In this edition of Lon Harris’ weekly Passionfruit column, we’re reconsidering the development of the Streamys over the past 13 years.
The Streamy Awards returned over the weekend in Los Angeles for their 13th annual ceremony, handing out trophies to creators and influencers for the best in online content over the previous year. 13 years may not seem like a hugely long legacy compared to, say, The Oscars, but in internet years, that’s still a long time. Along with The Webby Awards—founded way back in 1996, when a lot of American families were still figuring out what the internet was and how to access it—the Streamys at this point are very well-established, a genuine benchmark of achievement for digital creators.
As with any big awards show, there were a few news stories and surprises to come out of the ceremony on Sunday. Iconic “NPC TikToker” PinkyDoll made an in-person appearance. An on-stage bit mocking Colleen Ballinger’s “Toxic Gossip Train” non-apology video went viral on social media. The trailblazing YouTube cartoon “Helluva Boss” was recognized as the top animated series.
But, some eagle-eyed viewers noted that the audience was not particularly engaged by the on-stage action and seemed bored. Many pointed out that French-Canadian streamer Félix “xQc” Lengyel appeared to fall asleep during the ceremony. On Patreon, QTCinderella called out the show for borrowing some categories and concepts from her own show, the Streamer Awards.
Still, compared to the early Streamy Awards, held in small theaters around LA and only lightly attended and covered by the mainstream media, this year’s event can only be considered a major success. The second-ever Streamy Awards were held at the Orpheum Theater in 2010, and suffered such a string of flubs, screw-ups, and technical failures, host Paul Scheer thanked everyone for watching “The Streamy Award Tech Rehearsal.”
The tone of the 2010 evening’s humor, which leaned toward raunchy jokes and mocking internet entertainment compared to more professional Hollywood productions, also received poor marks from the crowd in attendance. Felicia Day tweeted an apology to her fans after the show, noting that the “tone of humor was not honoring the evening IMO.” The show proved so controversial, that it actually led the International Academy of Web Television (IAWTV) to formally break from Tubefilter and found their own award show.
So the show’s certainly come a long way from that era, and the added slickness and professionalism in recent years reflects positively on the creator community as a whole. Nonetheless, it now seems the Streamys have potentially tilted a bit too far in the opposite direction, emulating the old-fashioned awards shows of the past rather than forging ahead in a new direction.
Hollywood’s Biggest Nights
Since 2011, the Streamys have been a co-production between creator trade publication Tubefilter and media company Dick Clark Productions, which also mounts annual broadcast events like the Golden Globes and the American Music Awards. Since January 2023, Dick Clark Productions is under the umbrella of Penske Media Eldridge, the massive digital media and publishing company that also owns Billboard, Rolling Stone, and all of the major Hollywood trade papers: Deadline, Variety, AND The Hollywood Reporter. They are the definition of the mainstream entertainment industry establishment.
On one level, this makes a lot of sense as a partnership—one brand knows the digital landscape, while the other knows how to put on an award show. But the key to the relationship has always been the delicate balance between these interests. It’s vital to appeal to fans of the online creators being honored, of course, but Penske’s ultimate goal is not simply to make a great show that YouTube and Twitch viewers enjoy. The Streamys are about synergy, providing a pathway to more mainstream attention for online creators AND a way to promote more mainstream entertainment properties to the young people who spend all day flipping through TikTok and ignoring conventional ads.
It’s why, each year, in addition to honoring the breakout YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok stars, the Streamys also take a few moments to get more mainstream, conventional celebrities involved. This year, Meghan Trainer received the “Rolling Stone Sound of the Year” award in recognition of her “resonance within popular culture.” As well, the Jonas Brothers were honored in the “Crossover” category.
Striking a Delicate Balance
Still, it’s important that the show feels like its own unique animal, honoring online creators in ways that feel organic, as opposed to serving exclusively as a feeder system for more conventional Hollywood careers or the entertainment industry’s “minor leagues.”
It’s curious that, even after more than a decade of annual ceremonies, the Streamys still fundamentally follows the same structure as every other big Hollywood award show. There’s a host doing a monologue and light banter. (This year, it was MatPat). There are some musical numbers and a few quick sketches. Winners run up on stage and give quick, inspiring speeches and get played off if they talk for too long.
It’s a format that hasn’t fundamentally changed in roughly a century, that was designed to award a very different kind of entertainment product. When you’re honoring films or TV shows or even albums, you’re talking about a relatively straight-ahead, clean sort of organizational project. Here are all the shows, movies, and albums that came out last year. Which one is the best?
But it’s a lot more challenging to do that with online content. For one, it’s much more diverse. You’re not just honoring everyone who made music, and categorizing by genre. You’re comparing clever tweets to five-hour livestreams to Patreon blogs to TikTok stunts and more.
As well, conventional award shows are very focused on honoring the contributions of the individual. While this makes sense for the Streamys in terms of, say, “Creator of the Year,” it’s just one of the many ways to evaluate and honor the best in online content. By focusing on conventional award categories, and giving out trophies to the frontmen behind the most popular channels, you miss out on opportunities to really take in everything worthwhile that was produced in the previous year.
Should the Streamys also make time to honor the best moments, trends, ideas, and communities of the previous year, rather than focusing exclusively on treating creators themselves like celebrities? Potentially, though it would take an imaginative new approach, hybridizing native, organic internet content with the trappings of a more conventional award show. There are so many “event” formats bringing online creators together—from podcast-style panel discussions to gaming tournaments to charitable live streams to mukbangs—it seems crazy to force all of the best-of-year-end wrap-up style content into a single, familiar structure.
It’s the Authenticity, Stupid
Historically, attempting to squeeze internet culture into the familiar Hollywood molds and models of the past has not always gone perfectly well. Back in 2013, YouTube and a few big channels hosted an event called “Comedy Week” in both the U.S. and the U.K., culminating in a Big Live Comedy Show featuring mainstream comedians like Eric Andre, Sarah Silverman, Norm Macdonald, and Seth Rogan, alongside their digital counterparts like Jenna Marbles, Kassem G, and “Epic Meal Time” frontman Harley Morenstein.
The show was heavily promoted—including an ad featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger—and definitely generated a lot of buzz. But it was also outright hostile to the idea of comedy on YouTube. Many of the mainstream celebrities were openly dismissive of the digital creators in their midst. A segment in which Macdonald reads off the names of “obscure” YouTubers while excitedly declaring that “all the stars are here!” went mega-viral and has lingered on as an internet meme.
There was a core authenticity issue here. YouTube wanted the world to see their native comic talent as comparable to Hollywood celebrities and assumed that simply putting them all on the same show would accomplish this goal. But these two groups weren’t a community already; for the most part, they didn’t know one another, and this distance was extremely apparent and visible on video.
It certainly was not as dramatic, but this year’s Streamy Awards were hit with somewhat similar complaints about being “cringe” or lacking authenticity. It seemed the audience was not engaged by the on-stage action and seemed bored. And of course, infamously streamer Félix “xQc” Lengyel nodded off to sleep during the ceremony.
Consciously or not, this feels like the viewers reflecting an imbalance in the show. Too much effort to make it feel like a conventional, mainstream Hollywood award show, and not enough effort to make it feel like an emblem of what makes online creators and influencers special and unique.
Well, there’s always next year.
What are your thoughts on the current state of creator awards shows? Email [email protected] to submit some feedback.