Fifteen-year-old Anthony Quintal, better known to millions of online fans as Lohanthony, has a manager, a PR team and may earn upward of six figures this year for posting sassy video blogs on YouTube.
Welcome to show business in the digital age.
Quintal is one of about two dozen social media stars appearing at an event this weekend in Rosemont, a sign of the shifting center of gravity from traditional to new media, especially among younger consumers.
SocialCon, held Saturday and Sunday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, features young YouTube, Vine, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook mainstays for performances, panel discussions and one-on-one interactions with fans. Persons over 18 may need to be accompanied by a minor to get a clue.
"When I meet my fans in person, their parents are usually there and they don't get it at all," Quintal said. "They have no idea why people are watching me or what's going on. It's definitely cool to be part of this new generation and have people who actually do understand it."
He and his mother, Monica Quintal, flew into Chicago for their first visit Thursday on the wings of a social media phenomenon that is shaking up the traditional entertainment ecosystem. Young adults spend about 14 hours a week on the Internet on computers and smart phones, with much of it spent watching videos and using apps, according to a recent study by Nielsen. That's nearly two-thirds the time spent on traditional TV.
The entertainment paradigm shift has led to a new crop of social media stars, whose power and promise is beginning to translate into big business.
Digital ad spending is expected to top $50 billion this year, or nearly 30 percent of total U.S. ad spending, according to eMarketer. While TV still has the largest slice of the ad spending pie at 38 percent, the research firm projects it will be surpassed by digital within four years.
It also has given rise to firms like Los Angeles-based Fullscreen, which has assembled and nurtured its own talent roster of some 80 homegrown YouTube stars. Founded in 2011, Fullscreen has a subscriber base of 425 million and generates more than 3.5 billion monthly video views, according to the company.
The company markets its stars through commercial sales, sponsorships, product placements and appearances, such as this weekend's event.
Quintal is among their youngest clients, and a new Hollywood discovery story. The Massachusetts native began posting videos to YouTube about five years ago, mostly out of "boredom," he said, essentially for his own amusement. He started his YouTube channel in January 2012.
"It didn't happen progressively, it just happened with one video and people just started watching," Quintal said.
In June 2012, Lohanthony produced a viral nine-second gem, "Calling All The Basic Bitches," where he twirls one leg, decked out with blue sunglasses, pink suspenders and green tights, chanting what has since become his "basic" catchphrase, a response to people who, Quintal describes as "generic and don't do their own thing."
Andrew Graham, a 25-year-old talent manager at Fullscreen, noticed Lohanthony's burgeoning fan base and pitched the opportunity to turn his videos into a profession.
Quintal was immediately sold. His mother was skeptical.
"I thought it was a scam," said Monica Quintal, 45. "I would hang up on them, I told them to stop calling me."
After much pursuit, she agreed to be flown out to Hollywood in May 2013, where mother and son were wined and dined and dazzled by visits to Ryan Seacrest Productions and other studios. They signed a deal with Fullscreen two months later.
Working with Fullscreen has opened doors, with appearances on network TV shows such as Tosh.0 last September. His YouTube subscriber base has grown from 150,000 to nearly 1.3 million since inking the deal.
"Our team went and put together (Tosh.0) for him," Graham said. "Tosh had been trying to get in contact with Anthony for the longest time."
The company also had helped monetize Lohanthony, selling sponsorship packages, including product placements. The so-called "shout outs" have Lohanthony hawking the goods within the context of his weekly YouTube videos.
Sponsorship packages also include tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, which Lohanthony shares with his million-plus followers.
Fullscreen also sells pre-roll commercials to pair with the YouTube videos, filled in with Google-placed ads as well. The company takes a share of revenue ranging from 10 to 30 percent, according to Graham.
In his first year since turning pro, Lohanthony earned nearly $50,000, a figure expected to double this year, according to his mother, who says they are launching a branded clothing line within weeks.
Quintal just finished his freshman year at Salem High School in Salem, New Hampshire, near his Massachusetts home. That may change this fall with plans to relocate to Los Angeles to begin pursuing more traditional entertainment media such as TV and movies. Quintal will be home-schooled via the Internet, to free up more time for his career.
Graham confirmed that six-figure incomes are in reach for his clients, who range in age from teens to early 30s. He left a junior development position with FremantleMedia, which produces such TV shows as "American Idol" and "X Factor," to work with the YouTube stars in that nascent entertainment media.
"It offered a lot more upside for growth, and the opportunity to be able to work with a new creative class at a company that was doing really exciting things," Graham said.
Events such as SocialCon are part of the profit center for YouTube stars.
In addition to an appearance fee, Quintal gets a share of ticket sales and add-ons. Beyond the $44.99 daily admission fee, a meet and greet with Lohanthony costs an additional $51.99, an autograph is $16.96 and a photo op is $28.07, according to the event's website.
SocialCon is produced by Wizard World, a Los Angeles-based company that holds Comic Cons and pop culture conventions across the U.S. The two-day event features everyone from Vine video producer Princess Lauren to boy band "Far Young," which likely describes the projected attendees.
For a video blogger such as Lohanthony, the meet-and-greet is what his fans — mostly tween and teenaged girls — are eagerly seeking, according to Graham.
"Being in the same room is quite enough," Graham said. "They are very, very close to these people because they watch them in their bedroom, the creators create things in their bedroom. Having that one-on-one connection for a fan, that is the performance."