Over the past year, the online video playing field got a bit more crowded. Vine, still fewer than two years old, hit 40M users and established itself as the destination for a new type of brazen creator. A surge in traffic on Facebook video became the buzz of the advertising industry. Vimeo started to distinguish itself in original content with a few breakthrough series.
But in the land of “have-you-seen-it-yet” content, YouTube remains the undisputed champ. Its over one billion monthly uniques dwarfs the rest of the field in video, and it has cemented its status as the entertainment destination of choice for the next generation. In a study of 1,500 13-18-year-olds conducted earlier this year, the top five most recognizable celebrities in the US were all YouTube creators (Smosh > Jennifer Lawrence, and it’s not even that close). The competition in online video may be gaining ground, but YouTube is still the place where more stars are born and more culture is made than any platform out there.
Recently, our company Portal A teamed up with YouTube to release Rewind 2014, a look back at the biggest moments on the platform this year. In addition to reveling in the glory that is Action Movie Kid and the Ice Bucket Challenge, we should take a moment to reflect on the ways in which YouTube itself changed in 2014 so we can understand where it’s headed next.
Redefining the mainstream
At this year’s Streamy Awards, the live show celebrating the YouTube community, Harley Morenstein from “Epic Meal Time” delivered an impromptu rant that immediately made waves on social media. “Everyone who touches this microphone is worth millions of dollars,” he screamed to the delight of the audience, mostly creators themselves. Harley was not that far off – YouTube talent is making real money these days, as their compensation finally catches up to their audience. Creators are also stepping out from behind the small screen, from Bethany Mota’s turn on Dancing With The Stars, to FreddieW’s collaboration with Key and Peele, to Zoella’s book that outsold JK Rowling in its first weeks. The divide between mainstream and digital entertainment still exists in the eyes of the entertainment industry, but the monikers are feeling increasingly artificial.
Building for the future
When YouTube made significant investments in original programming in 2012, it did so with the explicit goal of encouraging the growth of companies that are built on top of YouTube. That ecosystem took a big step forward this year, with a series of key acquisitions and new start-ups. In April, Disney dropped up to $1B on top multichannel network Maker Studios and then in September its competitor Fullscreen sold to AT&T for $300M-$400M. And for those of you keeping track at home, you can add Stylehaul, Big Frame, AwesomenessTV, Rooster Teeth, and many more to the list of this year’s acquisitions. The frenzy of activity in the space is a testament to the fact that online video ecosystem is growing up and, based on rumors that the Onion and Funny or Die may be snatched up next, it’s not slowing down anytime soon.
The triumph of content
When Nike revealed its most anticipated ad of the last four years – a pre-World Cup epic entitled “Winner Stays” – it shouldn’t have come as surprise that the video debuted on YouTube or that it was four minutes and twelve seconds long, instead of a TV-friendly :30 or :60. In 2014, brands producing content over ads went from being an edgy idea to more or less the norm. On YouTube where viewers can skip ads after less than five seconds, people are electing to watch and brands are taking notice by spending more money on the platform than ever before.
A screen for all the world
As our production team traveled the world for YouTube Rewind, we discovered thriving hubs for creators in cities like London, Tokyo, and São Paulo. As recently as three years ago, Los Angeles seemed like the undeniable center of the YouTube universe, but the creator base is spreading its roots. The platform’s top creator (PewDiePie) this year is Swedish and its biggest video (Spider Dog) came out of Poland. YouTube recently reported that 80% of its traffic now comes from outside the US. With YouTube opening production hubs for creators on four continents, the company is recognizing that they are supporting a truly global entertainment network.
After another massive year for brands, creators, mainstream celebrities, and viral stars on YouTube, the platform is charging into 2015 ready to take on all comers. Apparently, watching how the space takes shape next year may turn out to be just as fun as seeing this kid for the first time. Well, maybe not quite.