Next week's New Yorker features an in-depth look from John Seabrook at the history of YouTube and its plans to launch a hundred-channel "YouTV" of sorts in the next six months, complete with its own producers, publishers, and programmers. Seabrooks also profiles Google's Robert Kyncl, "architect of the single largest cultural transformation" in YouTube's history, who sees the web changing television as drastically as the upheaval led by the cable companies in the 80s broadcast industry. While the site does huge traffic and receives 48 new hours of video every minute, the average YouTube user watches only 15 minutes a day, far less than the four to five hours your average TV watcher logs. Kyncl told Seabrook, "We’re absolutely nothing compared to TV."
Since its storied Silicon Valley garage development days, YouTube's grown far beyond founders Chad Hurley and Steven Chen's idea of a Flickr for video, and run into big monetization, copyright, and branding issues. Jawed Karim, the more obscure third founder who left before the company was purchased by Google in 2006, wrote a prophetic email to the other co-founders several months after YouTube launched, "If we want to sign up lots of users who keep coming back, we have to target the people who will never upload a video in their life." YouTube's since evolved into many things, including an on-demand radio station that lets you listen to an endless variety of music, the ultimate music video tool, resource for learning physics or tying a bowtie, the source for replays from live events, and a never-ending pool of cats, cute kids, and funny clips.
With its investment in talent and production, YouTube's attracted names like Disney, Anthony Zuiker (creator of C.S.I), Shaq, Tony Hawk, The Onion, Slate, and the Wall Street Journal. The focus here is around channels, not individual shows, and each channel creator will be able to program their lineups as they see fit. Still, success is never guaranteed on the web, and being a move away from the "user-generated anarchy" we all know so well, there's a risk of alienating users. It's a fascinating story and may make for a very different YouTube in the coming months, so settle in for the long read.
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