We’ve always loved watching moving images. From the ancient zoetrope to retina-scorching 3D on a massive screen. The development of the moving image has been swift and rapid. One medium in particular looked to kill of cinema and rule the home roost.
At one point, it looked like the ubiquity of the television would mean that it would be king among screens. Families would gather around it. Every year, newer larger models would be launched. Each iteration promising clarity and life-like imagery unrivalled by anything that had come before.
While this ever-aspirational technology has become the norm in every living room (and in some cases, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom) another device with a screen began to seep into the lives of people and proliferate in a way that was wildly unexpected.
The internet made the mobile phone the one device to rule them all. Let’s face it, if you have no internet connectivity, your phone becomes useless. But as service providers got better at getting their service to use, their internet connectivity improved enough to allow most people to reliably watch video.
At this point, let’s pause and rewind for a moment. Internet and WiFi technology had become the norm in homes at a similar time to the dawn of the smartphone. So now, you had a personal device you could take out with you. You could use a bit of your data allowance or when you were in an area of WiFi connectivity you could greedily consume as much data as possible.
Now, rather than having to compromise on what you wanted to watch because more senior members of the family had the remote control, you had all the power, all the time, to decide what you wanted. Rather than be ruled by a viewing dictator or having to be part of an unhappy democratic minority, you could be your own state.
This is where YouTube comes in. In 2006, Google decide to splash $1.65bn on a video sharing site that was barely a year old. At that point YouTube had an estimated 72 million individual visitors each month. Fast forward to 2017 and it has recently been announced that YouTube has 1.5 billion monthly users watching video on its site. That’s phenomenal growth and especially impressive when there is so much competition.
Making comparison to provide a sense of scale is always tricky. You can’t directly compare YouTube to a TV channel, but it has become a little like the internet’s TV channel. There are other players trying to take a piece of this action. Notably Facebook, who has announced that it is looking to forge partnerships with Hollywood for original content. This follows on from the Netflix playbook of producing acclaimed original content with established brands such as Marvel, but also Amazon, taking established BBC faces and given them a ton of cash to make a new show. Let’s not forget Twitter either which is trying to bring live sports in as part of its content offering. None of these competitors are small fry yet I’d still back YouTube.
Much like Google, YouTube is fast becoming a verb. I’d argue that it’s not quite there, people don’t really say “YouTube it”. Maybe they do. But it will be a long time before Facebook or Amazon have an offering that’s synonymous with video and watching video content in the same way that YouTube is.
YouTube has maintained a good amount of its independence from Google. If you ask most people on your local High Street, they probably won’t know that YouTube is Google owned.
This handling of YouTube has meant that, by and large, it has continued to serve the needs of its audience first. Adapting, tweaking, keeping pace with changes in technology. It is for this reason, and many others I’ve failed to mention, that I believe YouTube will remain king of the video castle for years to come. And this, if nothing else, is reason enough to make sure you include it as part of your content strategy.