If you think YouTube has only been around for a few years, you might think again. It actually originated 14 or 15 years ago.
Of course, in the early days, the videos didn’t amount to much. As I recall, there were a lot of camcorder shots of toddlers doing silly things; like, “baby bites brother’s finger.”
Google bought the site in 2006 and shortly thereafter the tech quality and creative imagination begin to grow. Today, YouTube is dominated by first-class professionals using the latest high-tech innovations to create fascinating little videos — for example, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing to Metallica — that vary in length, from four to five minutes to an hour or more. Unlike Hollywood, which has individual actors, directors, writers, etc., a YouTube star does all that stuff himself, something like Charlie Chaplin did in the early days of movies.
The site has produced major on-line celebrities with millions of fans. Some YouTube stars are so popular they’re promoted on subway ads and in teen magazines.
There’s a fellow in Sweden who’s become a celebrity simply by playing video games. The game itself dominates the computer screen, but you see him in a small box in the top, left-hand corner, where he delivers a continuous, rambling narrative, heavily laced with the F-word, about himself and the game. “Oh, my gosh! F____ing T-Rex is about to eat my head!” He uses the nom de plume “PewDiePie.” He’s attracted 66 million subscribers and earned 12 to 15 million bucks last year!
Hollywood has shown more then passing interest in this phenomenon. Dream Works studio recently spent 33 million to create a company that manages YouTube stars all over the world. The company’s CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg, has recently declared that “eventually, YouTube will become the biggest media platform, by far, in the entire world.”
Nevertheless, most YouTube celebs still want to break into TV and movies because that’s where the really big money is. But make no mistake about it, when Hollywood finally embraces them, the YouTube stars will re-shape Tinsel-Town in their image and the place will never be the same.
YouTube is changing the face of mass-entertainment. Increasingly, kids rarely plan their evenings around TV shows or theater movies. YouTube stars are in their rear pockets and are readily viewed and emailed, anywhere at anytime. The fans know everything about them.
This is changing the nature of fame, both its intensity and duration. Fame has always been a fleeting thing — here today and gone tomorrow — and this is certainly true on YouTube. As Warhol predicted: “Everyone in the next generation will be famous for 10 minutes.”
Alas, the digital world changes everything. And the tech changes are so profound and rapid many adults have a difficult time keeping up with them.
But it’s not difficult for 10-year-olds. Indeed, they’re constantly moving on to new games and creations. You’ve probably heard of the enormously popular game “Fortnite.” (But that phenomena deserves its own column some other day.)