The Information Highway(man)

An op-ed from Vevue Community Manager, Morgen Culver

It might be difficult to believe, but YouTube is almost 15 years old. That’s older than a large chunk of the people using it. Since its inception, YouTube has proven to be an innocuous addition to our internet experience. It lingers silently in the background of social media posts and news articles, just waiting to pounce. Almost on reflex, you click a link and suddenly you are whisked away to YouTube land where you are subjected to numerous ads that subliminally convince you to “switch to Geico” and “breathe happy with Febreze.” Three hours later, you emerge from your YouTube stupor brought on by the handy “suggested videos” banner on the side of the screen. It is now way past bedtime, you are physically spent, your eyes are a little crossed, and …where the heck are your kids? Probably on their Ipads lost in the supposedly G-rated YouTube Kids land. They will also have seen the ads for toys and movies and will emerge with next year’s Christmas list already compiled. So be prepared.

Ah, YouTube. You have become as essential as oxygen to the vast majority of internet users, and we breathe you in daily without much thought. There are almost 2 billion visitors the site or app every month, and about 1 billion hours of videos are watched every day. That means if each of those hours magically turned into a person, you would have almost the entire population of China…in…one…day. Let that sink in.

For those of you too young to remember the first time you typed YouTube into your search engine, and let’s be honest, that is probably most of you, sit down and buckle up for a quick history lesson. YouTube was founded in 2005, with its domain name registered on Valentine’s Day of that year. Three former PayPal employees, fresh off the sale of PayPal to eBay, were sitting around at a diner one night celebrating their newfound wealth and lamenting how hard it was to find footage of Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction”. The idea for a video sharing platform was conceived that night, and it would be born in a building conveniently located over a pizzeria in San Mateo, CA. The very first video ever shared was of founder Jawed Karim’s visit to the San Diego zoo, which as of this publication, has something a little north of 64 million views. That’s not too shabby for an 18-second clip where he mainly talks about the length of an elephant’s trunk. Even in the early days, traffic to the site was rapidly expanding. So much so that it popped up on Google’s radar only a year after it launched. YouTube sold for an astounding $1.65 billion dollar (in stock options), at the time, the second largest acquisition by Google.

YouTube originally became synonymous with funny cat videos and people making horrible life choices, like jumping off of perfectly good roofs. They were pointless and entertaining and made us collectively fear for the future of the human race. I still remember seeing the now classic Numa Numa video for the first time and realizing that viral videos were what was missing from my Nilla Wafer life. Today, you can find everything from the relatively helpful DIY projects and language tutorials to the mind-numbing yet #oddlysatisfying videos of soap cutting and pimple popping. There is a genre out there for everyone and everything, but nothing has shot to the top with as much speed and reckless abandon as review and gaming videos. Guaranteed, if you are a parent, you’ve been subjected to hours and hours of Ryan’s Toy Review and can probably hum that annoying tune playing subtly in the background of every video, and if you are a gamer, you are intimately familiar with DanTDM and his bright blue hair, now the highest paid YouTuber with a rather robust catalog of gaming videos. Him, not his hair.

In fact, there are about 300 hours of new videos uploaded to YouTube every minute, and many people have struck gold in the wild west that we call YouTube. But not everyone does. You may be asking yourself, how exactly can I get paid for uploading that video of my great aunt Edna falling into the pool last summer. The short answer is unless you have an established following and well-trafficked channel, you probably won’t. YouTube, in many ways, is just a conduit. They are not the ones directly cutting you a check. In fact, their cousin twice removed, Google AdSense, is. To monetize your content, Google AdSense can place ads on your videos, whether it is pre-roll ads, like the ones you have to endure before you can watch your video, or mid-roll ads, that are strategically placed within the video to pop up at the most inconvenient times. Like cutting to a commercial right before Maury announces who the father is. And there are many different advertising tiers, depending on your video’s traffic, but basically, you can get paid by the number of clicks and views your content accumulates. BUT, and this is a big disclaimer, to cover operating costs and generate a profit, YouTube skims roughly 45% off the top. So for every $1.00 your content generates in ads, you can keep 55 cents.

So to summarize, YouTube does not pay you.

YouTube uses your original content to outsource advertising to Google AdSense who then runs ads for other companies. Then, like salt in a wound, they take almost half of what you earn. Now, I’m not saying that YouTube is a pimp, but it definitely quacks like a duck. But it is a business; it is what it is and does what it needs to do to survive in the current marketplace. But, is there another way? A community where creators can buy and sell viewing experiences and cut out the advertisers? Where the uploader retains exclusive rights to their content and where viewers directly support the creators they want instead of lining the pockets of the middleman? With the advent of blockchain technology, creators and consumers have started asking these long overdue questions. And some innovators have started answering the call.

Vevue, for example, is a social media app that encourages users to participate in an economy that functions more like real life. You see a product you like (i.e. original content), and you buy it using fractions of cryptocurrency. No muss, no fuss, just capitalism at its purest. There are no ads, not because the content is free, but because they know your time is valuable and you should get what you want without being shanghaied into watching commercials for things you don’t want. Have you ever walked into a 7–11 to buy a Slurpee only to be told, “Congrats, it is free…but first, you need to sit down and watch one minute of an All State advertisement?” That’s not how the world works. You just want the Slurpee, and you already have Farmer’s, thank you very much. This system benefits the content creator as well. Obviously, you get paid for developing and producing rich content without having to shell out to your madam. But, more importantly, you help feed a more sustainable marketplace for content sharing.

So, boys and girls, the future of social media looks bright as new technologies and companies claim their street corner, oust their pimp, and go into business for themselves. Let’s give credit where credit is due. YouTube, without a doubt, paved the way for how content can be shared and built a shaky model for how content can be monetized. And it’s all thanks to Janet Jackson’s nip-slip. But there are more viable options out there, and I double dare you to explore them.