Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen that the television, movie and music industries have come under fire for various scandals. Whether it’s unfair compensation, Bill Cosby’s trial or the actresses from Smallville allegedly playing a role in a sex cult called NXIVM, the entertainment industry is never short of stories about how celebrities and management use their positions of power to neglect, mistreat or outright abuse others. One industry that remains largely untouched by larger news outlets however, is the YouTube community.
Channel Awesome (CA), formerly named ThatGuyWithTheGlasses, is a site and channel with a variety of different contributors, most notably Nostalgia Critic. Over the years, Channel Awesome has lost a large portion of their content creators and employees, and in early April a group of them clarified their stances.
In a 73-page Google Doc, 21 former Channel Awesome contributors and employees (not all content creators were paid or had contracts, their videos were just embedded on the site) detail what they allege occurred during their time on the site and channel. It is impossible to tackle all that was discussed throughout the document, so I will try to write about what I feel are the most pressing accusations.
Mike Ellis, former CFO of Channel Awesome, enacted sexual misconduct and abuse. Allegedly Ellis faced no disciplinary action until over a year had passed. Holly Brown, who worked for Channel Awesome’s Human Resources, wrote the following in the document about Ellis: “Mike Ellis was upset that I would not pursue a relationship with him (he was married) and that I brought certain severe mismanagement (legal boundary here) to light. In a previous meeting, there was nearly a fist fight between him and Michaud. I’m sad that I probably threw away the handwritten notes that were taken when Ellis was threatening to fire me. There were some real gems in there.” Later Mike Ellis allegedly, “got [her] fired and CA put [her] in a safe house for a few days because they were concerned he would come after [her].”
Sean Fausz, known as Epic Fail, said that a two-hour conversation with Ellis took place where Ellis asked him personal details about his sexuality and then, “went on to telling [him] all the things he wanted to do to [him], the things he wanted [him] to do to [Ellis].”
A female contributor, who wished to remain anonymous and is referred to as Jane Doe in the document, claims management knew of a producer who sexually abused her, was aware for a year and did nothing in response. Two other individuals also spoke of this person’s abuse but the document states that, “whether management knew about them was unknown.” Eighteen-year-old Jane Doe, with the self-proclaimed “mind of a 16-year-old AT BEST” said this contributor “groomed her” by telling her how she should kiss and have sex with him. She said it wasn’t until she read a pamphlet on child grooming techniques that she identified what he was doing was wrong.
Lindsay Ellis (no relation to Mike Ellis), who now runs her own YouTube channel, detailed that there was “a streak of harassment against female contributors. The worst case that involved [her] resulted in an extended case with the NYPD. This was not the only incidence of harassment that went unremarked upon by CA. There was a rash of harassment against CA producers between 2013 and 2014, mostly women, which was never acknowledged or condemned by CA.”
Also mentioned in this document was former content producer Dan Olson who went on Medium and wrote about, “8-chan’s willful complicity in child pornography.” It says due to this, conspiracy theorists continue to target Olson by claiming he’s a child pornographer for this journalistic endeavor.
Eventually Mike Michaud, Channel Awesome’s current CEO, caught wind of this. Lindsay said the following: “To be clear, Dan did nothing wrong, but was blamed by Michaud (and by extension, so was I) for attracting ‘controversy’ from people who are somehow threatened by outing [a] website that enable[s] child pornographers.” She also said that this was just one of several harassment claims against producers that Channel Awesome refused to publicly comment on.
Michaud was labeled as “unprofessional, aggressive, immature, difficult and misogynistic” by 11 different people. Jacob Chapman, screen name JesuOtaku, said that for criticizing the site, Michaud wanted him fired. Critique after critique of Michaud’s management style are littered throughout the document, ranging from his incompetence and miscommunication to blatant negligence and insults. Specific shoots such as “To Boldly Flee” were regarded as being handled irresponsibly and insensitively. Contributors claim they weren’t informed of large moves the site was making. The accusations are too numerous for me to capture all of them in the length of this article.
After this document was published, Channel Awesome’s Twitter account released a statement which said, “For the people who have spoken out about past instances they deemed hurtful, or unprofessional, we sincerely regret you felt that way … When the need arose, we have distanced ourselves from people who were particularly callous, letting go of significant stakeholders in the interest of keeping our mission at the forefront.”
The statement further says that while they are “actively taking internal steps to better improve communication with our producers” they disagree with statements made in the document. “We’re open to constructive criticism,” the statement says, “But criticism that isn’t a means to a productive end does little for either the party criticizing or those in the line of fire.”
Additionally, the Channel Awesome site has a page that targets a few of the accusations made in the document. The page lists accusations followed by their “facts.” For example, they state that after Fausz’s conversation with Ellis and upon Ellis’ resignation no contract was attempted from Machaud. Additionally, they counter the claims from female contributors that allege a misogynistic work atmosphere at Channel Awesome.
This whole story has taught me a couple of things. First, Channel Awesome needs a real public relations person. Desperately. Second, the YouTube community is a facet of the entertainment community that has been too-long overlooked. Web content creators, unlike celebrities in the movie, television and music industries, have significantly fewer resources to defend themselves against mistreatment. Hopefully the actions of this group of former Channel Awesome contributors and employees can teach producers everywhere to remember their worth and never underestimate the power of their voices.