Where you watch your videos!
The largest video distributor the internet has to offer, YouTube produces roughly 250 hours of watchable content, that attract over 4 billion views every month. This free to access platform can be used to upload, download, view and share by anyone with full anonymity (McFadden, 2019). With the entertainment industry having gone through several technological advancements, political changes, and multiple generations of customers, the transformative effects over the last two decades are unmatched. Over 70% of all US adults interact with the platform and by 2018, roughly 5 billion Android devices had the YouTube application installed on them. The platform is worth over US$150 billion and the company only originated in 2005 (Iqbal, 2019). It is safe to assume that YouTube is one of the most successful social media platforms on the planet. This is despite having competitors such as Vimeo, Metacafe and Netflix, none of them have the userbase and community that YouTube has harvested, and this is purely due to how the platform innovates and engages with its users.
The history of the largest free-to-use video platform on the planet
Three PayPal employees founded YouTube and eventually launched the platform in June 2005. The three founders were Chad Hurley, Jawed Karim and Steve Chen who were all based in California, United States of America (Burgess & Green, 2013). Around the time of the initial launch, there were several other competitors attempting to offer the same easy to access, widespread online video streaming and sharing services. However, the simple user-friendly interface that supported standard website browsers were a key selling point of YouTube. Furthermore, the platform provided the community with basic functions to interact with each other, as well as being able to encode their videos into their individual third-party websites or blogs (Burgess & Green, 2013).
“Video, we felt, really wasn’t being addressed on the Internet” – Chad Hurley, YouTube co-founder (McFadden, 2019).
According to Hurley, the biggest issue with ideas surrounding video sharing on the internet, was it was too complex and that is where YouTube makes the difference (McFadden, 2019). The sense of community was created by just this one concept of being able to share videos with ease. The views, the likes, the viral videos and comments are what make YouTube so successful today.
However, it all needed to start somewhere. Within the first month of YouTube being released as a beta version, YouTube co-founder, Karim, uploaded the first video. A 19-second clip of Karim talking about elephants in the San Diego zoo. It was soon followed by the first YouTube video to go viral, a Nike advertisement that attracted over a million views within the first year of the platform’s launch (McFadden, 2019). This is ideal for this conversation because someone found an innovative way of marketing their brand which is now an idea that dominates the digital marketing industry and is crucial to YouTube’s capital gain. Having seen this potential for advertising, it should not be a surprise that a company as big as Google decided to acquire the platform for US$1.65 billion a year later (Burgess & Green, 2013). This investment is what widened the gap between YouTube and its competitors. Before YouTube described themselves, it was hard to categories the platform’s use beyond its video sharing capabilities because it genuinely offered a sense of community, advancements in technology, ability to share fact, and freedom to create hoaxes. But that is precisely what YouTube has become to the internet, upload what you want and share what you like.
The first ever YouTube Video:
YouTube’s Business Model
The platform relies on user created content to run, and the mass popularity it gained was mostly due to the unlimited free access that YouTube provided. According to a study, more than 90% of 18-to-49-year-old individuals us YouTube for free while most do not pay for a television subscription (Reichert, 2019). However, the platform failed to actually generate revenue in the initial years before Google’s takeover (Dijck, 2013). In order to maintain an unlimited free access platform while treating YouTube as a business, Google decided to capitalise on user-generated methods of profiting. The same year in which Google took over YouTube, the multinational technology company indulged in search engine advertising. This was carried over to YouTube, where tailored advertisements were suggested to users based on their viewing activity. Furthermore, content creators on YouTube were offered services to promote their videos to be featured to users in the form of suggestions on both the Google search engine and YouTube’s recommended page (Dijck, 2013).
So how exactly are heavily invested content creators benefiting from uploading their videos on YouTube? Apart from being the most popular video streaming site on the planet, YouTube implemented a ‘Partnership Program’ that splits collected advertising revenue with the content creator. This saw uploading videos on YouTube as a genuine career to many producers. This way, without having to invest a lot into creating content, YouTube just has to share a percentage of the advertising revenue they make from other people’s creations.
YouTube Premium is another service that offers advertisement free content and other benefits such as YouTube produced exclusive series (to compete with Netflix) and high quality music streaming (McCamy, 2019).
Here’s a trailer of a YouTube original series available with a Premium subscription:
They run, support and compete against the platform
Despite the top competitor Netflix catching up, YouTube still generates the most revenue with considerably less funding as you can see in the figure below (Owler, 2019). Nevertheless, Vimeo is the closest competing platform with regards to the similarities in what the two platforms have to offer as a service. But as you can see, Vimeo generates more than US$19 billion less than YouTube (Owler, 2019).
A look at the transformative effects that YouTube has had on us
Generally looking at new social media platforms that have an influx of users, we can see cultures change, cease or even be introduced. However, the extent of YouTube’s popularity goes beyond just a change in cultural behaviours, it has transformed society and its individuals through the influence of a new way of communicating. YouTube provides an easy to distribute video service that was not previously available to the general public before its existence. The ability to reach a large audience using a form of media that is easy to engage with is what makes the difference in voicing one’s opinion on YouTube compared to traditional media platforms (Dwyer & Martin, 2017). The greater the reach and the wider the demographic, the more influence one viral video can have on something such as a controversial political debate. As a majority of the content on YouTube is produced by users that aren’t generally affiliated with large corporations, the less formal approach towards a social, political or economic issue can have a more relatable influence on the viewer (Burgess & Green, 2013). These content creators could represent a certain ideology, culture, ethnic group or gender and they would have the same power and platform to voice their opinions.
On the other hand, public pressure has forced YouTube into moving towards a pro-censorship wing. YouTube which is meant to be a place for limitless video content sharing has begun having limits due to PR related reasons. Popular YouTube Steven Crowder allegedly made inappropriate references to a Vox journalist, Carlos Maza, regarding his sexual orientation. Despite homophobic harassment claims, YouTube believed the video did not violate any of their policies. However, due to the broader context of the “homophobic references”, YouTube would be taking actions (Bicheno, 2019). This is an example of how serious voicing opinions on YouTube could get, where a billion-dollar company must take a stand on political issues, and content creators have to think about the consequences of what they say on the platform before it actually encourages hate within society.
Carlos Maza and Steven Crowder controversy:
Credit: CNN Business.
However, not everything has to be a matter of political, or economic influences. Popular culture has found a home on YouTube. The platform has the ability to not only generate pop-culture, but it can also amplify existing forms of it. Over the last decade, due to YouTube’s substantial growth in viewership, content creators can pursue their interests within mainstream pop-culture and still attract viewers (Reichert, 2019). For example, several content creators on YouTube such as PewDiePie and Fitz established their careers through creating videos based on popular videogames. On the other hand, individuals such as Ninja who begun their videogame-based content creation on other platforms like Twitch, also created a YouTube channel to reach the variety audience that thrives on pop-culture.
YouTube no longer what it once was?
Although YouTube’s aim was to enhance the cyberspace through making video sharing easier, the platform as a business was run differently. Some may even suggest that YouTube was structured as a business first before the community media aspect of it developed (Burgess & Green, 2013). Either way, a few years into its success, the platform saw a change in hierarchical ordering of community-focused social networking to viewer-based profiting (Dijck, 2013). There were several popular YouTube creators who expressed their concern with regards to user-interface changes and differences in overall consumer experiences. User-generated content had seen an increasing amount of legal issues with regards to copyright laws and “stolen content”. What started out as a platform that was dominated by original content has now been taken over by professional production companies which slowly makes it just another alternative to traditional television media (Dijck, 2013).
As discussed before, YouTube generates a majority of its profit from advertising revenue. In order to keep profiting without any legal implications, YouTube does things in their best interest instead of protecting the user. For example, if the user was to upload a video, but a small clip of a popular song is included, the original copyright owner would instead become the person who shares the advertising revenue with YouTube instead of the person who actually uploaded the video (Dijck, 2013). In addition to this, YouTube over the last few years have had pressure from advertisers to not use their advertisements on videos that may seem inappropriate. This includes the use of insensitive language which at times could be subjective. In response, YouTube began to demonetise videos that do not follow the advertiser’s criteria, and the creators who rely on the platform for their careers, would not receive any income for that particular video (Alexander, 2018). YouTube began as a community that just wanted a platform to share videos on. However, copyright, advertising revenue and the general commercialisation of an innovative concept has highlighted the issues that the internet faces, directly reflecting the problems we experience in reality.
Here’s a video of YouTuber, Casey Neistat discussing free speech and censorship with regards to PewDiePie’s infamous controversy:
Credit: Casey Neistat
It is hard to blame YouTube for their revenue focussed goals as of late, as a business, it would fail if it did not. We have to look at it this way, you could record yourself, upload a video, and millions of people could view your video in a matter of hours, all that for free. How a person decides to use the platform is up to them, which was the basis of the whole structure of the company, but as society becomes more aware and sensitive, it is YouTube’s responsibility as one of the largest social media platforms, to ensure there is the perfect balance between free speech and opinions.
Alexander, J. (2018, May). The Yellow $: a comprehensive history of demonetization and YouTube’s war with creators. Retrieved from https://www.polygon.com/2018/5/10/17268102/youtube-demonetization-pewdiepie-logan-paul-casey-neistat-philip-defranco.
Burgess, J., & Green, J. (2009). Youtube : Online video and participatory culture. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au
Martin, F., & Dwyer, T. (2019). Sharing news online : Commendary cultures and social media news ecologies. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au
McCamy, L. (2019, August). ‘What is YouTube Premium?’: Everything you need to know about YouTube’s ad-free streaming service. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-youtube-premium/?r=AU&IR=T.
McFadden, C. (2019, October). A Brief History of the Internet Giant YouTube. Retrieved from https://interestingengineering.com/youtube-its-history-and-impact-on-the-internet.
Owler (2019). YouTube’s Competitors, Revenue, Number of Employees, Funding and Acquisitions. Retrieved from https://www.owler.com/company/youtube
Reichert, N. (2019, April). How has YouTube affected society and pop culture? Retrieved from https://medium.com/@notnick271/how-has-youtube-affected-society-and-pop-culture-9d02947136b7.
van Dijck, J. (2013-01-30). YouTube: The Intimate Connection between Television and Video Sharing. In The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 Nov. 2019, from https://www-oxfordscholarship-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199970773.001.0001/acprof-9780199970773-chapter-6.