YouTube, Let’s Plays, and Content Creators

Early Platform

YouTube is a free video upload and streaming service that went live in February of 2005, and was acquired by Google a year and a half later. The structure of YouTube is such that anyone can upload and display video, with a choice of whether to monetize said videos with advertisements provided by Google. If a video owner chooses to monetize a video, they receive a small payment based on ads viewed and clicked (a casual calculation is somewhere between $3- $10 per thousand “views,” or clicks on the video). This ad-based service is how YouTube both subsidizes its high costs and encourages creators to develop content specifically for the platform. YouTube as a social network has evolved since its inception, with early versions of YouTube akin to private file sharing services. Videos were generally available only to selected “Friends” or “Followers,” which the uploader had to approve before they could watch the content. Public content was presentable, but the videos stood independent of their creators. The platform’s general philosophy was geared towards two specific demographics: public videos
where the creator/uploader didn’t matter, and private videos that creators only shared with select views of followers (Rotman & Preece, 2010).
As the site continued to grow, YouTube introduced a “partnership” program. With this, YouTube would find the most popular creators either on their own or via suggestion from already established partners, and then offer the creator a chance to “partner” with YouTube (YouTube Blog, 2007). This entailed a lift of the 15 minute upload limit, reimbursement for ad monetization, and the ability to add custom thumbnails. While no set subscriber/follower count was established by YouTube, fan consensus was that a creator had to have somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 subscribers in order to be considered for an offer (Cha, Kwak, Rodriguez, Ahn, & Moon, 2007).


Around this time in 2007, other key changes happened to YouTube. The follow system was abandoned in favor of a new subscription system. Videos also had privacy options changed; rather than being only “public” or “for followers,” now videos had the option to be either Public, Unlisted (meaning those with a direct URL could visit it and it wouldn’t show up in the search
engines/SEO), or Private (where only the creator could view it). This change from being a focus on YouTube as a video platform to YouTube as a creator-focused subscription system led to a dramatic shift in content. Before that, YouTube was primarily used for either reproducing mainstream media (such as news reports, etc.) or for more private content (home videos, etc.).
Now, with a subscription based paradigm, YouTube was focusing more on allowing creators to project themselves to large audiences, rather than niche groups. These creators no longer had to manually approve followers (which was changed to “Subscribers”), though they maintained control via bans. YouTube was opening up to become mainstream, and developed tools that supported independent content being made specifically for the platform. This design was mostly in response to the rise of public Vlogs, video bloggers who would amass large numbers of followers as they created content specifically for YouTube (Figueiredo, Almeida, Benevenuto, & Gummadi, 2014; Lange, 2007). With this change came a rise in video skit shows such as Smosh1. These productions were amateur in quality, but gained momentum as a new media movement (Biel & Gatica-Perez, 2009). The changes in YouTube’s setup facilitated this shift of content, empowering creators to create original YouTube content and generate revenue from it (Makuch).