It may come as a surprise to some people, but Google's 2006 acquisition of the online video pioneer YouTube was considered 'crazy' by some industry leaders and analysts. How wrong they were. Although YouTube started from humble beginnings and faced many challenges, it grew to become the heart and soul of the online video revolution with over 1 billion unique viewers across the world each month. YouTube is now celebrating its 10th anniversary and over the last decade we've seen it evolve from the first banal video 'Me at the Zoo', through to iconic clips like 'Charlie Bit My Finger', and now a vlogger explosion spearheaded by the likes of Zoella. So just how did YouTube capture the public's imagination? And what can we expect to see next?
I was fortunate to be part of YouTube's evolution as Google's first video hire outside of the US, tasked with growing the YouTube business across Europe, the Middle East and Africa where there were many detractors, competitors and it was still relatively unknown. There were several online video start-ups at the time and if YouTube hadn't properly ignited the video revolution, someone else would have. But YouTube had a huge pull, offering a user-friendly interface with a strong brand that users could identify and engage with and, as a result, so did Google.
'Me at the Zoo', a fly on the wall style video of co-founder, Jawed Karim, was the first upload on YouTube on 23rd April 2005 and the site quickly became a hit as consumers flocked to upload their own videos. At the time of Google's purchase, YouTube already had 100 million views a day with 'Chica the Dog' dressed in a spider costume being the most popular video. People immediately recognised the opportunity to capture videos documenting their daily lives and unusual or humorous events to share with the world. YouTube became the centre point for broadcasting yourself, a completely new concept at the time.
Our love of self-broadcast has led to the phenomenon of the YouTube vlogger, the A-list celebrity of this generation. Not only are we fascinated with looking at ourselves, but we also like watching and engaging with other people. And YouTube provides the perfect vehicle for this - it's a window into other people's lives. Not just watching, but actively participating with likes, comments and shares. What started with a trip to the zoo has turned into YouTube channels that offer the public anything from the best beauty tips to Olympics highlights, sneezing pandas, Jerry Springer's best moments and don't forget the unbelievably popular Disney toy reviews!
But YouTube has created far greater waves than just offering a place to broadcast your daily life - it has become a tool for change. In my opinion, the best thing YouTube provides the world is a place to challenge politics and exercise freedom of speech. It's the home of live debates around immigration and it had a crucial hand to play during the Arab Spring. YouTube, coupled with a smart phone and internet access, provides a portable camera facilitating the growth of citizen journalism and enabling videos to reach the world before news reporters are even on the scene. It is a source of knowledge and insight, not just a place to watch cats on skateboards (which I love).
Now, online video has become synonymous with the way we view, engage with and learn about the world, so much so that the methods of sharing videos are increasing exponentially. In addition to YouTube, people are turning to other video platforms that have a different flavour such as Snapchat Discover, which is transforming storytelling through creative integration of video, text, graphics and photos, and more recently, Periscope and Meerkat which allow instantaneous live streaming integrated with chat. Periscope is famed with breaking the news of a building collapse in New York live, before any media had arrived on the scene. But we must take pause and tip our hat to Facebook in this battle for the eyeballs and engagement. Their video views are exploding as it invests deeply in an offer to rival YouTube, and don't forget Twitter, Vine and Instagram and their attempts to get a bigger slice of the expanding video sharing pie.
The next natural step is to make the video experience even more immediate, engaging and lifelike. YouTube has just launched 360-degree videos but more exciting is Facebook's purchase of Oculus Rift, the virtual reality company, in a move that hints at what could be possible in the future. Having tried the VR headset myself, the ability to visually engage with an unlimited array of real and fabricated virtual worlds is phenomenal. Even at this early stage, the potential is seriously mind blowing. Imagine watching a music concert or football match from the best seats in the house, virtually, but from the comfort of your home when tickets to the real event are sold out. Fasten your seatbelts. This is going to get interesting.
YouTube has brought us videos of cats and dogs, re-runs of classic TV shows and established the A-list stars of our generation. It has brought world events into our living rooms and onto our phones at the touch of a button. It will be exciting to see how the platform evolves over the next 10 years; I have no doubt that it will continue to change the way we watch, learn and interact with the world around us. Happy Birthday, YouTube.