics Show, South by Southwest and Comic-Con.

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Lazar hails from Canada and came to Los Angeles after graduating from Emerson College in Boston. She began as an intern for Ellen DeGeneres' show in 2004 and found a gig hosting online videos at red carpet events for a Hollywood wire service. That led to freelance assignments for Yahoo, MSN and She also hosted online coverage of the Oscar and Grammy awards for ABC and CBS. She and Berger started Trending in May 2011.

For Trending, Lazar does everything from producing and booking to hosting and meeting with advertisers. She has a six-person crew helping her with production, which is several layers above the traditional homemade talk show shot with consumer cameras. She has three $10,000 Panasonic HD cameras and, of course, the snazzy studio overlooking Hollywood Boulevard, where many of her guests come to perform songs live.

With a successful online talk show, the next step for Lazar is building Trending into a "multiplatform media brand," she says. "We have so many ideas. This is just the beginning."

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