It is now ten years since three ex-PayPal employees, Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, founded a phenomenon that would revolutionise how we experience media content. Now a Google company, YouTube is available in 61 countries and languages, with 100 hours of video uploaded every minute.
The international accessibility of YouTube brings in 1 billion unique users each month, reaching more US adults aged 18-34 than any cable network. It is this demographic of viewers that consider themselves the YouTube generation, witnessing its growth from the home of silly cat videos to the gateway of a world of original content.
The sites slogan ‘Broadcast Yourself’ is an undiscriminating command, and as the Washington Post commented in 2012, YouTube’s most successful creators do not fit the white stereotype of popular television, but encompass a refreshingly high proportion of other groups. Its conveniently extensive catalogue of videos makes YouTube the perfect procrastination site, but can YouTube be considered a serious contender for popular television?
If you are familiar with Hannah Hart’s My Drunk Kitchen, or have watched all four seasons of The Epic Rap Battles of History, you may be surprised how many hours you’ve invested in YouTube over television in recent years. Or if your lack of TV licence makes watching clips of your favourite TV shows a happy alternative to paying out, TV and YouTube can be reconciled in a peaceful harmony.
YouTube creators have achieved the incredible. Hank Green and Bernie Su even developed a Jane Austen novel into YouTube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, winning the 2013 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media-Original Interactive Program.
The beauty of it is its grassroots endorsement, allowing viewers rather than networks to decide how watchable content is, promoting a multiplicity of genres. Alternatively, turning on the television often results in a tedious shuffle through thirty or so pre-picked channels before mindlessly settling on a rerun, a visit to YouTube is a welcome break.
Creators themselves are also a great pull to the online audience. Armed with relatable personalities and an extroverted enthusiasm, top YouTubers attract a following of millions. Felix Kjellberg (AKA PewDiePie), a Swedish video game commentator, boasts the largest following with currently over 34 million subscribers. Other popular names include Jenna Mourey (Jenna Marbles) with over 14.6 million subscribers, and Benny Fine and Rafi Fine’s (The Fine Bros) 11.3 million following. Viewing figures are plain to see and can clock up at unprecedented rates. The recent heart warming video of a blind woman seeing her baby son for the first time with eSight glasses gained over 2,000,000 views in its first week on the site. Whilst we may still indulge in the silly (the Harlem shake or finger-hungry baby Charlie – need I say more?) we can also expect to find the serious, the moving, the terrifying or the humorous, selecting content to suit a mood or social situation.
The YouTube generation is not afraid to be outspoken on some of the major social, economic and political issues of the day, fostering a diverse platform for debate outside of the realms of professional journalism. The Daily Conversation recently posted a 45-minute interview between three YouTubers: Bethany Mota, GloZell Green and Hank Green, allowing the creators to select questions that most interest their own audiences.
TV’s time is not yet through, and, much like its cool younger brother YouTube, will undoubtedly evolve with audiences and provide solution to saturation problems. Whether a YouTube series or a one-video-wonder, YouTube has never been bigger or more powerful and should be recognised as serious threat to the pesky BBCs TV licensing revenue.