First, Michelle Phan conquered YouTube by garnering more than 7.5 million subscribers to her beauty channel. Now she's ready to take over the world.
Phan just launched the new global premium lifestyle network ICON on March 31 with Endemol Beyond, the digital arm of the Endemol Shine Group, for which she will serve as creative director. ICON will create, produce and distribute original lifestyle programming, from beauty to travel to DIY, featuring a whole host of YouTube stars, including celebrity makeup artist Jamie Greenberg, whose new original beauty prank show Pretty Little Pranksters premiered on ICON Wednesday.
"I'm a creator at heart. I know what it's like to be a creator, and I know what it's like when you don't have that creative freedom, when someone limits you, when you're told that you need to do this because it's sponsorship but it's a brand that you don't believe in. I've been through all of that," said Phan about why she started ICON during an interview at the network's launch event Tuesday at the YouTube Space in New York. "I understood from the creator's point-of-view how difficult it was to kind of be boxed in, because if you're a creator, you don't want to have any boxes. You want to be able to just create and do whatever you want."
Phan hopes ICON will give creators that freedom. Every show on the network is pitched by the creators themselves. Phan and Endemol Beyond even worked for the last year developing and incubating shows on her YouTube channel and on FAWN (For All Women Network), the online lifestyle video network she previously founded that has essentially been rebranded and expanded upon as ICON, to see what would be most successful once ICON officially launched.
ICON is now live in the U.S. and the U.K., but it will be rolling out in Western Europe and Asia in the summer and fall. Though it seems like YouTube will be ICON's main hub, it's available across a wide variety of platforms, including Roku, Facebook, Snapchat and ICON's own mobile app. Along those lines, it's important to Phan that ICON's content works well no matter where people stumble upon it.
"I'm a huge believer in being platform agnostic, even though I'm here at the YouTube Space. YouTube is great. YouTube is a global television set for the digital age, but there's other video players on the market that do fine, like Vine, Facebook, but they cater to a different audience," Phan said. "We're all about expanding our reach and just reaching to new demographics that are outside of just YouTube or Facebook or Vine or Twitter or Instagram."
On ICON, Phan will be joined by fellow YouTube stars, including DIY-er Anne Le, fitness vlogger Cassey Ho and lifestyle vlogger Kassie Isabelle. The various expertise and perspectives these women bring in their lifestyle content is one way Phan hopes ICON achieves something beyond just entertaining viewers. She ultimately wants women to come away from watching these videos feeling empowered.
"There's a lot of places in the media where women are over-sexualized, and if they're over-sexualized, they're considered to be successful. I want to change that," Phan said. "There's other facets of beauty that we can showcase, and it might not be portrayed on all facets of the media, but we can portray that on our platform."
Changing the way women are portrayed and treated online is certainly a lofty goal, but it sounds like Phan is up to the challenge.