YouTube Channel Pancake Manor a Success for Victoria Couple
By Michael D. Reid for the Vancouver Sun
From the moment you step into their sweet, modest home near Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital, the irony hits you like a sucker punch. For a couple whose creative collaborations have become a sensation on the Internet — their YouTube music video channel Pancake Manor had 25 million views at last count — Billy Reid and Reb Stevenson live a surprisingly retro existence.
Despite being at the forefront of digitized children’s entertainment, neither owns a smartphone. Their sole phone — a wired black rotary model — sits on a living-room table.
This is where they create the magic for their online children’s series featuring puppets Zach, the orange character who could be related to Sesame Street’s Bert, and Reggie, his purple pal, as inquisitive as Big Bird but with a personality all his own.
“Hopefully, [Sesame Street] can deal with a little competition,” says Reid, whose characters take flight in a cardboard box, love pancakes and sing about shapes, ABCs, how to count and so on in a manner that parents can enjoy as much as their kids.
Pancake Manor has become so popular it’s now being released on DVD and CD, which can be purchased separately or as a package on their website.
“Teachers are now using YouTube as a teaching aid and iPads are becoming more commonplace. And we’re seeing a large number of our views coming from tablets.”
Reid and Stevenson, his conceptual collaborator who does most of the primary cinematography and occasionally plays “mama” in the videos, say they’ve been both surprised and moved by reaction from fans in places from Ireland to Istanbul. “It makes you want to weep,” Stevenson says, referring to a touching video posted in their website’s Superfan section by schoolchildren from Turkey singing and dancing to a Pancake Manor video their teacher plays. “It’s become so global.”
Before he moved home last year, the Victoria native, a self-taught musician at age 20 who credits his older sister with inspiring him to learn guitar, co-hosted CBC’s shorts program Exposure.
He made a name for himself during YouTube’s infancy, posting music and videos to his Very Tasteful channel before venturing into the musical puppets arena.
An early adopter of YouTube, Reid began posting music and videos online after studying at Victoria’s now-defunct Canadian College of Film and Acting. He posted his early “silly songs and videos” on ZeD, CBC’s cross-platform creative showcase that Reid says was “way ahead of its time,” before gaining a profile on YouTube in the days it would feature individuals.
After Reid met his Parksville-raised partner through her brother, actor-musician Zach Stevenson, in 2008, a romantic and creative partnership was born.
A graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program, Stevenson was a photojournalist at the Ottawa Citizen, wrote a travel column for the Toronto Star and created video content for canada.com before fate intervened.
“You’ve got to do kids’ stuff,” she told him after they collaborated on an online advertisement for Pop Tarts.
When YouTube chose four of Reid’s videos to feature online in 2007, it marked the beginning of a beautiful relationship with Google’s video-hosting site, which selected Reid to produce Olympics-themed clips for a Live in London promotion.
“YouTube had suddenly become this hotbed of personalities and TV shows,” recalls Stevenson, 35, whose contributions are largely visual.
“You can do a lot with a little,” she says. “When SLR [single-lens reflex cameras] became video-capable, it changed my life.”
And you can do it locally, they insist.