Monday, January 14, 2013

The Youtube Frontier: The New Culture of YouTube

This is the 2nd article of a series on YouTube! Click here to see the first.

"Going viral" is no longer a foreign concept. It's a swiss army knife of brand promotion, mass entertainment, and individuals getting their 15 minutes of fame. The YouTube employees are aware of the viral videos on their website - they probably watch them just as we do. At the end of 2011, the website released a video highlighting all of the online trends from the previous year:

And, they did it again in 2012:

If you haven't watched these before, then take the time now to do so. You'll notice a very marked difference in presentation style between 2011's compilation video and 2012's. One that marks an important shift for YouTube.

The 2011 video features Rebecca Black (the person to gather the most independent fame from the internet in that year) acting as hostess to a compilation of famous video clips from the year. The video truly behaves as a "review" of the last year, showing us brief snippets from videos that gained popularity through 2011.

The 2012 video, however, reviews the year very differently. A bunch of YouTube video-makers came together to act out a musical sketch, clearly inspired by the trending videos of 2012. The video borrowed heavily from its sources, but it was, ultimately, novel.

The difference? In 2011, YouTube showed off its popular videos. In 2012, YouTube showed off its popular people.

The channel Epic Meal Time was briefly referenced by a video clip in YouTube's 2011 year-end video; in the 2012 video, not only did the Epic Meal Time crew make an in-person appearance, but their presence in the video had very little to do with the content of their normal videos. They, instead, appeared next to internet/TV star Felicia Day and Hannah Hart of YouTube's My Drunk Kitchen. There were whole scenes in the 2012 video that were only funny if you knew who the participating actors were. The end of the 2012 video even takes the time to promote each of the actors and actresses' YouTube channels.

YouTube was once just a place where individuals could post their video creations for the world to see. Thanks to the YouTube partner system explained earlier, it's fostered a community of entertainers.

Let's take a look at the individual that appears at 2:54 in the 2012 YouTube video. That particular individual is Ryan Higa, who started out on YouTube years ago making videos like these:

His videos started getting lots of views, and uploading videos started becoming a regular thing. YouTube popularity - along with eventual partnership - could only fuel the video-making process. After a certain point, he could increase the production value of his videos, as can be seen in this example:

At present day, every single one of his videos has over a million YouTube views. Maybe, years ago, people on the internet used to ask, "Hey, have you seen that 'How to be gangster' video?" Nowadays, they'd be more likely to ask, "Hey, have you seen that new Ryan Higa video?" Individuals like Higa have grown beyond being mere YouTube video makers - they're YouTube celebrities.

Ryan Higa also went on to collaborate with fellow YouTube celebrities - individuals with similar stories of success to Higa - to form a YouTube aggregate channel known as YOMYOMF, showcasing the talents of YouTube celebrities as well as actors and actresses who have had more traditional roles in Hollywood studios, like Jessica Alba and Wayne Brady.

This represents something important: successful YouTubers are now networking with one another. Their pooled resources are potent enough where they can rent studios, hire celebrities, and offer professional-grade entertainment. Uploading videos online may have began as a recreational activity, but for many of these content creators, it's become a business.

YOMYOMF is not unique in its format. Felicia Day's geekandsundry also draws from multiple talents to create an aggregate channel. Both geekandsundry and YOMYOMF feature a weekly upload schedule, detailing when their feature shows release new installments not unlike a traditional television schedule. Notice, as well, that the two channels feature each other in the bottom-right corner.

Even channels with no formal affiliation will promote one another in their videos. EpicMealTime has had videos collaborating with fellow YouTube user FPSRussia. Vlogger JennaMarbles promoted Hannah Hart's My Drunk Kitchen in a tribute video, and Hart responded in kind.

For those who have risen to internet celebrity status, YouTube isn't only an outlet of creativity, nor is it merely a means of income. It has also become a community of entertainers, networking and collaborating, feeding off one another's talents to make newer and better YouTube videos. YouTube celebrities know each other - and some of them are very good friends. Together, they are redefining what it means to be a successful entertainer on YouTube, and what it means to be a successful entertainer, period.

This brings us back to the 2012 YouTube year in review video that I linked to earlier. That video was shot in a studio called YouTube Space LA, a digital production hub funded by YouTube to further empower the creative output its growing YouTube celebrity community. Not only is YouTube aware of its best content generators, it's seeking to actively encourage their craft.

YouTube content is beginning to see itself converge. The most popular YouTube videos used to be one-off viral hits from relatively unknown creators. Now, a smaller, closer-knit group of people is responsible for a growing portion of YouTube entertainment.

This is the new media industry. The frontier is being staked out for ownership.

Part 3 will touch on where this new YouTube culture may take us in the future! Read it now by clicking here!

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