Media Fortune Fame & Folly

‘How YouTube swallowed the world’

YouTube has more than 2bn users. It generates $20bn a year. But those numbers don’t begin to explain the size and impact of the world’s biggest video site, according to Vox Media’s Recode: “The site didn’t exist until 2005. And when Google bought it in 2006, it still seemed possible that the search giant had just wasted $1.65bn.

“YouTube started out as a money-losing novelty built by a couple of guys from PayPal, and Google had its own plans to dominate internet video. But Google quickly pivoted and killed off its in-house site (there’s a reason you don’t remember something called Google Video) and snapped up YouTube instead.

“YouTube quickly figured out that it could give the Ian and Anthonys of the world a chance to make money from YouTube by giving them a cut of some of the site’s ad revenue. And now there’s a universe of people uploading videos and using YouTube for profit or power or both — and a constant push and pull within YouTube, which wants all of those videos on its site, except when it discovers that some of them have crossed the line.

“It can be very difficult trying to figure out how and why YouTube polices its platform — up until June 2020, for instance, David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, had his own YouTube channel. But YouTube executives continue to insist that the benefits of running the site as an open platform are worth it — that YouTube, just like the internet, is full of everything, and we’re better off in a world where almost everything’s available with a click.”

Podcast: Land of the Giants: The Google Empire