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Happy Birthday YouTube: Why the platform is still relevant 15 years on

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Valentine’s Day aside, the 14th February 2020 marked a very special occasion in the calendar. YouTube turned fifteen years old.

That’s right, the original video-sharing platform is no longer a tweenager and has moved into the complex years of maturity.

Over the years, YouTube has acted as a hub for comedians, musicians and filmmakers who didn’t fit into the traditional production process, been the birthplace of many bizarre – and visionary - short videos and given a voice to millions of people. It’s also been an outlet for content on the more controversial or offensive end of the scale.

YouTube has overcome many challenges

YouTube has overcome many challenges thrown its way and outlasted some of its closest social network competitors like MySpace, YikYak and Bebo. So, what is the secret to its longevity?

Champions entertainment first and foremost

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First and foremost, YouTube championed content as a form of communication: its success can be put down to the creator culture that has defined YouTube since its inception. Back in 2010, the platform was quickly becoming synonymous for promoting creators who didn’t quite match the profile sought after by Hollywood and TV producers.

At this time, YouTubers, like Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, Jenna Marbles and Lilly Singh, were thriving on the platform by offering a unique form of entertainment that wasn’t available anywhere else. Kjellberg did gaming live streams, Marbles riffed on female stereotypes and Singh impersonated her Indian Canadian family.

The early success of these off-the-wall creators really encapsulated the very content YouTube’s founders designed the platform to promote – entertaining videos. Their soaring global popularity, essentially from their bedrooms, cemented YouTube’s status as a social platform that promoted free expression.

In fact, between 2008 and 2011, the volume of videos uploaded to YouTube rose from 10 hours every minute to 72 hours a minute. By 2011, YouTube had generated more than 1 trillion views and people were watching over 3 billion hours – or 342,465 years - of video every month.

It’s a hub for creative expression

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In the mass of video content on YouTube you can find food for almost any soul; from the wonderfully candid camera moments such as Charlie Bit My Finger, to the disturbingly important educative moments like 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman. But despite the endless genres and video formats, there is one theme that unites the most successful videos – originality.

YouTube provides content creators with an opportunity to create long-form storytelling content

You see, unlike Instagram or TikTok, YouTube provides content creators with an opportunity to create long-form storytelling content where they become the Directors – not just the creators or producers. This gives influencers the chance to show their unique vision and personality in long-form.

It is its status as an outlet for creative, personal expression that continues to make YouTube relevant and popular 15 years on. A 2019 study found that each visitor spends on average over 11 minutes per day on YouTube and the platform is the second-most popular way to watch videos among 18 to 34-year olds – increasingly driven by educational and tutorial content.

It’s still relevant for marketers

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It’s not the newest kid on the block, but YouTube is still one of the most important marketing channels for brands. A study using eye-tracking technology found that YouTube ads hold visual attention 62% of the time on screen, compared to 45% of TV ads. This makes YouTube a top contender against Facebook for being one of the top social media platforms to run ads on and means the platform offers marketers better ROI than TV ads.

Similarly, 60% of YouTube subscribers say they would choose a product recommended by their favourite YouTuber over a mainstream celebrity. The platform still has incredible influence over the buying behaviours of consumers and is still a relevant option for brands looking to use influencers to boost revenue.

It’s innovating for the future

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Despite its past success, YouTube isn’t resting on its laurels and is introducing measures that will cement its future appeal – and that of creatives using the platform.

Case in point is the recent monetisation of the platform via ad revenue, channel memberships and YouTube Premium revenue. Somewhat unusually, YouTube is connecting closely with its creators to support and boost their own revenue streams. This will not only improve the quality of the content on YouTube but may help the platform retain exclusivity with its most popular content creators. If brands can work with Youtubers successfully they may tap into something that simply can’t be replicated.

YouTube is one of the first social platforms to explore the video subscription market

Alongside this, YouTube is one of the first social platforms to explore the video subscription market. Earlier this year, CEO Susan Wojckicki promised to remove all content on the platform that breaks the law and turn YouTube into a reliable video library. If successful, this gives brands the security of a ‘safer’ ecosystem and potentially increased revenue.

The massive and diverse audience attracted by content creators, combined with the platform’s championing of creativity and alternative entertainment, makes YouTube an indispensable tool for marketers looking to connect brands with consumers. YouTube has proven itself to be adaptable and progressive when it comes to updating to consumer demand and it remains one of the most important social media channels for marketing 15 years on.

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