By Stone Hansard
YouTube recently celebrated its seventh birthday, and really, how did we ever live without it? The video streaming site changed the way we consume media online so fundamentally that it is difficult to remember what the Internet was like before it existed. Launched in the waning days of dial-up, YouTube’s innovative instant-streaming platform hooked us on the instant gratification of the broadband era, and Google’s acquisition of the site in 2006 assured its position as the preeminent destination for online video.
At this point, YouTube is to streaming video what Kleenex is to facial tissue: “If you get a chance, YouTube it later!”
Of course, YouTube’s success is due in no small part to the company’s ability to innovate and reinvent, and at the end of 2011, YouTube unveiled the largest redesign in its history: A redesign that gives wider exposure to the content producers and editorial brands themselves.
“The focus of that redesign was to take all of these individual videos that people typically watch and share on YouTube, and really bring forward the channels that all these videos are housed in,” explained YouTube spokesperson Chris Dale.
Through this new focus on content channels, small producers and major publishers alike are more visible to YouTube’s user base, and several media giants have partnered with YouTube to introduce exclusive content via the platform.
Unlike many user-generated clips on YouTube, the exclusive programming produced by Hearst, Rodale, Demand Media and others is far from amateur, or even low budget. Indeed, many of the shows would be indistinguishable from traditional television programming.
A prime example is Hearst’s Car and Driver magazine channel, the resurrected Car and Driver Television, which previously aired on Spike TV until 2005. Now YouTube-only, the channel recently announced the launch of six new YouTube-only shows that run the gamut from car-themed reality programming to informative test-driver vehicle reviews. One of the forthcoming programs, Full Hoon, even enlists celebrity hosts Jim Florentine and Sherrod Small to find and compile the funny car videos.
Another, Slate magazine’s Slate News Channel, is less ambitious but highly prolific and well suited for busy web surfers. The channel offers quick, visually stimulating video shorts highlighting interesting headlines of the day, pop culture commentary, and science updates among other topics.
Other publications with exclusive YouTube offerings include Everyday Health, Bleacher Report, Pitchfork, eHow and Vice.
While this content may technically be exclusive to YouTube, Dale is quick to point out that one of the primary reasons for YouTube’s success over time has been the ability to share content from the site freely across the Web and mobile devices, and notes that “exclusivity is something that has not necessarily been the focal point of the YouTube experience.”
Certainly, a big reason why large publishers opt to issue content on YouTube rather than on their own platform stems not only from YouTube’s massive 800 million user audience, but from ease of distribution and other infrastructural benefits of YouTube, which include captioning and language translation technology as well as innovative advertising and monetization methods.
Dale clarified that while YouTube has backed some major outlets to step up with new, original content for the site, the larger strategy isn’t just focused on large entertainment and editorial companies, but the little guys too.
“Some of those channels will have received funding and an advance from us, and others don’t, and have been thriving on YouTube for years and have been hugely successful and continue to grow at a rapid pace,” he said.
Some recent moves in the media industry seem to support Dale’s assessment of growing success in the YouTube market. Kristina Dechter, former editor in chief of FOAM magazine, raised a few eyebrows recently when it was announced that she left the publication to work exclusively with TheStylish, a new YouTube-only channel co-produced by InStyle magazine.
When asked about the somewhat startling position change, Dale mused: “I think what a lot of these executives at traditional media companies are seeing now is that there is a creative freedom that is afforded online, and an experimentation and an iterative methodology that is really compelling to them that they don’t necessarily get to explore in the traditional outlets.”
That makes sense. If old-school journalists can split for blogs and tablet-only publications, why not YouTube, too?