Since it’s Inception, HA GOT TO APPEASE MY INNER CINEMA SNOB, YouTube has proven to be one of the most insane social media platforms on the information super highway.  And while I regret resurrecting terms from the late 90s regarding the internet, to dismiss YouTube as a viable avenue for social media and business is foolish; despite all of the cat videos, poorly made freakouts, reviews, amateur, and stolen content, YouTube can greatly amplify a brand’s impact with consumers – if done correctly.

Here’s an alarming fact, the second largest search engine on the planet (Earth) is YouTube, I’ll repeat this fact again with re-arranged phrasing; YouTube is the second biggest search engine ever. That means if someone’s not looking for your stuff on Google, or you can’t be found on Google, they’ll likely check YouTube. And with good reason, video is inherently easier to consumer than other media. Additionally, when you consider Google’s apt integration of YouTube into the Organic Search results, giving it greater weight, the cat video internet factory can change the very meaning of SEO – we’ll get more into this in another part.

To understand YouTube’s effectiveness, it’s essential to do a historical breakdown of YouTube and it’s content.  When it began, YouTube’s content was fairly amateurish, cameras at the time were not really High-Definition supportive (at least on a consumer level) and YouTube itself did not support HD. In fact the first video, Me at the Zoo, was a 20 second clip of one of YouTube’s founders standing outside an elephant cage. Despite it’s lack of visual quality, Me at the Zoo got the ball rolling on a website that would change how we consume video media on the web.

From there, YouTube saw an exponentially rapid, some would say rabid especially if you read the comments on select videos, growth phase. With it came the first real dynamic of YouTube content. The early adopters chose primarily to create and upload video content regarding their personal lives, these videos were typically not well shot (when compared to conventional video content) and involved minimal technical skill. These video logs took off, and spawned the initial round of YouTube content creators – together with their newly acquired media form, vlogs, sought to overtake the internet itself. Or so it would seem.

Fast forward to mid 2007, YouTube announced the partnership program allowing content creators to monetize videos and collect on advertisements run against their videos. This opened a pandora’s box, of sorts, on how user-generated media is processed – now, for the first time, users can actively create content and get paid to do so! It is around this time that the first run of bloggers began either upgrading their technical software or letting their channels die. Channels  such as Renetto and TayZonday  thrived during this era.

As new video creators moved in, the standards for quality greatly rose. Now suddenly, the vlogging content that was poorly produced and lacked technical innovation was replaced with vlog content that actively showed off technical skills. Flashy intros, jump cuts, and multiple takes were all prevalent on these forms of videos. This phase, from 2008-2010 would be the second generation of YouTube content creators; taking the basic framework of vlogging and adding stylistic elements to make the video product more consumer friendly.  This signified an “adapt or die” motive with prior content creators, they were forced to learn editing skills and acquired technical capabilities, HD cameras, software, etc. to stay competitive. It was in this phase that the deck of content creators shuffled, newer channels such as RayWilliamJohnson, Phillip DeFranco, Shaytards, KassemG, blew up using their skills to blaze ahead of past relics. With the ease of access and relatively still easy technical entry level, YouTube saw an oversaturation of vlogging content (it’s worth mentioning people still vlog, just new vloggers aren’t readily gaining subscribers as oppose to users who made their mark during this era).

Compare Phillip DeFranco’s older vlog style to his new one:

It wasn’t until fall 2010 that the YouTube community witnessed a real dynamic shift. This coincided with affordable DSLRs being churned out hit the market. As technology caught up to user demand, so to did it manage to shake up the whole foundation of YouTube content. From 2010 to now, YouTube saw a paradigm shift in the content base – the emphasis was on quality content with acceptable production values. This is evident from the spawning of channels such as EpicMealTime, FreddieW, and FPSRussia, all of whom created shows that emphasized on production value – editing, high quality shots, entertaining content. The changing of the guard (Dylan reference, yo) saw channels rapidly expand in terms of subscribers accrued and views gained, those who couldn’t adapt saw a decrease in their fanbase. Almost overnight, YouTube changed what was valuable content. The oversaturated vlogging of generation 2 was becoming a tired format, while newer, entertaining, innovative content creators took over. It is worth mentioning that vloggers still hold top tier positions in terms of subscriber and viewer rank, but those who couldn’t maintain an active fanbase quickly faded into obscurity.

This early EpicMealTime entry demonstrates how
content production value raised from conventional
vlogging style videos. Below, FreddieW shows how
entertaining content caused a paradigm shift from
vlogging style videos at the time.

And that brings us to contemporary time and more importantly, the future, and where YouTube is going. With the creation of the paid subscription model, and the rise of subsidiary networks (Machinima, FullScreen, MakerStudios), if I were a gambling man (which I am) I’d bet YouTube is going to try and experiment with lite network content. See, television and YouTube don’t really get along, UNDERSTANDABLY, at the beginning it was almost on animosity levels of hatred, now it’s more integrated.  In the future I suspect television shows in whole will air on YouTube, for a fee. I believe the paid subscription model will fail, a gut-feeling about this. From the current trends, it is worth predicting that the current level of content (production value, etc) will raise to a nigh television level. This is apparent from video series such as Man At Arms, and TableTop (Wil Wheaton) providing users with content that matches production value seen on television, while providing entertaining content that could contend with any show on tv – ‘cept Breaking Bad because nothing will ever be better than that show.

Where was I going? Oh yeah Breaking Bad, can’t wait. I oughta marathon the series while it’s on TV. I wonder what will happen to Walt.

MASSIVE DIGRESSION ASIDE, I believe YouTube content will move closer to a web-series style of content. This is what will take off massively, again, predicting – but that’s what I feel the next move is.

Note how Man-At-Arms employs conventional
television/film techniques and production values.
Similarly, TableTop with Wil Wheaton demonstrates
high-quality production value.

NOW that we’ve finally dissected the history of YouTube, it’s a fitting time to take a break. Next time we’ll analyze how you or more importantly, how you can mix business with youtube – how to make the social media giant work for your brand. It will take a lot of work, it’s harder to use than conventional social media, but making it work can add a whole new dimension to your brand that sets you apart from the swathes of businesses who only use Facebook or Twitter to communicate messages.

For an infographic version of the history of YouTube, check out NewMediaRockStars’ site