Online video has only been practical for the last few years. In only six years, YouTube, has almost become synonymous with online video sharing. It’s where viral videos live, where nostalgia reigns, and also where an entire generation of content creators and consumers have built an interactive community that could very well be the earliest stirrings of an entirely new platform of entertainment – related but fundamentally independent from motion pictures and television.
Entrepreneurs, advertisers, and studios, of course are finding ways to use online video to facilitate or feed other ventures, and it provides added content to traditional media products.
Others see the “web series” concept as the future of online video. Actors and traditional media types are particularly attracted to this format, which has the closest resemblance to traditional scripted media. A number of these ventures, in fact, have achieved some modest success, primarily in funding and building a social-based following. Break-out financial success, though, still hasn’t materialized.
Today, the most successful content creators, financially speaking, are YouTube “partners” – popular YouTubers whose success has earned them entry into a profit sharing arrangement with YouTube, earning a percentage of the advertising placed on their videos or channels by YouTube. The top YouTubers are even are making a good living at it.
The most effective YouTube content creators are of a decidedly different breed than those in other media. These individuals, often in the teens and 20s, write, produce, direct, edit, market and perform in their programming. They also interact with their viewers with an intimacy and responsiveness that would be impossible in traditional media platforms. They may be comedians, musicians or commentators. Some are hobbyists, while others have dreams of fame and fortune. Some are even aspiring feature filmmakers. Very few have studied media.
At this early stage it’s unclear if even the most-watched YouTube partners can survive long-term as online content creators. Many are experimenting with methods to develop and monetize their content or create peripheral content – from the sale of related music to t-shirts to DVD highlight compilations. An increasing number have crossed over into traditional media as traditonal media actors, filmmakers, or pop musicians. None, however, have discovered a clear path toward making a long-term living creating strictly for an online audience. Professional vlogging (video blogging) is the domain of very few.
As a traditional media professional, I’ve seen countless colleagues turn glossy-eyed when the subject of online video or even social media comes up. “I don’t know much about those people” one says. “They’re young” concludes another. There’s a collective scratching of heads related to those people who create online. Traditional production, after all, has over one hundred years of development behind it, and many filmmakers spend a lifetime honing their craft. YouTubers, on the other hand, can come from anywhere. They may never have studied film. They may own just a Flip Cam. They’re inventing the rules as they go. Anyone who has spent time browsing YouTube will agree – there’s chaos online. A working professional in television or motion pictures looks at this mass of content creators as a huge collection of amateurs – who aren’t making money.
There’s also great raw talent.
Cecil B. DeMille (The Greatest Show on Earth, The Ten Commandments), the legendary director of early Hollywood, wrote in his autobiography about the beginning of the motion picture industry. He noted that “for the most part, the only men in America who saw the commercial possibilities of “Mr. Edison’s Invention” [motion pictures] were men with no theatrical, scientific or artistic background” but “they took risks, they had drive, they had organizing ability. And the best of them had vision.”
If the YouTube (and the wider online video) community can maintain and grow it’s independence as a unique media platform, and resist the temptation to become a second-rate imitation of motion pictures and television, then it’s quite possible that online video professionals can someday number into the millions.
If, to paraphrase Mr. DeMille, the best of them have vision.