YouTube, Homer Simpson and the Creative Revolution

Opinion: Despite all of YouTube's incredible contributions to digital content creators, its history will at least in part be defined by its substantial failures

YouTube—the cause of … and solution to … all of content creators’ problems. If Homer Simpson would permit us to repurpose his infamous toast, it evokes a familiar sentiment with YouTubers when they think about the mother ship.

There’s no doubt that YouTube’s platform provided an essential foundation to launching the creative revolution we’re currently experiencing. And it is undeniable that through initiatives like its YouTube Spaces program, it has sought to democratize the production resources that large studios and agencies have leveraged to achieve their creative vision since the advent of television.

However, despite all of its incredible contributions to digital content creators, its history will at least in part be defined by its substantial failures. Many of these can be traced back to Google’s obsession with driving all of its properties back to the AdWords platform.

You can’t argue with Google’s success—that is certainly not the point of this article—but you also can’t deny that its monetization strategy has prevented YouTube from capitalizing fully on an industry that it created and severely limited its ability to move into new business models and products, which has given rise to new competitors from all directions.

Before we dive into what went wrong, let’s take a moment to quickly touch on the digital renaissance we are currently in the midst of—a movement that owes much to YouTube, along with rapid advances in camera technology thanks to mobile computing.

When YouTube launched in 2005, people still bought software in boxes, and consumer-priced DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras—let’s look at the Canon Rebel for the point of comparison—came equipped with an (industry-leading) 8-megapixel sensor and storage for 70 photos, with no video capabilities.

Today’s model, which has an identical manufacturer’s suggested retail price, features a 24-megapixel sensor, shutter speeds that are 50 times as fast, a video mode that includes high-definition time lapse and 1,000 times the storage. What happened? In many ways, YouTube has Apple to thank.

The iPhone launched in the summer of 2007, and 10 years later, we are all walking around with 4k cameras that have enough embedded storage for tens of thousands of digital images and videos.

With 30 percent of the world’s 7.5 billion people now owning smartphones, the cost of camera components has plummeted as quality has spiked. Anyone with a creative inkling now has access to superior hardware and a direct internet connection.

In parallel, you have seen the software-as-a-service revolution, with editing suites (think Creative Cloud) previously costing artists thousands of dollars now accessible for under $50 per month.

Lastly, our collective knowledge has been distributed online in a way that empowers aspiring artists to develop their craft in an entirely new way. Whereas in the early 2000s you still had to learn composition, editing and other production techniques almost entirely through on-the-job training, today you can learn about the rule of thirds, color grading or editing an After Effects template in just a few clicks thanks to platforms like YouTube and Lynda.

Put it together֫—affordable, powerful, connected cameras, with superior access to tools and knowledge for emerging creators—and you had all the ingredients necessary for an unprecedented creative revolution.

The results are well-documented but still breathtaking. More than 1.3 trillion digital photos and videos will be taken this year—that’s over 4 billion per day. This year, 20 percent of the earth’s population will snap a digital image or video and upload and distribute it online.

In our personal and professional lives, everyone is a content creator. Whether you are a small business, a digital marketer, a freelancer or a traditional creative professional, working with visual content is now embedded in your day to day. We need to look no further than the market capitalization for Snap Inc., the influence of Instagram or how mainstream YouTube stars have become for validation that our personal lives have been transformed, as well.