YouTube, launched in 2005, is possibly one of the most revolutionary websites on the Internet, itself a cultural shock to the whole world. With the rise of the Internet, traditional celebrities have enhanced their popularity through the ability to connect with (pretty much) anyone, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Internet has also brought about a new class of celebrity, one which appeals to (or is hated) primarily by young people. So, let’s have a look at a couple of questions: What do people use YouTube for? How does YouTube compare to traditional media? Is YouTube bigger than traditional media today?
YouTube, launched in 2005, was created by Chad Hurley, a former PayPal employee. The idea stemmed from an issue he had over his difficulty of sharing a video recorded during a dinner party at a friend’s house. He was joined by two other former PayPal employees, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, and they launched the youtube.com domain together.
The first video was uploaded on April 23rd, where Karim posted a video of himself during his visit to the San Diego zoo in California. The video is about 19 seconds long and is considered a relic among the YouTube community. Soon after, brands such as Nike and Cadburys uploaded videos to attempt to market their respective products, with the Ronaldinho video and the eyebrow commercial respectively.
However, it’s not just brands that have become viral on YouTube, but rather individuals as well. While the majority of YouTube users use the platform simply to find answers to the issues they have in their daily lives or to enjoy some content, some of these content creators have gained fame on the platform. Pereira claims that ‘YouTube has over 1.5 billion active users per month and that each one ‘spends an average of one hour and 15 minutes watching videos on the platform’.
Perhaps the content that achieves the greatest number of subscribers and fame are gaming videos, where users such as PewDiePie have accumulated over 100 million subscribers, thanks to his charisma. Another notable user, Olajide Olatunji, otherwise known as KSI, started off his YouTube career as a videogame player but has now participated in other activities such as boxing and music.
Furthermore, there are other smaller channels such as Epicurious who has created a cult following among a sub-section of the YouTube community. Epicurious is a food channel, and on the channel, the series ‘4 Levels‘ was introduced, where a dish is created by chefs of different levels (1-3) and evaluated by a food scientist (level 4). The series has amassed a cult following, which is evident in the comments section of the video.
It is clear that the above shows the extent to which YouTube influences people’s daily lives, and how it has fostered a ‘cult culture’ amongst a significant portion of the population today. It has even been suggested that YouTube has replaced traditional media – let’s see if this is truly the case. One thing to note is that there is a clear distinction between fame and virality. Being a famous celebrity implies that this person would be known for an extended period of time and that there is an element of longevity in this person’s popularity.
Being viral, on the other hand, simply means that the person is popular for a specific moment in time. Whilst there is a connection between virality and fame, virality does not automatically mean fame. This is because those who are viral are only popular for a short period of time, whereas those who are famous are often eternally popular.
For example, the boy and girl in the famous Cadbury’s advert mentioned previously are simply known as the ‘eyebrow kids’ rather than by their first names. Other examples include the viral hit ‘Charlie bit my finger‘, where the real name of the boys isn’t widely known. Even users such as PewDiePie are primarily known by their username rather than their first name.
However, people such as Johnny Depp, Emma Watson, or Angelina Jolie, have become celebrity household names for a prolonged period of time. This shows that while YouTube can have the effect of creating celebrities, this stems from virality rather than serious talent itself, and while playing video games can be considered a talent, the abilities shown by traditional media celebrities seem to have more appeal than those who came from YouTube.
Another thing to note is that YouTube mainly appeals to young people. Looking at the demographics of daily YouTube users, Global Web Index shows that 77% of Gen Z, 75% of Millennials, 61% of Gen X and 44% of Baby Boomers visit YouTube daily. This shows that ultimately, YouTube cannot provide the same celebrity status that traditional media offers. Furthermore, while there are some YouTubers who have attained a high level of fame,
this is usually achieved by branching out into traditional media, for example, through the various boxing matches between YouTube celebrities.
Overall, it seems to me that YouTube is, and will always be fundamentally different to traditional media. Although a lot of people watch and follow YouTube content, ultimately traditional media will never be replaced due to the way we view media.
Featured Image – freestocks.org, available on Pexels