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While TikTok has certainly emerged as a worthy rival in recent years, YouTube is still king of the social media world when it comes to video. The company’s one weakness had been the lack of very short form viral video content, and it now looks like that has been addressed with the rollout of YouTube Shorts. YouTube has seemingly cracked the code on how to become the most popular video platform in the world.
YouTube and the attention economy
A new book detailing the history of YouTube (“Like, Comment, Subscribe”) thinks it knows the answer. The book, which surveys the history of YouTube from 2005-2017, says that YouTube has become much more than just a social network. In fact, most people really don’t think of YouTube as a social network at all. Instead, they think of it as a place to go for how-to videos, or a place to view their favorite streaming TV shows, or a place for entertainment. As the world’s greatest video content machine, YouTube has become an indispensable part of the modern attention economy.
In every 24-hour period, the amount of video content produced and consumed on YouTube is simply awe-inspiring. For example, on an average day, more than 1 billion hours of video are streamed worldwide. And, every minute, more than 500 hours of new video are uploaded. There is literally content in every subject niche possible, and that content is consumed within every age group. While some social media platforms skew younger or older, YouTube has always been the place for “the everyday people of the Internet.”
The creation of the modern attention economy
YouTube is now generally considered to be the creator of the modern attention economy. In short, YouTube found a way to monetize watch time and views on the internet, while simultaneously rewarding creators for making this video content. YouTube relies, in large part, on individual content creators doing what they know and love to create video content, day in and day out. And for this effort, YouTube is ready to compensate them very generously. Once you have passed a minimum threshold of subscribers and watch hours, you too can become a YouTube creator and make a living by creating videos. By some accounts, the current advertising revenue split with YouTube creators is now 40-55%, depending on your niche. And there are constant stories of how some YouTube creators have become millionaires in the process.
A social media platform for the people
In large part, YouTube has managed to steer clear of all the controversies that have surrounded social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. While YouTube has always struggled with the concept of what to do with all the data it collects from users, it has never been as aggressive as other platforms in selling it to third parties. People are already conditioned to watching advertising on TV, and think nothing of watching a few ads on a YouTube video – even if those ads are sometimes creepily tailored to their interests and desires.
While YouTube certainly has a good amount of political content and current affairs content on its platform, its primary focus has always been music, video gaming and entertainment. That has helped YouTube steer clear of many controversies concerning content moderation and censorship. While other social media platforms have struggled with what to do with former President Donald Trump, for example, YouTube has never faced a major controversy about this.
What does YouTube do for an encore?
Looking back at the early history of YouTube, it’s amazing how this social media platform has become one of the most powerful on the planet. When it first started, nobody really knew how it was going to evolve. Looking ahead, YouTube still has plenty more to accomplish. What we watch and how we watch it might change, but YouTube will be at the center of it, creating the types of content that people around the world want to consume on a daily basis.