YouTube: Under The Microscope

YouTube application screengrab by Christian Wiediger in 2018 on Unsplash with an Unsplash License.

YouTube, the world’s largest video hosting webpage, has been known to redefine the economic, social and political environment.

The platform has transformed social behaviour, breaking down barriers between cultures, inciting global change and reconceiving modern entertainment. Economically, YouTube has transformed the entertainment industry, democratising creative film jobs and making them more accessible. YouTube has ignited discussion surrounding the need for regulation online, and has inspired policies in the European Union that make the platform for accountable. YouTube’s platform design, as being an unrestricted, free video streaming and hosting website was innovative and revolutionised social media entertainment as people knew it (O’Neill, 2010).

YouTube’s Genesis

YouTube falls into the social media category, due to its interactive features that encourage its users to comment on videos, subscribe to creators and like or dislike content.

Photo of ‘subscribe’ banner by Public Domain Pictures under a CC0 Public Domain License.

Beyond being a social media platform, YouTube acts as an unrestricted video hosting site that enables individuals who have made accounts to upload their video content to a global audience.

YouTube was developed in 2005 by its founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim who were inspired to create a platform where regular individuals were able to upload their videos (Zanatta, 2017). They later sold the concept to Google for 1.6 billion dollars, becoming the most popular video platform on the internet (ibid).

Ownership and business models

In 2005, Hurley, Chen and Karim developed the YouTube software with the objective to provide a platform where everyday individuals were able to upload and host their own video and creative content (Zanatta, 2017). This was a transformative move in democratising the entertainment industry and opening entrepreneurial opportunities for all to build a career in film. Google’s considerable purchase of the platform led YouTube to become the second largest social media site, contributing to the growth in popularity of social media as a whole (Zanatta, 2017).

With Google as the sole owner of YouTube, they managed to alter the entertainment industry, with pioneers and creative entrepreneurs wanting to capitalise on the highly accessible, complimentary video-hosting service. Due to the free-to-use format of YouTube, they rely predominately on an advertisement-based business model to generate their significant revenue (Parra, 2016). In fact, YouTube recorded an advertisement revenue of $3.36 billion in 2018 alone (Iqbal, 2019). The features on YouTube that facilitate this business model and assist in the accumulation of this income are (Dutta, 2019):

  • Sponsored Videos
  • Embedded Advertisements
  • Landing Page Advertisements

Additionally, YouTube work off a subscription-based business model to breakeven with features such as: YouTube Premium, Channel Membership, and YouTube TV (Dutta, 2019).

Platform Ecology

YouTube has a multitude of different interdependent agents within its entertainment ecology. This system is made up of competitors – both from a video streaming perspective and social media perspective -, business partners, owners and founders, internal policies and external regulation, and its aggregation of users.

Within its industry, YouTube has a reputation of superiority, being Google’s second largest social media platform and the primary online provider for video streaming (Zanatta, 2017). Thus, it fits within a complex and well-established ecology of well-regarded businesses and dependents.

YouTube’s relative intermediaries are classified according to their role of “offering assistance in diverse areas ranging from production to monetisation” (VAST MEDIA in Cunningham et al., 2016).

In terms of business partnerships, YouTube works with a multitude of other companies to ensure that their monetisation strategy is successful. Majority of these businesses are global entertainment partners and assist with the success of YouTube by facilitating the growth of content creators’ channels and encouraging popular talents and celebrities to debut their work on the video hosting platform. Some of these intermediaries include (Cunningham, Craig & Silver, 2016):

  • Fullscreen
  • Vevo
  • Maker Studios
  • Style Haul

In terms of ownership, Google and Alphabet exercise control over YouTube as a business. The partnership between Google and YouTube began due to the potential for the platform to turn into a “lucrative marketing hub as more viewers and advertisers migrate from television to the internet” (NBC, 2006). Google was able to identify YouTube’s possibility for success and foresaw the transformative impact it had on society. As a result, YouTube is in a partnership with Alphabet – a supporting network of businesses that aims for prosperity through leadership (Alphabet, 2019).

YouTube utilises internal self-regulation through their strict user policy to ensure that all content remains neutral. Some of the conduct and content that is deemed unacceptable by YouTube is (YouTube, 2019):

  • Nudity or sexual content
  • Harmful or dangerous content
  • Hateful content
  • Violent or graphic content
  • Harassment and cyberbullying
  • Spam, misleading metadata, and scams
  • Threats
  • Copyright
  • Breach of privacy
  • Impersonation

Whilst YouTube has employees who regulate the content, they primarily rely on community members to report any breaches to their guidelines. This reliance has generated considerable controversy, with people calling for “platform responsibility” and to be held accountable for instances where YouTube does not consistently enforce their guidelines (Coustick-Deal, 2018).

Users on YouTube consist of channel-holders and viewers – two distinct categories. Throughout the rise in popularity of YouTube, it has been used by viewers for particular reasons, with certain content reigning as more sought-after than others. Thus, channel-holders, or ‘producers’ – tailor their content to the needs of these viewers in order to ensure the success of their channel (Anderson, 2019). These popular videos include (ibid):

  • Product reviews videos
  • How-to videos
  • Vlogs
  • Unboxing videos


Original photo by Tahlia Noake.


Transforming The Industry

YouTube has proven to have a significant transformative impact on the social, political and economic aspects of internet use. However, particularly economic – with the sheer popularity of this platform enticing industries to monetise it, allowing channels that started as a pastime to develop into a source of income for content creators (Holland, 2016).

The mass audience that uses YouTube has been critical in creating the opportunity for the average individual to create their own “personal brand” by producing popular content and collaborating with notable figures and brands (Holland, 2016, p.53). Thus, YouTube has had a remarkable economic impact on the entertainment industry, redefining and democratising the criteria to build a mass following and introducing an innovative job opportunity for creative entrepreneurs.

Photo of two women filming by CoWomen in 2019 from Unsplash under the Unsplash License.


The Platform’s Social Impact

YouTube has become a platform for transmitting social influence through online interactions and behaviour (Susarla, Oh & Tan, 2012). Research has indicated that YouTube has provoked a preference of conformity in online communities, and these networks ultimately directing opinion formation (ibid). Thus, a pattern of social conformity has been detected along with the rise in popularity of YouTube, with social behaviour determining which videos and content become more popular for certain audiences (ibid).

This highlights that YouTube has a more complex purpose than simply democratising the entertainment industry. In fact, academics have acknowledged the platform as “a seamless transition between traditional mass communication activity and social connection activity” (Haridakis & Hanson cited in Chan, 2011). Features on YouTube that facilitate this social interaction, are the commenting functions that encourages discussion, and the subscribing mentality that builds a community (Chan, 2011).

Additionally, a sub-culture has been observed on YouTube as the channel-holders – or ‘YouTubers’ – have maintained an online social network by “supporting, conversing with, and collaborating with other dedicated users” (Chan, 2011, p. 8). Consequently, it is evident that YouTube has transformed the way people relate socially, with YouTube users displaying a habit of conformity influencing the type of content that is published on the platform, and ‘YouTubers’ fostering online communities and large followings by engaging through YouTube’s interactive features.


Innovative Business Model or Mimicking?

Whilst YouTube was the first successful video streaming and hosting service of its kind, it did not introduce its adopted business model. Adopting an advertisement-based business model to monetise their company, YouTube follow in the footsteps of many other complimentary online services.

Popular social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram follow similar revenue making models that rely on advertising to generate their success. With social media platforms it is considered almost impossible to force users to pay for access – in this field, market dominance can shift in a relatively short amount of time if users are unsatisfied with their experience (Falch et al., 2009).

Thus, charging external businesses for advertising space on YouTube is their primary source of revenue, and a reliable strategy due to the significant amount of traffic on these platforms with 1.9 billion users worldwide (Mohsin, 2019).


Mobilising Social Change

Social media sites, such as YouTube, have been instrumental in mobilising social change as they have given a voice to those that previously struggled to be heard (Mendes, 2014). According to research, social media platforms provide critical aspects to the assembling social change. These are (Mendes, 2014):

  • Communication
  • Organisation
  • Mobilisation
  • Validation
  • Scope enlargement

A particularly notable aspect of YouTube in enabling social change is that it is able to bypass any partial and official sources of information due to its democratised form, giving complete power to ordinary citizens to provoke social change (Mendes, 2014).

The accessibility of YouTube in itself is a significant social change, in terms of the circulation of information. Prior to the genesis of these social media platforms, information and mobilisation was instigated by traditional media sources, that were a rigid top-down vertical structure of communication (Mendes, 2014). Whilst the change in media hasn’t changed the notion that social mobilisation happens, it has transformed the platform on which the mobilisation occurs, giving each individual an opportunity to play a part in social movements (Mendes, 2014).


Is There A Need For Regulation?

The European Union’s creation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) prompted discussion about the necessity to hold social media platforms accountable for any breaches in their users’ online privacy. Additionally, the European Union’s introduction of the Copyright Directive – which includes an attributing link tax and makes social media platforms responsible for ensuring their users are not infringing copyright laws – sparked controversy for YouTube (Doctorow, 2019).

Under their current framework, YouTube allows remixed copyright material to be shared on the platform, however the Copyright Directive will apply a stricter filter for this content, making YouTube more liable (Alexander, 2018). YouTube’s reproduction leniency under the Fair Use Act spurred legislation such as this to come into discussion, as it has been observed that social media platforms have inspired a generation of remix culture (Alexander, 2018).


To conclude, YouTube has become a transformative element in the social media and video streaming ecosystem. Being a pioneer software, it prompted consistent social, economic and political change within society. A complimentary platform, YouTube facilitated creative entrepreneurs in their venture to generate a ‘personal brand’, earning income from posting engaging videos online. It has also become an instrument for mobilising social change, with its immediacy and spread. However, the leniency and accessibility of YouTube prompted regulation change in some countries to protect the creative work of online users.



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