YouTube: The Intelligent Powerhouse Aiming to Kill TV
By Francesco Galletti
- Gaming played a major role in the success of the world’s second largest search engine.
YouTube’s algorithm searches billions of hours of video content to select the best fitting content for each user’s social profile.
As of 2017, YouTube has 1.3 billion users.
YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, is the largest video-sharing website in the world. Its humble beginning can be traced to 2005, when it was developed by three former PayPal employees. YouTube started out with the idea of creating a platform where people could upload videos of any subject at any time. However, content creators across the world began using the platform to appeal to one of the biggest Internet communities at the time: the gaming community.
Since its first video, “Me At The Zoo”, YouTube has grown to not only include videos such as vlogs, news, and gameplay videos, but it also has become the world’s second largest search engine, only behind Google. Between 2007 and 2010, gaming has been one of the biggest players in YouTube’s success.
The site’s creators originally intended to launch the platform mainly through gaming videos, and only when the audience grew substantially in size did they transformed YouTube to prioritize content deemed family-friendly and easier to advertise, since gaming was considered to be too controversial for mainstream advertisement. But YouTube’s focus on gaming turned out to be a successful strategy, as gamers at the time did not yet have an Internet platform. This made YouTube their go-to place if they wanted to be part of a large community with fresh content daily.
YouTube’s algorithm is arguably one of the site’s most interesting characteristics, and it is the backbone that allows Youtube to keep running smoothly and upright, despite the enormity of the site. 300 hours of video are uploaded to the platform every minute, and users watch roughly 3.25 billion hours each month. The algorithm is designed, in part, so that users do not feel bombarded by and lost in the massive amount of content. It also keeps track of what the users do on the website and predicts what videos each user wants to see next. For example, if a user clicks on several cat videos, it is likely that tomorrow more cat videos will pop up in the suggested feed.
YouTube began by allowing content creators to upload videos with descriptions, and the algorithm processed these keywords to direct viewers to videos that contained the specific keywords of their searches. However, this quickly turned into an arms race. YouTubers began uploading videos with unrelated, bait-clicking thumbnails and popular search keywords that had nothing to do with the video, resulting in their videos appearing in as many searches as possible.
Content creators strive to have their videos considered as popular, which was only measured by view count. By achieving a high view count (and therefore earning the desired status of popular), clickbait uploaders found the algorithm prejudiced in their favor. However, in 2012 YouTube modified the base of the algorithm to emphasize watch time overview count.
Consequently, a large portion of the gaming community had to shift their videos accordingly, so that they could be engaging throughout their durations. This brought rise to the Let’s Play trend, which ultimately became the preferred choice of the algorithm. In Let’s Play, users would watch a long video of a YouTuber playing video games and offering commentary. Because of its high entertainment factor, it became insanely popular, with videos averaging twenty or thirty minutes long.
Since 2012, YouTube has wanted its users to stay on the platform as much as possible, working towards a goal of surpassing television viewership. As a result, the algorithm has changed to favor longer videos. Users became more engaged as a result, but for content creators, many of whom suffered from creative burnout, they faced increased stress to produce more videos that were longer.
With the recent updates to the algorithm, uploaders’ problems got worse, while viewers encountered greater personability. For instance, the algorithm now greatly deems a minimum of ten minutes as the optimal length of a video, only adding to the pressure of content creators. In addition, the algorithm compares the profile of each user—compiled from watched videos, searched keywords, and Google searches—to the site’s videos to generate a bulletproof list of entertaining videos ready for the user to watch.
The power of the algorithm combined with the amount of information coming from 1.3 billion users makes YouTube a powerhouse. The site is able to predict trends and provide entertainment that targets users like none of its competitors can. It started out with gaming, but by emphasizing longer videos and increasing user customizability, YouTube aims to become the new television. And unlike all television service providers, YouTube’s channel listing is endless.