Shomik Sen BhattacharjeeFeb 15, 2019 19:31:29 IST
Fourteen years ago, three friends and ex-employees at PayPal started YouTube. Well, every major internet company (or any major entity for that matter) today has had humble beginnings, with the intention of designing a platform where people could express themselves and do more to communicate, but YouTube was a little ahead of the curve when it came to that.
When YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim uploaded the very first YouTube video, an 18-second clip of him at the local zoo, he had no clue what he'd begun. What started off as a tool that would make it easy to upload videos and post them on blogs, soon pushed beyond the fringes of the internet and into the mainstream. In fact, at the time, nothing you uploaded was silly. It so impressive that Google acquired it in October 2006 for $1.65 billion.
Fast forward to 2019 and YouTube has a whole different meaning now. While at its core, it's still the same. A platform that has evolved from a being just space where people could post homemade song covers, vlogs and funny videos to a medium that engulfs every aspect of life — everyone from comedians, vloggers, musicians to news organisations and government agencies, they’re all on YouTube.
While YouTube has changed the ways in which we consume news, rise to fame, and certainly, waste time, here are a few of its major milestones along the way.
YouTube’s transformed the way we consume media
The one broad segment which has benefited the most over the past decade is definitely entertainment — to be more specific, music. Now, YouTube when it was originally started or even when Google bought the company, wasn't created for music streaming. But budding musicians saw the potential of the free open platform before anyone else did and started uploading their videos and covers.
One of the first "real" music videos posted on the platform dates back to June 2015 when two Chinese youngsters lip-synced to Backstreet Boys' "I Want it That Way". But original artists soon followed suit.
Internet speeds were definitely not great back then, which meant that you'd still have to put a considerable amount of time and energy to watch a video on YouTube. Which is why we did not see a spurt of immense growth of the platform until data speeds improved.
With the rise of digital formats, iPod and MP3 around the turn of the century, it began the shift away from handling physical music or audio products. CDs, VCDs and DVDs were on their way out. Streaming music and video started to pick up steam. YouTube came along at the same time and teamed up with Vivendi to launch a new music video service in 2009 and that was that.
YouTube transformed from being just a platform for amateur filmmakers to be a music video distribution platform.
The content put on YouTube has gone through a tremendous metamorphosis in a decade after the onset of Vevo and faster data speeds.
Casey Neistat has made vlogging an art by editing his content in an almost cinematic fashion. This contrasts with early or even current vlog channels, which feature people talking to a stationary camera or otherwise appear to be intentionally shot with little finesse. Vlogging soon became one of the most watched video genres on the site, having claimed the space that originally made reality television popular. The biggest factor that soon made YouTube unique is that it evolved into the best platform for interaction between audience and creator, which is exactly the kind of familiarity fans crave. YouTube offers that for free.
Another genre that has sprouted in the time between YouTube’s creation and now, is the video essay format. Channels like Nerdwriter1, Wisecrack, and Idea Channel took modern pop culture and used it to examine philosophical questions in the video essay format.
That's when YouTube began catering to the likes of a wider age group through tutorials, explainers, quick run-throughs, and even online workshops. So much so, that the whole concept of breaking down detailed explanations into parts/episodes became a regularity.
YouTube's entrance into Netflix and Apple's turf marked the first time it became clear that YouTube was trying to be more than just an amateur video-sharing site. It started with a few movies that did well at Sundance and has since grown to offer movies from companies including Paramount, Disney, NBC/Universal, Sony, and Warner Brothers.
However, with YouTube getting more and more engaged in expanding, newer creators soon began feeling the pinch. Original content was soon being overlooked and YouTube's global presence made the platform more difficult to manage.
That never stopped local content from flourishing though as creators in developing countries realised that they needn't churn out content in a particular language to cater to an audience. YouTube, as a community embraced the idea of breaking the language barrier, which opened the floodgates for a lot of local language content coming through.
YouTube data shows that in 2014, only 16 channels had more than 1 million subscribers in India. This number rose to 300 in 2018. Of these, 133 were independent creators, a significant number as it is easier for large media companies and production houses with deeper pockets to cross the subscription levels and get Silver, Gold and Platinum buttons, but not really so for individual creators who made it up the charts mostly through the quality of their content.
Back home, in a bid to improve accessibility, YouTube, with help from Google also launched YouTube Go, a lighter version of the app that could run on the most basic lot of Android phones and the team didn't stop there. They also pushed to reach out to millions and millions of feature phone users when they launched YouTube for JioPhone in India. There more! YouTube's also moved up on a premium offering called YouTube Red which not only offers movies and original content on demand, but also allows unfettered access to YouTube Music. But that's not available in India yet. Another space that YouTube is trying to capture is a television stream sub-platform called YouTube Television which currently only streams live sports in the US. However, all this definitely speaks volumes of what YouTube wants to evolve into.
YouTube, a boon for gamers
YouTube was a little late to capitalise on the boom in online gaming. But knowing how accessible its platform was, YouTube Gaming was launched in 2015 as a competitor to Twitch, a gaming-focused streaming platform that has become wildly popular for gamers looking to build a following and monetise their time.
YouTube Gaming was merged with the main app in September 2018 and continues to play catch up with Twitch. But the platform still boasts more than 200 million viewers for video game content every day, with 50 billion hours of gaming videos watched in the last year.
Video game content remains a major portion of the greater YouTube audience — Swedish gamer Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie has owned the most followed YouTube channel spot since 2013 and now boasts more than 85 million followers.
A better example of the success YouTube's had with the gaming community is the popularity of battle royale games in countries such as ours. With Twitch servers still not available in the country, thousands of gamers have been able to stream their way into people's subscriptions.
PUBG Mobile is one such game which has played a major role in transforming mobile gaming in India, with other popular titles like Fortnite also garnering some amount of attention.
Popular figures among PUBG Mobile folks in the country, Naman Mathur aka Mortal, Ajey Nagar aka CarryMinati and numerous others are now using their popularity on YouTube to familiarise e-sports tournaments within the country.
A bridge for traditional media to enter a new age
YouTube's being a platform for news isn't new. In fact, the platform's first venture into news dates all the way back to February 2006.
That's when, NBC, asked YouTube to pull a clip from Saturday Night Live called "Lazy Sunday," which ended up attracting a lot of attention to the video-sharing site. YouTube complied and in October 2007, it launched its Content Verification Program to help content owners like NBC locate and remove video that infringes on their copyrights.
Well, that was more than 13 years ago were talking about. Since then, the lines between a social media platform and a news platform have been blurred considerably. With more than 2.4 billion internet users today, nearly 64.5 percent receive breaking news from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram instead of traditional media.
In fact, most people prefer to consume news in the form of short video bulletins and podcasts rather than spend an hour reading from a newspaper or a text-heavy website. YouTube played and continues to play a major role in making news content more consumable and also more interactive.
However, with social platforms such as YouTube having control over what news and information we see, its always a difficult never-ending task to ensure there's no spread of fake news or conspiracy theories. A reason why 'citizen journalism' has been under the scanner of late.
YouTube and owners, Google have promised to be more proactive in filtering news content on the platform and very recently also made algorithmic changes to the pattern in which new videos are suggested to users, to prevent promoting misinformation.
YouTube is certainly not finished, yet
As YouTubers' continue to evolve their content, new ways of using the site will be explored and YouTubers themselves will gain more acceptance as members of the mainstream media, as opposed to being relegated to “internet sensations.” Pewdiepie, the most popular YouTuber, has over 85 million subscribers. In contrast, The Big Bang Theory, the most popular show on television averages close to 20 million viewers. The influence YouTube has over where content creation will go is immense, and it’s completely up to the audience.
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