One and a half years ago, Isak Anklew, a 23-year-old Swedish university student, bought a new smartphone. Because he wanted to try out the phone’s video function, he made a clip of his friend Niclas Lundberg pretending to cook, and posted it on YouTube. Today the men’s channel, Regular Ordinary Swedish Mealtime, is Sweden’s most popular food show; its top clip has been viewed over four million times.
“We’re not rock-star-famous”, says Anklew. “We’re another kind of famous. We can relate to regular people.” Adds Lundberg, 24: “My biggest fear isn’t that we’ll stop making money on it. It’s that people will be bored.”
Today YouTube is no longer just a site where parents upload family videos. It’s also a profit-making site where young (and not-so-young) talented people shoot to fame. “We want people to turn YouTube into a career”, explains Sara Mormino, YouTube’s Head of Partnerships. “YouTube won’t replace TV, but it’s an alternative. And unlike TV channels, it’s a global platform. Anyone can used it to become popular.” In other words: YouTube has discovered that there are lots of potential Justin Biebers out there, and that it can help them attain stardom – and make money on it.
Mormino’s team selects YouTube’s partners – users like Regular Ordinary Swedish Mealtime – and sells ads on their behalf. The revenue is split between YouTube and the partner; Marmino will say only that the artist gets the larger share. YouTube now has more than 30,000 partners in 14 countries; it recently launched the partner program in Russia and the Czech Republic.
Several years ago, French stand-up comedian Max Boublil posted video clips on YouTube “as a joke”. Today, with videos watched over 68 million times, he makes a good living as a YouTube star. “Young people don’t watch TV any more”, he observes. “This is the best way of connecting with them.” Says Patrick Macharovsky, an 18-year-old Czech moviemaker, “if it wasn’t for YouTube, nobody would notice me.”
Despite the recession, the YouTube Partner program’s revenues doubled in 2011, compared to 2010. And YouTube, now owned by Google, plans to keep expanding, adding more countries to the partner program this year. Recently Boublil, now 32, was given a role in a show on the French TV channel Canal+. “But I didn’t feel comfortable on TV”, he says. “YouTube creates a special link between the performer and the viewers, because they have to choose to see you.”
Robert Thompson, Professor of TV and Popular Culture, Syracuse University
To which extent is YouTube changing the media industry?
It’s transforming the media landscape. In the past it was just a website where you went to watch video clips of cats playing the piano. It was an amateur’s heaven, a place where you went to see staff you couldn’t see anywhere else. Now it’s a website where young talent post high-quality videos, and even media giants have YouTube channels.
These days a talented person can become a YouTube star and completely bypass record labels and TV channels. Is that good or bad?
It’s another way for talented individuals to be discovered. It’s amazing that anyone, with pretty basic equipment, has access to an international distribution system. But it’s an international distribution system that has an infinite amount of content. People are too optimistic about the chances of becoming a YouTube star. Very few people get many million hits; even fewer can make a living on YouTube.