The Rise of YouTube: From Cat Videos to Global Advertising

published on July 19, 2020

The modern world works in video: from news reports to education, reaction gifs and just laughing at people injuring themselves And all of that is really thanks to just one company That’s why today we’ll be going a little meta by looking at our mysterious overlord: YouTube This video is brought to you by Squarespace Build beautiful websites easily and affordably by signing up with the link below

Like the founders of several other big tech companies, the creators of YouTube met while working at Paypal, back when Elon Musk was still calling the shots In October 2002, when eBay acquired PayPal for $15 billion, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim became instant millionaires This was especially important for the latter two, because they had both dropped out of college just before graduating

Chad Hurley was a designer, so he quit PayPal to work on a few projects like designing bags and working on a feature film Jawed Karim actually finished his degree online, while Steve Chen stuck around at PayPal for a few more years The three remained friends, however, and met up frequently to discuss ideas for their own company

The actual spark that inspired YouTube is a different story, depending on which founder you talk too It was either because they couldn’t send large videos, or because they couldn’t find footage of Janet Jackson’s famous wardrobe malfunction Their first ideas for the platform though, were actually a bit different Like Mark Zuckerberg, they were big fans of a website called HotOrNotcom, where you could

Rate people’s appearance They imagined a site where members would put up a kind of dating profile video, talking about who they were and the kind of person they were looking for But pretty soon they dropped the idea, in favor of a more universal platform The domain youtubecom was activated on 14th February, 2005 and just two months later Jawed Karim uploaded the first ever YouTube video: him in the zoo

By May 2005, the YouTube website was up and running, and appropriately featured videos of Chen’s cat Suffice to say, YouTube was a success from the very beginning Much like PayPal, it’s beauty was in its simplicity In contrast with competing services, one of which was Google’s, uploading a Youtube video was free and you could upload as many as you wanted, as long as they weren’t too

Big But with no way to profit from their service, YouTube was burning money fast Luckily, the PayPal mafia was here to help, with former CFO Roelof Botha investing $35 million in seed funding, around September 2005 This investment was vital as the site needed time to grow and to establish itself before monetizing

By November 2005 YouTube was hands-down the biggest video platform, serving 2 million videos per day Server costs were becoming so massive that YouTube ran out of money less than six months later, causing Sequoia Capital to injected another $8 million At the time, YouTube’s biggest problem was licensing, but movie studios and record labels, quickly saw the benefit from short clips being shared among users, as the first viral videos

Began to appear By October 2006 it was clear that YouTube was the winner in the video platform race, but Google wasn’t ready to give up just yet Instead, they put down 3% of the entire company’s value on the table, which persuaded Hurley, Chen and Karim to sell YouTube Outsiders thought that Google had paid way too much, spending over $15 billion for a

Website that hadn’t made a single dime But Google was confident it had made the right decision, and the synergies between the two companies were truly exceptional Google’s army of lawyers quickly settled the majority of YouTube’s legal troubles and even resulted in profitable deals being signed with the likes of Sony, Lionsgate, and MGM

With Google capital, YouTube also developed an automated copyright system, Content ID, which could reliably detect copyrighted content as soon as a new video was uploaded By utilizing Google’s vast server farms, YouTube could also reduce their hosting costs, which were already approaching $2 million per day But the ultimate benefit, was the integration between YouTube’s video platform and Google’s advertising arm, AdSense

One of the reasons behind Google’s success as an advertising platform was its access to immense amounts of information, which YouTube could provide in spades YouTube’s main problem, on the other hand, was a lack of monetization, which AdSense easily solved By showing ads next to videos, YouTube finally started generating revenue, but despite that it has never made a profit

By 2009 YouTube was showing 5 billion videos every month, earning way less from ads than they spent on hosting As a consequence, that year YouTube lost $470 million dollars But that didn’t really matter, because YouTube’s true value for Google is the information it has about its users: what you watch, what you like, what you comment In a way, YouTube is profitable, it’s just that a big chunk of its value isn’t easy

To determine Of course, the ultimate goal for YouTube is to replace television, and to do that YouTube needed to be more than just an archive of TV clips and cat videos It was in their interest to promote original content and to that end in 2011, they partnered with numerous celebrities and production companies to create unique, high-quality content After a $300 million investment, in March 2013 YouTube was ready for the next step in

Its master plan: moving towards a subscription model The first iteration was called Music Key, which allowed you to stream music without ads for a monthly fee In October 2015 it was incorporated into YouTube Red, which removed ads across the whole platform and gave access to exclusive content The adoption rate for YouTube Red isn’t particularly spectacular

By the end of 2016, it had only 15 million subscribers And it does make sense: in the age of Adblock it’s hard to get people to pay for something they’ve been getting free for years Speaking of Adblock, it would only be fair to discuss the recent trouble YouTube has had with its advertisers, better known as the Adpocalypse In short, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about how ads were being shown next extremist

Content, particularly attacking the biggest YouTuber out there, PewDiePie Big advertisers got worried this could become a public relations crisis, so they stopped spending money on YouTube Of course, YouTube need those advertisers to keep the platform running, so they introduced options for what kind of videos brands don’t want their ads to be shown on These categories include “tragedy and conflict” and “sensitive social issues”, both of

Which are pretty open to interpretation This resulted in many videos which should’ve been ok getting demonetized, so no ads running on them YouTube were, of course, fine with that, since it meant bringing back advertisers at the expense of a few channels losing their revenues Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what happened

Many YouTubers got their livelihoods destroyed, while the YouTube advertising platform returned to record profitability In fact, YouTube’s exclusive ad platform for high-spending advertisers is already sitting at a record number of participants, way more than even before the Adpocalypse What this fiasco really showed, however, is that YouTube is beholden advertisers Ultimately, it is the big brands that are the customers, while both content creators

And viewers are merely users of the platform whose priorities are of lesser importance The good news is that YouTube channels don’t have to rely on AdSense revenue alone Here at Business Casual, for example, I rely much more heavily on Patreon and sponsorships In fact, without these two pillars of support, Business Casual just wouldn’t exist But luckily I’ve got the support of both dedicated viewers like you and of awesome companies like Squarespace

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