The world of YouTube is vast and may feel overwhelming. Around 5 billion videos are watched each day and more than 400 hours of content is uploaded to the site every minute. Our children and young people are immersed in the world of online video, but how much do we understand about this site, its videos and the people creating them? And what impact does this have on those we work alongside?
YouTube has changed a fair amount since it began, so here is a quick timeline:
2005: YouTube was created as a simple site to which anyone could upload videos. It was one of the first of its kind, and was mostly populated by a small group of creators making bizarre, funny and poor-quality videos. A Nike advert was the first video to reach 1 million views.
2006: YouTube was purchased by Google and began to attract more than 65,000 new video uploads and 100 million video views per day. Viral videos were a new concept, as videos couldn’t previously be seen and shared on this scale.
2007: By this point videos could be monetised through adverts. This new incentive prompted a huge rise in the creation of videos.
2008: YouTube launched its mobile site so people could watch millions of videos from their mobile phones. This was an impressive leap forward for a world in which iPhone and Samsung smartphones were rare. Forbes estimated YouTube’s annual revenue at $200 million.
2009: YouTube launched music video service Vevo, which enabled artists to post their own music videos. Comedian Ryan Higa (‘nigahiga’) was the first person to reach 2 million subscribers.
2010: YouTube made changes to keep people watching the videos for longer, such as a personalised ‘recommended’ video section and a like button. Around 2 billion videos were watched every day.
2011: Users could now create and watch livestreams (videos watched in real time).
2012: PSY’s ‘Gangnam style’ was the first video to surpass 1 billion views. The ‘Kony 2012’ short documentary, which raised awareness of Joseph Kony and the LRA in Uganda, went viral. It resulted in a new resolution from the US Senate and contributed to the decision on the part of the African Union to send troops.
2013: YouTube continued to grow and registered 1 billion active users every month. Gamer ‘PewDiePie’ gathered 19 million subscribers within a year, making his the most subscribed-to channel.
2014: YouTube had paid out more than $2 billion to creators through its advertising scheme by this point. Key YouTubers were invited to the White House to promote awareness about Obamacare and to help develop ways for the government to better connect with the ‘YouTube generation’.
2015: YouTube Kids, a mobile app optimised for children’s viewing with features such as parental controls, was created. Statistics showed that 18 to 49-year-olds were spending four per cent less time watching TV, while time spent on YouTube increased by 74 per cent. An autoplay feature was added to YouTube so that related videos would automatically start playing.
2016: YouTube became the second most visited site in the world (after Google). People spent an average of 40 minutes watching YouTube videos every day. 2017: Justin Bieber’s ‘Despacito’ music video took just 97 days to reach 1 billion views (‘Gangnam style’ took five months).
2018: Around 95 per cent of the most-watched videos were music videos. ‘PewDiePie’ had held the title of most subscribed to channel for five years, and by this point had 89 million subscribers. YouTube rolled out autoplay on its home page so that the videos that visitors scrolled over started playing with subtitles without even being clicked on.
2019: The number of channels earning six figures per year on YouTube increased by 40 per cent compared with 2018. More than 70 per cent of YouTube videos are viewed on mobile devices.
YouTube has grown and developed hugely since its inception, and will continue to do so. Its success in drawing people in and keeping them watching videos is partly down to the billions of hours and dollars put into creating new technological features to achieve just that. Part of YouTube’s success is that it offers something for everyone.
Over the years, trends or genres of videos have emerged that have become particularly popular. Interestingly, 90 per cent of all videos come from just three per cent of all those uploading videos. These widely watched creators (YouTubers), often have millions of subscribers and earn enough from creating videos to make it a full-time job, often earning six-figure salaries doing so. Below are a few of the biggest current trends on YouTube and details of some of the most-watched YouTubers creating them.
ASMR: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is the skin-tingling sensation, which often starts at your scalp and travels down your spine, that you might feel when hearing certain sounds. ASMR videos tend to involve whispered voices or interesting noises made by various objects, all held very close to the microphone. This appeals to viewers for its calming tone and the ASMR sensation it creates for some.
‘Gentle Whispering ASMR’ = 1.6 million subscribers
‘Heather Feather ASMR’ = 507,000 subscribers
Beauty: YouTube is viewed as a learning platform by many due to the volume of tutorials online, ranging from music lessons to DIY and cooking. One of the most popular themes is beauty, and there is a whole community on YouTube creating videos about make-up, hair and skincare.
‘James Charles’ = 15.3 million subscribers
‘Zoella’ = 11.8 million subscribers
Daily vloggers: Vlogging (video blogging) has become one of the most popular forms of video content on YouTube. Vloggers capture moments in their lives, often talking to the camera throughout the day. Viewers feel as though they get to know the creator on a personal level as they see their homes, listen to their thoughts and see their day-to-day activities. Daily vloggers have the tough challenge of filming and editing their lives every single day. But their hard work pays off as these channels often bring in huge numbers of views.
‘CaseyNeistat’ = 11 million subscribers
‘Alfie Deyes Vlogs’ = 3.9 million subscribers
Family and kids’ channels: YouTube creators aren’t all tweens or twenty-somethings. Two hugely popular trends are family vloggers or family channels that show the lives and members of a family unit. The content is usually suitable for younger viewers, and is full of fun, high-energy activities. Kids’ channels have also become a more recent trend, perhaps in line with the creation of the YouTube Kids app. Children as young as 3 or 4 are becoming the stars of their own (parent-run) channels, taking on challenges, reviewing toys and showing off their skills.
‘Ryan ToysReview’ = 18.7 million subscribers
‘Shaytards’ = 5 million subscribers
Fashion: This trend of videos typically features the creator showing different outfit ideas in an arty style or a sit-down video, and going through clothes they have bought to offer viewers their reviews or ideas.
‘Roxxsaurus’ = 3.6 million subscribers
‘Patricia Bright’ = 2.7 million subscribers
Gamers: This is currently the most popular video trend on YouTube. Gamers record themselves and their screens as they play video games. These videos aim to entertain and show viewers tricks and ways of completing the games. The content in these videos varies, but many of the most popular gaming channels feature comical reactions and bad language.
‘PewDiePie’ = 91 million subscribers
‘Fernanfloo’ = 32.4 million subscribers
Music: Since the introduction of Vevo, 19 out of the 20 mostwatched videos on YouTube have been music videos. Pop stars are dominating YouTube, and some even started their careers as small creators on the same platform. Many unknown musicians take to YouTube with their own covers or original songs. Some people, like Shawn Mendes, have successfully managed to cross the line of YouTuber to global pop star.
‘Shawn Mendes’ = 17.7 million subscribers
‘Dodie’ = 1.8 million subscribers
Pranks and challenges: These channels feature young adults taking on crazy challenges or doing fun pranks involving friends, family members or members of the public. They’re often entertaining and light-hearted, but this category seems to have caused the most controversy and news headlines. Sometimes the desire for views leads to pranks going too far and occasionally they become inappropriate, dangerous or, as in a few cases, deadly.
‘Roman Atwood Vlogs’ = 15.2 million subscribers
‘Jesse’ = 10.5 million subscribers
Sports: This is a broad trend, with people filming different sports, tricks, matches, commentaries and more. A popular sub-trend within this category is talented footballers attempting difficult tricks and skills.
‘Freekickerz’ = 7.5 million subscribers
‘Daniel Cutting’ = 580,000 subscribers
With 75 per cent of our young people watching YouTube daily (Youth for Christ Gen Z; Rethinking Culture, 2017), it is important for us to understand the phenomenon and to be aware of the ways it is influencing our children and young people, both negatively and positively. YouTube has opened the door for people to create videos and distribute them across the globe on a mass scale like never before. It doesn’t control content in the way traditional TV does. It empowers the individual and creates a way for us to hear from a multitude of voices. This has led to positive and negative messages being shared.
An increasing number of people are taking to YouTube to talk about their mental health. Many have shared the reality of living with mental ill health, offering ideas and support for how to deal with it, and starting to take some of the taboo and shame away from talking about it. YouTube was named as the only social media platform to have a positive net impact on mental health, with awareness being one of its key positive traits (RSPH, #StatusOfMind, 2017).
Life is lonely for many LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer) people. Perhaps they haven’t told anybody about their sexuality and feel hidden. Perhaps they have been bullied and don’t have any close friends or family members. Sometimes they will be the only gay person in the class, church or friendship group. LGBTQ+ people from many different backgrounds use YouTube to share their experiences and stories, to offer advice and support, and to express who they are. This helps LGBTQ+ viewers see they are not alone.
A large percentage of YouTube videos revolve around having toys, make-up, clothes, tech, games or merchandise, the list goes on. Whether it is reviews, hauls of goods, unboxing items or the ever-popular ‘what I got for Christmas’ videos, they all focus heavily on material things. The videos with the most views tend to feature the largest numbers of, or most extravagant items. Materialism sweeps across many of the trends on YouTube and can often leave viewers feeling inadequate. Though the message is rarely intended to be: “If you don’t have X, you aren’t enough”, many children and young people have no chance of owning the never-ending list of new things paraded on YouTube, and therefore feel they will never be as cool as the popular YouTuber they aspire to become.
Views, likes and comments. Success on YouTube is about numbers. Before YouTube, TV ratings were rarely shared, but now we know who has what like never before. This has created a clear sense of order, hierarchy and assessment. The suggestion is that because 3 million is more than 1 million, therefore this person is better than that person. The numbers promise us transparency and clarity, but in reality they often lead to us quantifying people and ourselves. If I only have ten likes on my video, what does that say about me?
The numbers game of YouTube has also led to some pretty unhealthy content. Those trying to get as many views as possible often use sensationalist ‘clickbait’ titles and misleading thumbnails. Worse still, they may create videos with shocking, explicit, graphic or dangerous content.
A recent scandal focused on popular YouTuber Logan Paul, who filmed himself going into the ‘suicide forest’ in Japan and capturing the body of somebody who had taken their own life. Whether finding and filming the body was intentional or not, uploading it certainly was. There was a huge backlash, but the video garnered millions of views despite this and Logan Paul’s subscriber numbers continued to rise.
The YouTubers our children and young people watch are more than just random people on the other side of a screen. They are people they feel they know, people they trust and relate to. As with other social media stars, YouTubers are often referred to as ‘influencers’ because they are known within the industry to have a profound influence over their viewers. Whether it is influencing them to buy products, visit certain places or try something new, there is money to be made in having influence over others.
This leads to questions about the perceived authenticity of the people our children and young people are watching, and how much of what they say and recommend is motivated by money and self-interest. Some seem wary of this, however, as 31 per cent of young people feel that having sponsored videos (where a creator is paid by a company to make a video for them) makes a YouTuber inauthentic or false (Youth for Christ Digital Generation, 2019).
Another issue arising from mistrust relates to young people being groomed online by YouTubers they looked up to and trusted. Allegations have come to light in the last few years about different YouTube creators who have taken advantage of their influence and power by grooming or engaging inappropriately with young viewers.
Despite the overwhelming number of videos on YouTube about pretty much everything, there seems to be a real vacuum when it comes to content about faith from Christians. Perhaps because of the often hostile nature of social media and the internet, videos about faith and religion have been pushed aside in favour of less polarising videos, such as those featuring cute cats. The lack of content about faith is potentially caused by a fear of confrontation. Perhaps it is caused by a lack of good examples to follow, or by the feeling that faith and social media are separate spheres in our lives. Either way, the message comes across loud and clear: faith is not a topic for YouTube. Thankfully, there are Christians who are breaking through the silence, fear and the unknown and are making creative, authentic videos about their stories, their passions and their day-to-day lives, faith included.
LAHNA POTTLE is 16-19s specialist for Youthscape and part of their innovation team. Youthscape runs SHARE, a five-day film school for 15 to 19-year-olds who are passionate about sharing their faith on YouTube. If you know of a young person who might be interested, contact firstname.lastname@example.org