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Kovy Versus Czech Apathy

One YouTuber’s journey to inform Czech youth, stay true to his identity, and remain relevant online.

by Talia Wiener 13 May 2019

When Karel Kovar was a young boy, he spent evenings sitting on the floor of his home in Pardubice – a city of 90,000 about 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Prague, in the Czech Republic – playing with Legos and listening to the news on the radio. Multicolored airplanes and cars piled up in front of him as reporters spoke about the country’s latest stories.

 

Fifteen years later, Kovar continues to listen to the news. But he’s not a reporter or a newspaper editor. This 22-year-old, with coiffed hair and elf-like features, is known by the username “Kovy,” and is one of the most popular YouTubers in the Czech Republic.

 

With almost 150 million video views on YouTube and more than half a million Instagram followers, Kovar has become a familiar figure to young generations in the Czech Republic. But while most other Czech influencers focus their brands on gaming or fashion, Kovar has set himself apart, creating what he calls “infotainment” videos aimed at demystifying the news.

 

Taking inspiration from comedic news commentators such as John Oliver and Jon Stewart, Kovar combines a sharp sense of humor with the day’s biggest stories. In the Czech Republic, a country known for its cynicism, Kovar wants to make young people care about events happening around them.

 

“Traditional news has a problem capturing the interest of young people,” Kovar said. “I'm talking to them as a friend. I'm talking to them in their language.”

 

Kovy. Image via his Instagram.

 

Kovar’s YouTube career began when he and a friend recorded and uploaded videos of themselves playing the popular video game Minecraft. But the two high-schoolers quickly realized that this type of content was not going to garner any attention.

 

“No one watched it because everyone was playing Minecraft,” said Kovar. “We started doing parodies, which was something new, something different. People noticed us.”

 

Kovar’s friend decided to stop making videos, but he continued, slowly gaining new subscribers. A parody of “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor, titled “All About That New Year!” – in which Kovar dons a blonde wig, a blue dress, and a flower crown to dance in front of the camera – racked up thousands of views.

 

Kovar, who now has more than 760,000 subscribers, remembers the moment when he reached his first 300 subscribers.

 

“It was more shocking to me than 100,000 subscribers because 300 people is something you can imagine,” said Kovar. “It was the first moment I realized I'm actually doing something people care about and want to watch.”

 

By August 2017, Kovar’s channel had more than half a million subscribers. The 15-year-olds who had subscribed looking for a laugh were getting older and their tastes were changing, he said. He felt a pressure to create videos that would inform his viewers, not just make them smile.

 

“If I'm talking to so many people, I should be talking about something important,” he said.

 

Getting Serious

 

Kovar noticed that complicated headlines and convoluted articles were making it hard to understand the news. The videos on Kovar’s channel began to change. Wigs and silly voices made way for explanations of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies, fake news, and Article 13 (part of the EU Copyright Directive, Article 13 is aimed at governing how online content sharing services address copyrighted content).

 

These “infotainment” videos required a new level of commitment from Kovar. In April 2018, he released a video explaining the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal. Kovar’s tenor voice narrates the 12-minute video, cracking jokes and offering a seamless breakdown of the news story. What the viewers did not see on the screen were the more than 30 hours of preparation by the YouTuber before he pressed the “Publish Video” button.

 

In addition to changing the content of his videos, Kovar began to open up to his subscribers on a more personal level.

 

Kovy at the UN Youth Forum. Image via his Instagram.

 

The video Kovar posted on 4 March 2017 made waves in the Czech Republic.

 

“Coming Out,” an almost eight-minute video, showed Kovar sitting uncharacteristically still in front of the camera, speaking about coming out to his parents, the fear of losing subscribers, and breaking down stereotypes.

 

Kovar ended the video by addressing those who might be struggling with their own sexuality.

 

“I want you to know that even though you may be in surroundings right now where you don’t feel safe or brave enough or ready enough to share this fact, there’s going to be the right moment one day,” said Kovar in the 2017 video. “You will be happy.”

 

All of this in a country where same-sex marriage is not legal and public figures rarely emphasize their sexuality.

 

While Kovar says the “Coming Out” video and his openness may have lost him subscribers, those are not people he wants watching his videos.

 

For 11-year-old Stepanka, a Czech girl who runs a fan page for Kovar on Instagram with more than 500 followers, the “Coming Out” video provided insight into the YouTuber’s character.

 

“My favorite video is ‘Coming Out,’ because it’s really brave to admit [sexual] orientation to 700,000 people,” said Stepanka through an Instagram message.

 

Kovar’s candid communication is what fans like Stepanka enjoy most. Though she began her fan page as a ploy to be noticed by Kovar, the Instagram account has become a source of community for her, a community united by a love for the YouTuber.

 

“I found a lot of friends who also own Kovy fan pages,” said Stepanka. “They support me, and I am very happy about it.”

 

In the past few years, Kovar has expanded his work beyond YouTube. In 2017, he was one of three European YouTubers selected to meet and interview the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. In early 2019, Kovar released a series of educational videos in collaboration with People in Need, a non-profit humanitarian relief organization, helping high-schoolers with media literacy.

 

Moving On?

 

Kovar plans to continue making YouTube videos, but recognizes that he must continue to try new things. He has watched fellow creators producing the same content year after year, losing their motivation and subscribers. Kovar has learned to embrace the challenge and finds it to be one of his favorite parts of the job.

 

“When I feel this out-of-comfort-zone feeling in my body, that's when I know I'm doing the right thing.” said Kovar. “I'm trying to do that as much as possible.”

 

While many parts of Kovar’s job as a YouTuber seem exciting, he acknowledges that it can often be stressful. Many young fans watch Kovar traveling to foreign countries and meeting famous people and do not realize that those moments only represent a small portion of his time.

 

Alice Nemcova Tejkalova, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Charles University in Prague, notes that young people often get swept up in what they see as the glamorous lives of influencers.

 

“Influencers promote interesting lifestyles for many young people,” Tejkalova wrote in an email. “Youngsters want to shine, want to be visible, often being unaware of the dark sides of popularity, abusive comments, haters, loss of privacy, etc.”

 

For Kovar, the hardest part of his job is separating work from his personal life. With no set schedule, he finds it hard to spend time with friends or family without thinking about his next video.

 

“This thing that can seem like a dream job for many young people can really easily turn into a nightmare,” Kovar said.

 

But for now, the YouTuber is happy. Kovar loves his job, his fans, and the freedom he is given online.

 

“When I am bored by YouTube, I will quit it instantly,” said Kovar. “But it is a free platform, and no one is telling me what to do and what not to do.”

Talia Wiener is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in Storytelling and New Media, with a minor in History. She is an editorial intern at TOL this semester. She has a particular interest in covering activism and digital communities.
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