The History of YouTube – 2020 Edition

9 min read

YouTube app open on smartphone

Introduction

Can you imagine a world without YouTube? It’s hard to believe there ever existed a time we didn’t have this seemingly infinite source of video content for us to enjoy at our fingertips. But of course, YouTube hasn’t always been around. 

In this post, we at NKN will dig deep into our archives and share with you what life was like before YouTube was ever a twinkle in its founders’ text-editor windows and how it became the Google-owned giant it is today. Read on for a few blasts from the past and some juicy facts as we roll out for you the history of how YouTube came about.

Who Started YouTube? 

Before Google acquired YouTube in 2006, YouTube was a bright idea developed by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim. Chen, Kawim, and Hurley met while working together at Paypal. Soon after eBay acquired Paypal, the three friends left and came up with the idea of an online video platform

At the time, there was no central site where videos could be uploaded, stored, shared, and watched. With regard to streaming services, there were applications like Winamp, Windows Media Player, DivX and RealPlayer, where people could stream videos linked from other websites, but the videos were oftentimes viewed in parts to support various file sizes and bandwidths. Remember downloading Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 for movies? Yeah, neither do we. With the simple aim of creating one space where people could upload content and stream their own videos for the world to see, the concept of YouTube was born.

When Were the First Videos Uploaded?

Concert goer taking video of stage on smartphone
Concert goer taking video of stage on smartphone

The founders of YouTube originally envisioned it as an online dating platform called Tune In, Hook Up. They thought it would be an opportunity for users to upload videos of themselves and share with potential suitors. Unfortunately, not a single video for that platform was uploaded and the dating platform idea was promptly abandoned.

It wasn’t until two high profile events captured on video, the Janet Jackson-Super Bowl XXXVIII wardrobe incident and the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, that Chen, Karim, and Hurley recognized the difficulty of finding videos online and decided YouTube would become a video file sharing site.

Related: Secure Remote File Access for Network Attached Storage

Video #1: “Me at the zoo”

“Me at the zoo” video, Source: YouTube

The very first YouTube video was uploaded by Karim on April 23, 2005 during its beta testing period. All of 18 seconds, “Me at the zoo” shows him standing outside a pen of elephants at the San Diego zoo, stating that the “cool thing about them is that they have really, really, really long trunks.” With a last look at his pachydermal pals and a brief sign-off, the video comes to an end.

To date, the short, simple video currently has over 88 million views. This humble video marks the beginning of YouTube’s rapid ascent after the platform launched publicly in November 2005.

Video #2: “My Snowboarding Skillz”

My Snowboarding Skillz” by “mw”

YouTube’s second video ever was posted mere hours after “Me at the zoo.” Uploaded by user “mw,” “My Snowboarding Skillz” holds the title of first “fail” video ever uploaded to YouTube. Posted on April 23, 2005 with a duration of 10 seconds, the video features a snowboarder boarding up a low ramp and taking a tumble (don’t worry, he seems to be okay). 

The video currently has 934,076 views and opened the doors for millions of epic “fail” videos in the years to come.

Video #3: “tribute”

“tribute” video, Source: YouTube

The third video posted to YouTube was uploaded on April 24, 2005 and entitled “tribute.” The video is even shorter than the first two videos, totaling at five seconds. It features a man standing in a narrow hallway and jumping to prop himself up with his feet planted against each wall. He bellows in triumph and his friend holding the camera says “nice job.”

This video has over 460,000 views and is thought to be an inspiration for the type of amusing seven-second video clips that became popular on Vine eight years later. And today TikTok is the king of short form video and routinely ranked top 3 in app store downloads.

Video #4: “Premature Balding”

“Premature Balding”, Source YouTube

YouTube’s first edited video emerged on April 26, 2005. Considered a long video at the time, “Premature Balding” clocks in at one minute and 59 seconds and features user “paul” receiving a haircut in public that makes him look as if he is balding. Set to the tune of a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tune and cut and edited to document the progress of Paul’s haircut, this video is an early precursor to the well-cut and edited videos that followed in YouTube’s later years.

YouTube Pre-2006

YouTube Inc. before 2006 was still a relatively small startup with only 67 employees before Google bought it in October 2006. It was considered a “still unprofitable startup” at the time with mostly user uploaded content as well as copyrighted material. Infringement issues were starting to become a problem for the humble business based in San Bruno, California.

YouTube 2006-2007

Although YouTube was already boasting a worldwide audienceship of 72.1 million by August 2006, Google saw even more room to grow and bought YouTube (retaining its original brand name) in fall of 2006. Undaunted by a slew of copyright infringement claims, Google acquired the company for a breathtaking $1.65 billion.

This period marks a commercial turning point for YouTube as it retained its first major advertiser, Cingular, in September 2006. Monetizing efforts continued to spark growth as YouTube launched InVideo Ad overlays and its Partner Program in 2007.

Related: NKN | Partnering for the Decentralized Web

YouTube 2007-2011

Person being filmed while speaking in front of bookshelf
Person being filmed while speaking in front of bookshelf

YouTube increased its international reach when it launched in the UK as well as many other countries at the start of this era. It launched its Click-To-Buy e-commerce platform as well as “Promoted Videos” program in 2008. In the years following, YouTube continued to grow with Individual Video Partnership programs and YouTube mobile ads.

This was a time for YouTube to establish growth through video culture and content creation. Enthusiasm for YouTube as a creative outlet was never so apparent as at VidCon in 2010, where 90% of its attendees had active YouTube channels. Musicians, artists, and writers found YouTube to be a haven for showcasing their talents and ideas and original YouTube content thrived during this time.

YouTube 2011-2015

Lilly Singh – Life During a Pandemic, Source: YouTube

In 2011, YouTube changed its algorithm to prioritize video length over numbers of views, which meant short viral videos would get less publicity as opposed to longer videos that kept viewers on the page. Creators updated their content accordingly to accommodate this new algorithm. With over $100 million invested in YouTube Red (a $10/month ad-free viewing subscription plan) and its ad partnership program, the fast-growing company helped popular YouTubers such as Lily Singh continue their rise to stardom.

Vloggers, how-to tutorials, graphic sketch videos, and prank channels found regular and dedicated viewers and soon it was the norm for users to tune in to regular uploads by their favorite creators. YouTube became a go-to entertainment source and YouTubers the millennial version of Hollywood celebrities.

YouTube 2016-2020

In 2016, popular creators began to notice a worrisome change in their viewership and stats. With many YouTubers losing subscribers by 30%-40%, creators began to suspect that YouTube had changed its algorithm again. While some guessed the drop was due to increased ad inventory during the holidays or sweeping YouTube audits to clean out fake/unused accounts, Ethan Kjellberg, creator of account and content from pewdiepie shared data showing that creators were losing clicks and viewership due to YouTube’s “Suggested Videos” program.

In a video detailing his data, Kjellberg pointed out that whereas he had previously been receiving 30% of views from the Suggested Videos feature, starting in 2016, this number dropped to below 1%. YouTube denied making any changes to its algorithm but the changes creators perceived created a high level of mistrust during the period between 2016 and 2017.

By the middle of 2017, YouTube experienced more trouble when it came to light that ads were appearing on extremist videos, such as terrorist recruitment videos. Public pressure pushed YouTube to begin demonetizing any videos that were potentially disturbing or problematic.

Person holding video camera
Person holding video camera

But disturbing videos continued to surface, some even from well known creators. YouTube’s Chief Product Officer, Neal Mohan, and Chief Business Officer, Robert Kyncl, posted in a blog in January 2018 announcing a strident new monetizing standard: “Starting today we’re changing the eligibility requirement for monetization to 4,000 hours of watchtime within the past 12 months and 1,000 subscribers…On February 20th, 2018, we’ll also implement this threshold across existing channels on the platform, to allow for a 30 day grace period. On that date, channels with fewer than 1,000 subs or 4,000 watch hours will no longer be able to earn money on YouTube.”

This new rule hit up-and-coming creators hard and thus ended what YouTubers called the “golden age” of YouTube. The space previously occupied by individual creators began to fill with mainstream content, such as music videos from big record labels and late night shows in partnership with high-profile, Hollywood performers. The 2020 version of YouTube leaves creators who flourished during the platform’s “golden age” seeking greener digital pastures to continue their work.

Related: A New Kind of Network

How Many People Watch YouTube Videos?

On average, the total number of people using YouTube is 1,300,000,000. 300 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute, and the total number of hours of videos watched on YouTube per month adds up to 3.25 billion!

According to Mediakix, these are the top most-watched types of videos on YouTube:

  • Product review videos
  • How-To Tutorials
  • Vlogs
  • Gaming videos
  • Comedy/skit sketch videos
  • “Haul” videos
  • Memes
  • Best of/Favorites videos
  • Educational videos
  • Unboxing videos
  • Q&A videos

Think with Google has found that 62% of consumers watch a product review video before purchasing products. The top four types of content people watch on YouTube are comedy, music, entertainment/pop culture, and “how-to” type videos.

Who Are the Biggest YouTubers?

Pewdiepie – “I BOUGHT A Submarine!” (Source: YouTube)

It’s difficult to determine who the biggest YouTubers are as there are popular creators in every genre: gaming, music, fashion, comedy, how-tos, vlogs, etc. However, we decided to share the YouTubers with the highest number of subscribers in 2020. Check out the three most-followed creators on YouTube:

1. Pewdiepie

With 102 million subscribers, Pewdiepie (created by Kjellberg) tops the list. Even considering the difficulties he’s experienced with YouTube as outlined above, Pewdiepie has overcome the odds and continued to garner love and attention from his viewers. Kjellberg explores various themes in his videos, such as video games and meme reactions.

2. Dude Perfect

Dude Perfect is an entertainment channel with 47 million subscribers in 2020. The channel features a group of men who engage in jaw-dropping stunts that continue to amaze and inspire its huge audience. With professional editing skills and carefully chosen soundtracks, this group of entertainers is immensely popular on YouTube.

3. HolaSoyGerman

Germán Aranis aka HolaSoyGerman is a Chilean YouTuber with 40 million subscribers. Known for his humorous writing and sketches, he also produces a number of songs that have gained popularity on his channel. As the second most-subscribed-to Spanish language YouTube account, HolaSoyGerman’s stardom continues to rise.

What are the macro environment conditions that make YouTube popular?

As with many forms of technology, the environment in which users find themselves is a major factor in YouTube’s popularity. The shorter attention span of millennials attracts them to YouTube’s convenient viewing functions. The availability of YouTube on iPhones and portable devices such as iPad and laptops allows users to access it easily from anywhere (over 70% of YouTube views are on mobile). 

YouTube’s language functions, localized in 91 countries and available in over 80 languages, allow users all over the world to enjoy video content. In addition, the ability for viewers to post their own content as well as engage with other creators takes YouTube a step above mainstream television. 

The top two reasons viewers watch YouTube, according to Think with Google, are to “relax” and “feel entertained.” In today’s state of global uncertainty, it’s possible even more viewers will turn to YouTube’s videos to unwind from the anxiety of everyday life. 

What are the biggest trends on YouTube?

Kylie Jenner – A Day in the Life (Source: YouTube)

The biggest trends on YouTube from 2019 through 2020 paint an interesting picture of what hooks the interests of viewers. Among the top trending videos on YouTube in the past year were:

  • A Day in the Life videos. Kylie Jenner’s 2019 video went viral almost immediately and has almost 40 million views. 
  • ASMR videos. These videos trigger an autonomous sensory meridian response with certain sounds that viewers find incredibly relaxing
  • Sustainability and minimalism videos. From home decor to fashion, this is an immensely popular trend that is also pleasing to the eye.
  • Unboxing videos. Children and adults alike love to watch creators open a package and reveal what’s inside.
  • Music videos. The most watched video ever is “Despacito” at 6.69 billion views.
  • Children’s videos. The second most watched video ever is “Baby Shark Dance” at 4.93 billion views

What are the exciting features coming to YouTube?

In 2020, YouTube will be offering new channels for its popular YouTube TV subscription model, allowing subscribers to watch an array of channels including ABC, CBS, FOX NBC, Adult Swim, BBC, CBS Sports, ESPN, Food Network, HGTV, MSNBC, NBA TV, Telemundo, and, most recently, PBS. For $49.99 a month, and without a satellite dish, viewers can watch YouTube TV with devices like Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, XBOX, and Amazon Fire TV, to name a few.

What are some changes happening at YouTube in 2020?

In September 2019, the Federal Trade Commission slammed YouTube with a $170 million fine, alleging that the company illegally collected the data of child users on its platform in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Though the fine isn’t going to hurt YouTube much on a monetary level, creators of children’s content will surely be affected.

Effective in 2020, YouTube settled with the FTC by promising to eliminate personalized ads and turn off comments and notifications on videos meant for viewers under the age of 13. While these measures are meant to protect the privacy of young audiences, creators will likely experience a major loss in ad revenue, viewership, and monetization opportunities.

YouTube also announced that it would be penalizing videos that “maliciously insult” groups based on race, gender, or orientation as well as taking stringent action against toxic commenters on YouTube. Though the measures are meant to protect YouTube’s community, the announcement has sparked a backlash and hashtags like “#YouTubeIsOver. Creators are concerned these sweeping new changes will have a detrimental effect on creative expression and community engagement

Related: Dreaming of a low cost, universally accessible network where your data remains secure? Check out what a decentralized network is at NKN!

Conclusion

Person taking a photo of of open sea and sunset
Person taking a photo of of open sea and sunset

Though YouTube has been through controversial changes in the past 15 years since its launch in 2005, it continues to be the most popular video-sharing platform worldwide. Time will tell whether or not creators and viewers will stick with YouTube as a place to upload and view content but for now, YouTube’s devotees are still signing on to watch videos. Is there a better platform out there for netizens who want to share content as equals without compromising their privacy and security? Check out NKN to learn more about a decentralized network and let’s continue to work together toward an even better sharing platform that everyone can enjoy.

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