More than 10 years ago, no one was watching online videos of other people’s pets or kids. And no one was sharing their lives for the world to see, and they never dreamed that doing so could bring a lucky few a measure of fame and fortune.
Happy 10th birthday, YouTube.
In just one decade, YouTube has evolved from a site where people can upload, share and watch videos into a major landmark on the media landscape, changing the face of culture and society in many ways. Even in Pittsburgh, the site has made international video celebs out of regular people and helped launch music careers.
YouTube has become a sprawling archive of all aspects of life: Interplanetary explorers could get a pretty good — and sometimes very weird — picture of who we earthlings are by just by watching YouTube videos. They range from the ridiculous to the sublime, from artistic short films to shaky amateurish efforts. Countless music videos and classic performances are a keystroke away. YouTube is used by the White House and other government agencies as a way to communicate with the public — especially with young people. The site has become a valuable tool for citizen journalists and an uncensored window on the world. There are rants and meltdowns and TV commercials old and new. There’s even a popular sub-genre unique to to user-generated movement — the cat or dog video.
On April 23, 2005, the first video was uploaded on YouTube. It was made by and starred YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim and was called “Me at the Zoo.” This 18-second video shot at the San Diego Zoo is still online and has drawn more than 19.2 million views.
YouTube was founded by three former PayPal employees — Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Mr. Karim. The company launched officially in February 2005. A year later, more than 65,000 videos were being uploaded every day, with nearly 100 million viewers. Now there are more than 1 billion users and 300 hours of video are uploaded per minute, according to YouTube. It’s the third most visited website, behind Facebook and Google, according to Alexa rankings.
Google bought YouTube in November 2006 for $1.65 billion in an all-stock transaction. In 2011, the Google+ social networking site was integrated with YouTube, and Google+ members can watch videos within Google+.
In December 2012, PSY’s “Gangnam Style” passed the 1 billion view mark, breaking all previous online video records.
YouTube has gone from media upstart to mainstream. Major TV networks use it as a companion platform. The trade publication Billboard factors YouTube data into its hits charts.
Independent producers have been able to build audiences for their work on YouTube. Through the company’s revenue-sharing “Partner Program,” some are making money: the top 500 partners earn more than $100,000 annually, according to YouTube’s website.
Pittsburgh fame and beyond
Pittsburgh native Justine Ezarik, aka. iJustine, was an early adopter on the YouTube scene. Her prolific contributions to the site helped launch her career as an Internet video celebrity and TV/film actress. In 2007, millions watched her open her first iPhone bill, which came in a box and weighed in at 300 pages. She has made countless videos of herself and the gadgets in her life — an 18-minute video about being the first in line at the Apple store to buy the iPhone 6, reviewing Google Glass, and baking cakes and pies. In the AOL Originals YouTube channel “HardWired 2.0 with iJustine,” she explores tech trends.
Pittsburgh Dad is a popular YouTube character created by Curt Wootton and Chris Preksta. Every week since 2011, thousands have watched Pittsburgh Dad yell at his family and expound on football, movies, religion and shopping at Giant Eagle.
Pittsburgh Dad’s character resonates with many viewers — both locals and expatriates — a key ingredient in the recipe for a successful viral video. “The biggest comment we get is, ‘Oh, my God, that’s my dad,’ ” Mr. Preksta said. “We’re trying to accurately depict what dads are like and recreate those family situations many of us experience.”
A global audience of millions has watched two little Forest Hills girls named Jillian and Addie McLaughlin grow up on YouTube through their Babyteeth4 channel. The sisters star in imaginative adventures with cool special effects like “Fast Cars, Bad Kids” and “Too Many Addies,” along with regular segments where they consume and review different kinds of candy.
YouTube has played a major role in launching the successful careers of some young Pittsburgh artists. Rappers Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller grew up here and have skillfully used YouTube to get exposure for their music. Their videos draw millions of hits.
Singing phenomenon Jackie Evancho’s performances are popular on YouTube, starting with her 2010 appearance on “America’s Got Talent” at age 10; the day after it aired, more than 3 million people watched the replay on YouTube.
Pittsburgh has its own YouTube genre — the Pittsburgh-ese/yinzer video. They range from comedy sketches to instructional videos in how to talk the talk.
During Zachary Quinto’s 2014 appearance on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” he and the host talked about being from Pittsburgh. The segment ended with Mr. Quinto doing a Pittsburgh-ese monologue.
The Jimmy and Dave song “The Yinzers: Growing Up in Pittsburgh” is performed in pure Pittsburgh-ese with English subtitles. “Dahntahn” — comedian musician Mark Eddie’s parody of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” — got more than 490,000 hits.
In a 2014 video that went viral and put the spotlight on street harassment, actress and former CAPA student Shoshana Roberts was filmed over 10 hours as she walked through the streets of Manhattan, enduring more than 100 instances of sexist comments and catcalls. The YouTube video is now approaching 40 million views.
Pittsburgh-based American Eagle Outfitters’s infamous 2014 April Fools’ prank — the launch of a companion dog clothing line called American Beagle Outfitters — got traction online. When American Eagle launched the line for real during the holiday season, the commercial the company posted on YouTube got more than 700,000 views.
YouTube has transformed our culture. “There are lots of different dimensions to that,” said Jason Hong, an assistant professor who specializes in human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science. One is the way people watch video. Thanks to the rise of mobile devices, instead of being tethered to a TV or computer, people can call up a short video wherever they are to fill in a few idle minutes. “They can watch anywhere, anytime — on the bus or during a break.”
It has also had an economic impact. “Many new kinds of jobs have emerged,” Mr. Hong said. For example, serious video gamers like PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, now stream themselves playing games. PewDiePie’s videos yank viewers into the visual experience of playing by combining the games’ sophisticated graphics and his rapid fire improvised comic patter and screaming. PewDiePie’s YouTube channel has more than 35 million subscribers and millions of views on each video. Advertising revenue has made him a millionaire: He makes more than $4 million a year, according to Forbes.
YouTube has democratized the process of producing videos by taking away the gatekeepers: Anybody can put work online — good or bad. “For the first time in history, widespread video distribution is in the hands of the individual. The playing field has been leveled,” said Bob McLaughlin, Jillian and Addie’s dad and the director of their videos. “YouTube’s revenue- sharing program has enabled video hobbyists to do this full-time. No other social media platform pays you for creating content.
“YouTube is a truly revolutionary phenomenon. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years bring.”
Unlike traditional media producers, interaction between YouTube producers and viewers is a two-way street. “We do episodes that are suggested by fans. Other [TV] sitcoms couldn’t operate that way,” Mr. Preksta said.
YouTube has helped to trigger the seismic shift in how and where people consume media. It won’t be the death of TV, said Mr. Preksta, who’s at work on a feature-length version of “Pittsburgh Dad.” But, he adds, younger generations spend more time with YouTube than TV. “We’re seeing a change in where the eyeballs are coming from. We’re seeing a shift in the youth.
“It’s remarkable that one site could change things that drastically. YouTube and Facebook and Twitter changed the freaking universe.”
By Adrian McCoy
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