YouTube Turns Five: Changing TV and Creating Celebrities

This post is by Steven Duque at Living in the Future.

TV networks hate it, audience-seeking creatives love it, and we all watch it: YouTube (Nasdaq: GOOG).

Five years ago this past Monday, three former employees of early PayPal — Chad HurleySteve Chen and Jawed Karim — founded the ever-pervasive video-sharing platform. The site now boasts over 2 billion views per day or, as YouTube’s blog puts it,

“…nearly double the prime-time audience of all three major U.S. television networks combined.”

As the story goes,  Hurley and Chen conceived YouTube after having trouble sharing videos shot at a dinner party at Chen’s San Francisco apartment. The mission was simple:

“…give anyone a place to easily upload their videos and share them with the world. Whether you were an aspiring filmmaker, a politician, a proud parent, or someone who just wanted to connect with something bigger, YouTube became the place where you could broadcast yourself.”

Aligned with this mission, YouTube’s celebratory channel prompts users to upload videos and share their YouTube stories, some of which are chosen for the channel’s video wall. Also home to an interactive timeline of some of the most important moments and memes in YouTube history, the channel also hosts big names likeConan O’BrienVint Cerf and Katie Couric, who curate playlists that showcase their favorite videos.

YouTube’s Rise: Striking Fear into the Hearts of TV Networks

A few fun facts:

  • Users upload over a day’s worth of video to YouTube every minute;
  • YouTube broadcasts live sports to over 200 countries;
  • and the average user spends about 15 minutes per day on the site.

Needless to say, YouTube’s staggering success is changing the way TV networks are thinking about both their audiences and themselves. As Wired’s Eliot Van Buskirkwrites, YouTube’s doubling the viewership of the United States’ three major networks

“…hints at an eventual tipping point when the internet could become the world’s dominant video delivery system, Mark Cuban’s predictions aside.”

YouTube, however, may be more of an ally than a foe for TV networks. As Van Buskirk astutely observes, unlike their counterparts in the music industry, TV networks not only own their content, but they also have the leveraging power of having similar, successful projects already in play — e.g., Hulu (ABC — NYSE: DIS — and NBC — NYSE: GE) and CBS.com (NYSE: CBS). This will certainly work in their favor as they make the plunge of officially posting their old content on YouTube.

More interestingly, Van Buskirk notes, YouTube is changing our viewing behavior, and our computer content viewing habits will inevitably alter how we consume TV programming.  The trend toward bringing the internet to TV is already well in motion:

TV networks aside, I think the real losers in this trend may ultimately be TV manufacturers. Recently, I personally opted to buy a large computer screen instead of a TV, given how little I actually consume TV programming (, which was the case even before YouTube,) and the wide-spread availability of those TV shows I do want to watch online. It’s no wonder, then, that companies like Samsung are running to novel technologies like 3-D to reinvent their businesses.

A New Creative Class: New Media Content Entrepreneurs

As YouTube’s director of strategic partnerships Kevin Yen recently noted in his article on CNet, new media like YouTube are giving rise to a growing creative class. While few in the mainstream know of them, new media’s emerging creative class often command weekly audiences that dwarf network television’s biggest shows on a good night, Yen observes.

For example, Phil DeFranco, who runs the seventh most popular channel on YouTube, “has beaten ‘Larry King Live‘ (NYSE: TWX) and ‘The O’Reilly Factor‘ (NYSE: NWS) in daily audience,” according to a recent article in Fast Company.

Of this creative class ilk, Yen writes:

“They are not only the actors and stars of their show, but they are the producers, the copy editors, and cinematographers; they work to market themselves, close advertising deals, and sometimes employ a team to support and promote them.”

Online video content companies like MachinimaNext New Networks, and Demand Media collectively represent billions and billions of views, which they have converted into dollars (primarily from advertising). Nascent rental services for YouTube content only supplement an already robust toolkit for online content creators to turn their projects in money-making enterprises.

That said, YouTube undeniably is still home to a plethora of crap. Among that crap is the first YouTube video ever posted, “Me at the zoo” (see below), which features founder Jawed Karim at the San Diego Zoo. The nineteen seconds you’ll spend watching it is probably nineteen seconds too long. Thanks, YouTube, and happy birthday!

Steven Duque is a contributor to Wall St. Cheat Sheet and Editor-in-Chief of Living in the Future.