As I post around dozens of Social media updates per day on my Twitter feed every day, there’s one persistent trend I’ve noticed since the end of last year: YouTube continues to make non-stop headlines. Salar Kamangar, the CEO of YouTube since 2010, has been relentless in trying out new features, partnering with different industries and bringing in the money to make it all happen. These are some of the key moments for YouTube over the last few weeks and why they are likely to impact YouTube’s future:
The Harlem Shake
“Harlem Shake” is a song by Baauer that was released in June 2012 and made available on iTunes in January 2013. It was relatively unknown in January but is now number one in the US Billboard charts in a matter of three weeks. But unlike other chart-toppers, there is no official, high-quality production of Baauer floating around on YouTube. Instead there are over forty thousand videos with over 175 million combined views and counting. It all started with this random video which sparked a meme (a peer to peer movement) Filthy Frank does “The Harlem Shake”.
Everyone from University students in dorm rooms to TV news casts and crews (including CNN) to Silicon Valley companies (including Facebook) have taken part in the phenomenon of creating a short 30 second clip with one person solo dancing with a helmet (of some sort) to the anticipated moment of madness when the camera opens up to show a scene full of people (normally in goofy costumes) who start to dance and jump around like crazy. This meme movement is distinct from earlier YouTube music successes like Carly Rae Jepsen (“Call me maybe” has over 400k views) and Psy (“Gangnam Style” has over 1.3 billion views) as those were singular videos spread far and wide through sharing and real-world word of mouth. Another distinction is that neither Carly Rae Jepsen or Psy made it to the US Billboard top spot. In these cases, as well as physical and digital sales, Billboard had already accounted for number of plays from music streaming services like Spotify. But the phenomenon of the incredibly high view counts from the Harlem Shake YouTube videos could not be ignored any longer and were included in the Billboard algorithm in time for Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” to make it straight in at number 1.
Off the back of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” hit, YouTube has extended its olive branch to other Asian artists by launching a dedicated YouTube A-pop channel to promote music from the East. This joins deals done by YouTube with Country Music Artists and VEVO (joint venture music videos by Sony, Universal and EMI.) This trend–and the increasing importance of consumers using YouTube over audio-only sources like traditional radio and Spotify– will mean that the music stars of tomorrow will have to come with a very engaging plan to promote their music which translates into creating a meme or creating a very memorable and sharable video. The official “sales only” charts like the Official charts in the UK will be pointless in future as consumer behaviour shifts.
YouTube vs TV
For many brands, YouTube is just a platform to repost TV ads and behind-the-scenes footage. For some it is seen as the place where TV shows exist after they have aired on TV to playback any time. For even more people, it’s where low quality, poorly produced content made by anyone and everyone exists. YouTube aimed to increase the quality of their top amateur content creators in 2007 when they introduced the YouTube partnership program, incentivising content creators to stay on the platform and helping them be able to afford to make a career out of what they enjoyed doing most. Since then, YouTube have helped those content creators make better content through training workshops, collaboration and networking. They have also bought exclusive streaming rights to some feature films and brokered deals to create new, high quality content channels. Their latest game changer is opening up the option to create paid subscription channels. Many would think the idea is ludicrous as it goes against the ad-funded model that we have grown familiar with. People have the mouse cursor hovering over the video section where the “Skip ad in 5 seconds” message appears, ready to click. That being said, there may be some recent developments that suggest paid for subscriptions could work in the future.
Netflix recently released “House of Cards” starring Kevin Spacey as exclusive content on their subscription platform. It was well produced, had a great story, a huge budget and great actors. They also broke the TV model of releasing one episode a week and let the user decide at what pace they wanted to watch the show as they made all episodes available simultaneously. It became their most watched content against all of the latest movie blockbusters available on Netflix. With the paid subscription model coming to YouTube, it is likely that major players like Netflix and HBO will extend their subscription models to YouTube. Utilising YouTube to facilitate hosting of high quality content that consumes large amounts of bandwidth will save content providers the bulk of their operating costs and help them concentrate on licensing and content creation.
Fullscreen currently represents many of the top YouTube content partners globally and helps broker deals with large advertisers. With paid subscriptions for certain content, Fullscreen can continue to broker major deals, but the paid subscription model could open up opportunities to get high calibre talent on board. They already help WIGS who produce scripted drama, including “Blue” starring Julia Stiles. Currently the production quality is poor, but with the right investment, future programming could be really good. Bypassing the traditional TV networks means that script writers, producers, directors and actors can take more risks and online quality will get better to entice people to part with their cash. As YouTube has done a great job of making their platform available on pretty much every new TV set being made, YouTube could be a complete replacement for conventional TV programming in the future.
YouTube is futureproof
Google have invested wisely into all cutting edge technology that could become big in the future. It is one of the only platforms to support 3D content in all it’s forms (from 2 colour specs to spec free 3D) and 4k ultra high resolution (twice the amount of lines horizontally and vertically compared to Full 1080p HD) content. Currently very few cameras are capable of producing such content but YouTube are staying ahead of the game and futureproofing themselves against competition like Vimeo who traditionally beat YouTube technically (Vimeo supported 1080p content a long time before YouTube). With more technology like Google+ Hangouts on air and branded TV channels, YouTube has everything in its arsenal to continue dominating its sector online and will be a true contender against the programming available for the flat panel on the wall.