Friday, December 16, 2016

The accidental industry of YouTube

2016, the year many cannot wait for the end of also had a few non-traumatic moments, such as the introduction of the term ‘YouTuber’ into the new version of the Oxford English Dictionary. And for those who don’t necessarily indulge in the delights of video by the people and for the people, a YouTuber is a person who creates video content and uploads to the video-sharing site. 

Now that YouTube itself is into its teen years we have seen YouTubers morph from hobbyists or one-off video uploaders to micro-celebrities and even stars in their own right, with tens of thousands YouTubers globally now making a living showing their wares on the site.

How did the random uploaders became hobbyists, then amateurs, and then a new type of media professional? And what is the difference between an amateur and a professional anyway? Is it intention, or is it outcome? Is it getting paid, and if so, how much? Is it the ability to attract thousands to millions of views? Or is this the future in which everyone is famous to fifteen people, a dictum issued all the way back in 2005, around the same time as the hybrid designation “pro-am” (for combination professional amateur) was explored at book length.

Whereas YouTube – and other open uploading platforms, e.g. SoundCloud, MixCloud, assorted mixtape sites – once existed in a parallel and necessarily separate universe from this thing we think of as ‘the industry’, the platforms are increasingly becoming intertwined with industry. And in ways not necessarily planned or imagined. For example, YouTube has become the new radio, with 1 in 4 music streaming hours spent on the site, which I’m pretty sure was not part of the original vision.

The same goes for the emergence of new entertainment genres, and this is isn’t an overstatement as the numbers don’t lie. Billions of views are being racked up by videos of people unboxing mattresses, of kids doing toy reviews, and in perhaps the most unanticipated category of new genre of media, YouTube videos of people reacting to other YouTube videos. (Ed. Note: Repeated use of 'wtf bro' ahead)


YouTube has also become an important second window for television, with clips from such shows as Jimmy Fallon, John Oliver, SNL, and that carpool karaoke guy (okay, James Corden, but to me he’s the carpool karaoke guy) pulling in millions of additional views by being posted and shared online. Whether or not I watch the shows (and generally I don’t) I can still play catch up by having them appear in my Facebook feed or having them pushed to me as suggested or popular videos when I open YouTube. Just as the music industry saw an unbundling of songs from albums, now television has an unbundling, from both format (the 30 or 60 minute program) and distribution channel, in this case moving from the world of the television schedule to on-demand, atomized viewing.