YouTube has been the biggest driver in the adoption of online video. Now more than 12 years since it first launched, and despite most other social media networks offering video capabilities, YouTube continues to be the go-to digital platform to watch video content.
The last two decades have seen a sea-change not just the in way that we consume video, but also in our expectations around video content itself. Through these changes, it’s easy to take YouTube for granted — its ubiquity keeping us from examining its impact and appreciating the still largely-untapped opportunities it represents for marketers going forward.
But let’s play this back from the beginning…
From analog to digital to democratization
I began learning my craft in an actual Television Broadcasting school program at a moment when the future of the broadcast industry, certainly on a local level, was uncertain. I spent hours of my life internalizing how to calibrate studio equipment and distribute analog video signals — something that feels quaint now, writing about it almost 20 years later.
Producing moving images has traditionally been an expensive proposition (and anybody that has sat in a tape-to-tape online suite can understand why, with the room full of equipment it required). But the adoption of desktop NLEs and DV video through the 1990s was the beginning of a pretty radical democratization in the production of high-quality video.
Even with more affordable means of production becoming standard by the 2000s, there was still one piece of the video-production puzzle that hadn’t yet been transformed.
The tremendous investment in infrastructure made by broadcasters is impossible to reproduce on an individual level. The promise of video over the internet was obvious, but early technology had trouble living up to expectations, and there was no single destination for finding video on the internet.
In retrospect, it really shouldn’t have been surprising that a video-sharing website with the slogan of “Broadcast Yourself” would usher in widespread adoption of online video and fundamentally change the way video content is distributed.
Transforming content, consumption and conventions
Of course, people shared video online before YouTube, and YouTube can’t take credit for the first viral video. But it certainly helped define the popular concept of a viral video. Even the videos that didn’t go viral did reveal an audience for unedited, earnest content set into relief by the boom of reality television a few years earlier.
It is — to me at least, a clear example of McLuhan’s “The medium is the message” being true — while the content of videos we watch hasn’t necessarily changed, their style, form and execution has been shaped in large part by the videos people watch and share on YouTube.
YouTube genres like vlogging, unboxing and Let’s Play are great examples of formats that simply couldn’t have flourished in a traditional television environment, where financial pressure requires an almost-immediate return on investment. There are also YouTube-specific conventions attached to other popular formats such as how-tos, product reviews and explainers. The whiteboard video (bane of video production houses the world over) for example, is very much a YouTube style of explainer video.
With its start as a video sharing platform, user-generated content on YouTube started pretty raw. It’s a sharp contrast to 2018, where successful content from a YouTube Creator is produced to professional or semi-professional standards. The service has helped create a whole new type of creative professional — the social media influencer with their own self-produced television show.
And this influence reaches beyond YouTube. I believe the DIY culture of YouTube played a large part in creating the quest for authenticity that we’ve seen emerge as an overall marketing trend this decade.
Using YouTube to its full potential
A well-made video can be the clearest, most accessible expression of a brand. But a single video execution can’t live on its own — instead it should be one touchpoint of many in a suite of video marketing pieces that customers can experience through their decision-making journey.
YouTube’s paradigm of a channel provides an opportunity to bring these touchpoints together in one place, the world’s largest video sharing service, supported by the world’s second-largest search engine. It gives brands the opportunity to effectively create their own television stations — something that was unthinkable a decade ago. But it also creates a unique relationship with viewers that traditional broadcasters can struggle with.
YouTube subscribers are engaged in the content they watch, and part of ad-hoc communities built around their interests. I think the site seems archaic as a “social network” in the way it prioritises creators, but its two-way nature shouldn’t be ignored.
YouTube gives brands direct access to viewers, something that required an intermediary in the past. Viewer feedback combined with a robust analytics toolset gives brands insight into the impact of their video marketing in a way has the potential to transform focus testing much in the same way that online video transformed broadcasting.
A vision for the future of video
To me, the next wave of innovation in video marketing likely won’t be tied to a new production technique or technology, but instead focus on viewer experience. And the way we measure that viewer experience and learn from it is owed in large part to YouTube and its billions of hours of video content. But that is a story for another article.
Ryan Grevatt is Director, Video & Motion Graphics and Partner at Banfield.
Banner image art: Ben Marley