I remember mentioning to a friend how a decade back, everyone wanted to be a rock star, and now everyone wants to be a YouTube star. That’s a sweeping generalisation, but it’s also somewhat true. Fame seems to be easily achievable on YouTube, so every where you look there are people filming stunts in parks, their pets, their kids, anything that might find some audience online. Often this behaviour is derided as a symptom of the X-Factor Generation – young people desperately seeking fame without being willing to work for it, but I’ve noticed something about many of the teenagers I’ve encountered online in forums etc. – many of them have YouTube channels, and are trying to create high quality content in their chosen field, be it vlogging, gaming, music etc. and to do it well enough to make a career from it.
Various video editing programmes are easily available, as well as endless tutorials – anyone can quickly learn to put a video together. Most people have good quality video cameras in their phones. But what is even more impressive in the channels I’ve seen is the clear understanding of branding. Many of these small channels have logos, intros and associated social media accounts. Groups of channels band together to make group vids and promote each other. There are communities devoted to helping each other get better at marketing themselves online, experience gained from watching and asking other YouTubers. They know they need to have a niche to get viewers, and many are frighteningly professional despite their age. This rise of YouTube as a community has in part propelled it’s rise as a viable alternative media platform.
What separates YouTube from traditional media is that everyone starts on a level platform. Much of the time, it seems like the people in the pages of celebrity magazines appear out of nowhere, primped, perfect and immediately famous. It seemed like fame could only be achieved with the backing of some media industry guru – a big producer, film director and/or a PR firm. So next to that, YouTube and the grassroots success of many of its biggest stars seems much more achievable. YouTube itself has encouraged this kind of alternate success, both through Network Partnerships, and also with it’s YouTube Studios, large recording/filming/editing studios based in London, Tokyo and Los Angeles which any monetised YouTube channel can apply to use. It’s unsurprising that many of YouTube biggest stars are pretty young, which again make them more appealing to those same teens and kids who want to make a career out of YouTube.
Plus some of those top channels have managed to do well outside of YouTube, such as in 2010 when the comedy channel ‘Fred’ made a feature length film based around the childish alter-ego of the channel’s owner, Lucas Cruikshank. Despite poor reviews the film apparently did well on American TV and spawned several sequels. Articles at the time suggested that this could be the start of a takeover of television by series based on the web. However, I don’t think that’s what YouTube are going for. But on October I attended a lecture run by Hugh Garry, where he explained that while YouTube want to take over from television, they don’t want to become television. Television is limited by numbers of channels, by time of broadcast, and mostly by established marketing models. YouTube is basically limitless – 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Plus, the owners of YouTube don’t decide what gets popular. That’s decided by the viewers, and channels rise and fall all the time. YouTube can simply encourage better quality footage without making any decisions which could damage popularity.
Basically, YouTube has been shaped by a culture of the young and creative who don’t want to be bound by the increasingly old-fashioned looking decisions and behaviour of television, and YouTube is in turn using that to shape a future where they get a cut of it, without wanting or needing to control what happens next.
(Useful Link – 100 most subscribed channels on YouTube)