YouTube recently opened a brand new state-of-the-art studio in Los Angeles, where they invite people to come and tell their stories on YouTube. Anyone, well almost anyone, can come in and use all the top-notch facilities in the studio for free to produce content on YouTube. I recently had the chance to visit the place, and it is awesome.
In the hallway of the YouTube Space studios stand two vintage Video Arcade games where visitors and employees can play Pac Man or Asteroids. Wonderful to play, but vintage they are. Relics of a past where videogames were custom built expensive machines to be found in arcade halls, only to be replaced by waves of Xboxes and PlayStations a few years later, and giving rise to a whole generation playing Angry Birds on their smartphones. Mass consumerization of the gaming industry, the collapse of pioneers such as Atari, and the rise of a whole new legion of game developers.
Perhaps the TV industry will see a similar turn of events, and YouTube could be the catalyst. YouTube couldn't have picked a better attribute than the Video Arcade games to display in their brand new studios. They couldn't have picked a better place either. The new YouTube Space studios are housed in the old Howard Hughes Helicopter factory, and one of the proud Howard Hughes helicopter models is still parked right out in front of the building.
I had the chance to visit the facilities last week, and it blew my mind. Not just the facilities, which are top notch, but more than that the implications of how we will consume television and media in the future.
I have two kids, aged 10 and 14. Safe to say, in the New Normal where digital has become a normality, I learn more from them on all-things-digital than they will learn from me. I had noticed that my fourteen-year-old daughter had been spending less and less time watching daytime TV. There were still the occasional moments that she would slouch in front of the television set, and take in the episodes of iCarly or SpongeBob Square Pants, more often than not constantly engaged with her mobile phone.
But she started spending more and more time watching content on YouTube, where her laptop clearly started to become her Primary Screen for viewing video. At first she was searching for the stuff she knew from television on YouTube. But then something flipped, and she quickly latched onto channels and series that exist on YouTube only. 'Original Content', as they call it.
Today, my daughter is hooked on Smosh. I personally can't stand it. Probably I have the same look on my face when I watch Smosh as my old folks had when I was watching the episodes of Dr. Who on the BBC when I was her age. My father never really got the Daleks. And I don't get Smosh.
If you don't have a teenager in the house, Smosh is quite the phenomenon. Today, Smosh has more than 8 million subscribers to their YouTube channels, and their content has had more than 2 billion views. Billion, that's right. Smosh was started in 2003 by two guys, Ian and Anthony, who have become the rock stars of the online video world, and have built their videos into the most subscribed channel on YouTube. Their core 'Smosh' channel has new videos uploaded weekly, featuring skits by Ian and Anthony, but another popular channel under their brand is 'SmoshGames' where you will see them playing videogames and commenting on them. My son is hooked. Anthony and Ian have become household names in our house, like Michael Jackson and Prince were to my generation, and John, Paul, George and Ringo were to my parents.
Smosh is on YouTube only. They don't want to be on TV, because as the creators say: "We are where our audience is. And our audience is on YouTube, not on plain old TV anymore." In other words, they think regular TV is dead as a doorknob. And they may be right.
Smosh is not a unique phenomenon. There are thousands of successful channels on YouTube. Some are incredibly prosperous, and very lucrative. Take freddiew, the channel of Freddy Wong, who has more than 5 million subscribers. He was also the creative force behind Video Game High School, an intensely popular internet action comedy webseries, which was released on Netflix, AFTER it had been aired on YouTube.
YouTube is now producing stars by the dozen. Take Michelle Phan, a Vietnamese-American make-up instructor who has a YouTube channel where she shows make-up tips, talks about beauty products, and has a healthy 3,3 million subscribers. Or Ryan Higa, who has a channel called Nigahiga, which mostly features himself, that has more than 7 million subscribers. These new YouTube stars all have one thing in common: they're twenty-something digital natives who have ALWAYS known things to be digital. They wouldn't want to be on TV. This generation of talent have been taking to YouTube like a duck takes to water.
YouTube has become an enormous magnet for content, and the numbers are scary. Every second more than 70 hours of video is uploaded. YouTube is one fifth of all internet traffic, and has more than 4 billion views per day. True, not all of the content is of the highest quality, and much can be put under the 'Cats on skateboards' category, but the next generation is pretty clear: YouTube is where the action is.
Next Gen Oprah
It's pretty clear that the next generation Oprah or Jay Leno won't be coming from TV anymore, they'll come straight from YouTube. That's why YouTube has built a studio in LA. And one in London. And one in Tokyo. But the Los Angeles facility is their flagship studio. Where Howard Hughes once built helicopters, the next generation of talent is producing the next YouTube hit, the next monster YouTube channel, the next generation of content.
If you're rushing of to LA to record your stuff, hold your horses. Although the use of the studio is free, you have to have at least 500,000 subscribers to be taken seriously. That threshold is pretty steep, but it's the YouTube equivalent of 'you have to be this tall to ride this attraction'. Once you're in though, you have all the cameras, studios, lighting equipment and editing facilities to create the most perfect content, and put it straight on YouTube.
We're witnessing the end of an era. Television won't go black soon. But watching linear television as we know it, could become the passtime of the 'old-timers', the favorite way to spend the evening for the old digital immigrants who will sit in front of their television sets, watching reruns of Dr. Who, after they've read their old analog paper newspapers.
But the next generation won't be caught dead in front of a TV. They will surf the channels of YouTube, that could be streamed directly from the fabulous new studio in LA. Howard Hughes would have been proud at such daring disruptors using his old factory.