YouTube, by far the most popular online video platform in the world, celebrates its 13th anniversary on February 14th this year. Boasting over a billion users around the world – who collectively view a billion hours of videos on the site each day – YouTube has become the internet’s go-to site for everything from cat videos and ‘vlog’ commentaries to news coverage and music videos. The Alphabet summary has evolved from a simple video-sharing platform into a vast business with a plethora of verticals, and while Google does not reveal financial data about YouTube, estimates in April 2013 pegged revenue figures at around $5 billion.
YouTube’s 13-year-journey has been, like most of its Silicon Valley contemporaries, a roller coaster ride, peppered with acquisitions, design overhauls, and experiments in both technology and content. Here are some of the key milestones that have helped shape YouTube into the internet leviathan that it is today:
Now consuming as much bandwidth as the entire internet did in 2000, YouTube launched its first ‘Paid Partner’ programme with the site’s early users in May – netting, to take one example, the family behind ‘Charlie bit my finger’ over $150,000. In June 2007, it ventured out of the US for the first time by launching its services in nine countries. A month later, the platform took another step to mainstream popularity when it teamed up with CNN to host the debates for the 2008 US Presidential election. In August the same year, the first advertisements appeared on YouTube videos, answering the long-asked question of how Google planned to monetise the site.
In 2007, the platform was being widely used to watch sports highlights, music videos, and TV shows. This resulted in the platform being served a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit by Viacom, the owner of MTV and Nickelodeon. The case was initially resolved in YouTube’s favour in 2010 and was eventually settled by the two companies in 2014. This was soon followed by English football’s Premier League filing a similar complaint.
YouTube’s mobile platform was launched in 2007, allowing smartphone users to access its videos on an optimised mobile website. The mobile platform was relaunched based on HTML5 in July 2010, eliminating the need to use Adobe Flash Player. A few months later, the YouTube application made its debut on the Android market, while the iOS version of the app was released only in September 2012 after Apple dropped it as a pre-loaded app in its iOS 6 operating system.
In May 2008, with 13 hours of video being uploaded on YouTube every minute, Forbes estimated the company’s annual revenue at around $200 million. The platform was conferred with the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award in 2008 for its role in “promoting a free exchange of ideas...around the world.” A few months later, HD video capabilities, the launch of official channels by Barack Obama, the US Congress, and the Vatican, and a key partnership with Vevo to distribute music videos on the platform helped the platform achieve one billion daily video views in October 2009.
Chad Hurley had acted as YouTube’s CEO since the company’s launch and retained his role even after Google acquired it in 2006. But in October 2010 he announced that he was stepping down as CEO to take an advisory role at the company. He was succeeded by Salar Kamangar who was the 9th employee to join Google. Just two years later, however, he was replaced as YouTube CEO by Susan Wojcicki – another Google stalwart and then the senior vice president of Ads and Commerce – as increasing revenues from the site became a key priority for Google.
In 2011, YouTube announced that it would begin focussing on original content by allowing select users to create independent ‘channels’ exclusively for their platform. An acquisition of Next New Networks and a $100 million-plus pay-out to content creators saw the inception of several channels like Howcast, The Onion, Jay-Z’s Life+Times, and IGN. The internet behemoth also showcased the power of user-generated content when it was used by activists in the Arab Spring revolutions to share the multinational protests with the rest of the world. In 2017, the top content creators on YouTube earned a combined total of $127 million according to Forbes.
Its initial experiments with live-streaming were with a U2 concert in 2009, a Q&A session with Obama in 2010, and the Indian Premier League also in 2010. However, these involved the use of third-party technology, and it wasn’t until April 2011 that the company first rolled out its native ‘YouTube Live’ platform. Since then, the portal has been used around the world to watch live coverage of everything including the Olympics, US Presidential debates, the royal wedding, and Felix Baumgartner’s ‘jump from the edge of space’.
The first major redesign of the video platform took place in 2011, a few months after Google unveiled its social media platform Google+. The update saw YouTube feature a more social media network-esque design replete with a ‘news feed’ featuring Google+ activity and a ‘channel feed’ for subscribed and recommended channels. The following years saw minor updates until, in 2017, the company completely overhauled the platform’s design, introducing a new logo and typeface along with improving the functionality of both its mobile and desktop applications.
In the last four years, Google has launched a slew of YouTube products to broaden the reach of the video-sharing platform. YouTube Red, a premium service that offers subscribers ad-free streaming and access to exclusive content, was first announced in November 2014 and re-launched in its current avatar in October 2015. In 2016, citing the poor connectivity faced by its mobile users in India, YouTube announced the YouTube Go app which uses limited bandwidth and allows offline storing, viewing and sharing of videos. The company recently announced that the YouTube Go app will soon be launched in 130 countries. To keep pace with the burgeoning technology of Virtual Reality, Google also announced the launch of the YouTube VR application late last year.
YouTube India, a localised version of the video platform that catered to Indian user preferences, was launched in 2008 at a time when Indians accounted for only around 1 percent of YouTube’s total viewership. However, thanks to the smartphone revolution and a boom in videos featuring regional languages, India has since become one of the most pivotal markets for the company. This was demonstrated when the Google subsidiary opened its first YouTube Space in India in 2015 (similar projects had already been undertaken in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, etc.). Located in Mumbai’s film city, the ‘Space’ offered Indian YouTubers the chance to “learn, connect, and collaborate” in their efforts to create more engaging video content for the site.
The move contributed to YouTube’s surging popularity in the country. Estimates from last year show that YouTube has a 400-million-strong user base in India and that its watch time on mobile devices alone grew by 400 percent year-on-year. With over 14 independent creators from India (including AIB, BB Ki Vines, Vidya Vox, and more) crossing the 1 million subscribers mark in 2016, YouTube began increasing its efforts in fostering its Indian community. The YouTube FanFest held in Mumbai in 2016 and 2017 brought together the most popular YouTube creators (from India and abroad) to create unique live shows for the audience. The company also unveiled its first pop-up YouTube Space in Hyderabad last year, has begun testing its YouTube Go app in the country, and expects to double its Indian user base within 2-3 years.
It’s been a steep rise to the top for YouTube over the last 13 years. As technology evolves and video consumption continues to increase by leaps and bounds, it’ll be interesting to see how the platform retains its crown over the next 13.
Do you remember the first time you heard of YouTube or used it? Let us know in the comments!