Television and movie studios aren’t quite sure what to do with YouTube. The big record companies have been, on the whole, uncharacteristically quiet about the blogs, which are now more widespread and easier to search than ever. And a few even seem to see them as friends, not foes. While they sort it out, music fans and pop-culture addicts are in hog heaven.
“When you go [to YouTube], it’s kind of like going to a music store, when you know there’s a bunch of stuff you want, but you can’t quite figure out what it is,” says x-amount (whose real name is Beau). “But once you hit the right search term, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah!’ and ‘Oh, and then I could search for this!’ and ‘They might have this!’ It just explodes from there.”
Video starsWhen Chad Hurley, 29, and Steve Chen, 27, founded YouTube in Hurley’s garage in February 2005, their plan was for it to be a personal video-sharing network, sort of a Flickr for home movies. It can still offer that function, but it’s also a lot more. “What we’ve become in the last several months,” says Julie Supan, YouTube’s senior director of marketing, “is an entertainment destination.”
And how. By allowing clips to be streamed in lightweight Adobe Flash animation, YouTube made watching online video much more user-friendly than the traditional download-and-wait model. Uploading is a snap too. And by allowing users to insert YouTube videos directly into their blogs and MySpace pages, it helped ensure that its popularity would spread like kudzu. Once Saturday Night Live’s instahit “Lazy Sunday” video found its way onto the site last December, it positively blew up. Since then, says Supan, people have watched “billions” of videos. Nowadays, about six million unique visitors are watching about 40 million clips every day. And every day, about 35,000 more videos are being uploaded to the site. All told, that’s 200 terabytes of data per day — roughly a third of Google’s or Yahoo’s traffic. And it’s all handled by 26 employees headquartered above a San Mateo, California, pizza shop.
The kid-in-a-candy-store exuberance that comes from surfing the site and finding stuff you haven’t seen in years — Chris Elliot’s “Man Under the Seats” on Letterman! A young Adam Sandler on Remote Control! — has helped fuel YouTube’s explosive popularity. Still, those clips, even though you can’t see them anywhere else anymore, are copyrighted. And, of course, so, too, is the “Lazy Sunday” clip. When NBC asked YouTube to take it down in February, it did so in a flash. Same thing happened later with Natalie Portman’s gangsta rap. When CBS complained that it was hosting a news clip of autistic high-school hoops phenom Jason McElwain scoring 20 points in four minutes, YouTube removed that one, too. And it’s not just pulling stuff from the big networks or clips that are available for sale on iTunes. In April, YouTube yanked a homemade video for Weezer’s “This Is Such a Pity,” which used footage from the 1984 break-dancing cult classic Breakin’.