Shira Lazar gathers top YouTube stars for site’s first telethon

Here’s another sign that YouTube (s GOOG) is becoming more and more like TV: The site is going to host its first telethon Thursday night, complete with live appearances from YouTubers and Hollywood stars alike. The event, dubbed Tube-A-Tweet-A-Thon Holiday Spectacular is organized by Shira Lazar and her What’s Trending show, and is meant to raise money for Covenant House, a charity for homeless youth. A live stream of the event will start at 6 p.m. PT.

Some of the people appearing at the event include iJustine, ShayCarl, Grace Helbig from DailyGrace, True Blood actress Janina Gavankar, actor Zachary Levi, American Idol’s Pia Toscano and Jared Lee as well as Caine Monroy of Caine’s Arcade. There is also going to be a live performance from Pentatonix, and the My Drunk Kitchen folks will show how to make eggnog. Most of the action will happen in What’s Trending’s Los Angeles studio, but some folks will be in New York as well.

Lazar called the event “inspired by telethons, but for the digital age” when I talked to her Wednesday. That means that some of the fundraising is also a bit more unconventional: What’s Trending sponsor Virgin Mobile has vowed to donate $1 for every tweet featuring the hashtag #Tubeathon, with a total commitment of $50,000.

The telethon isn’t officially endorsed or sponsored by Google, but it fits in quite well with the company’s mission to bring more professionally-produced content to YouTube — and it could foreshadow a change of focus towards live entertainment. “It is representing a changing landscape,” agreed Lazar, adding: “We are setting the bar, we are creating the foundation for this space right now.”

Lazar’s show What’s Trending underwent a change of focus a couple of months ago, when it switched from a general Internet pop culture focus to a daily format that highlights trends on YouTube. Lazar told me that the new format has been working well for her team, both in terms of viewership and partnerships with big brands. Part of this has to do with the fact that more and more YouTube viewers are discovering live programming on the site. “There is something about live that is very special,” said Lazar.