YouTube is not the future of entertainment, says Professor Stuart Cunningham. It is already the main form of entertainment for a great many young people, leading a new global screen ecology dictating the future of entertainment — and policy makers should take note.
"Two million-plus people worldwide are creating careers for themselves making YouTube content on subjects like beauty, style, cooking, unboxing and games as well as so-called serious subjects such as science communication. They fascinate and enthral viewers," said Professor Cunningham who last year completed a Fulbright Senior Scholarship at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles examining this ecology.
He points to vloggers as the most influential and in demand as brand ambassadors, using their personalities to create a huge following across a number of social media channels.
Michelle Phan, for example, who at 29 is a multi-millionaire entrepreneur. Her Facebook page has more than three million likes while her YouTube channel has attracted more than 8.3 million followers and more than a billion views.
Then there's Aussies like Nicole Warne with 1.6 million Instagram followers, who has been signed up by Qantas to create content for the airline. Brisbane-based beauty blogger Shani Grimmond is only 19 but has 662,000 followers on Instagram. A post she made last month on makeup mistakes to avoid had well over one million views.
What we're looking at here is a reach far beyond traditional channels and the people that follow them like and share those posts ad infinitum.
"This is not some fly-by-night trend," Professor Cunningham says. "There has been a steady growth over the last seven years towards what I call 'communitainment' which combines communication and commercialism to create a new form of entertainment."
Awarded a $535,000 ARC Discovery Project Grant from the Federal Government this year to pursue his research, Professor Cunningham is Australia's leading media industry academic, currently writing a book on his studies into the phenomenon changing the way entertainment is made and communicated worldwide.
"We are witnessing a revolution in entertainment industries and the organisations that control the distribution of entertainment products and, as a result, the profits," Professor Cunningham said. "The new players control the distribution of content across a range of money-spinning new online platforms and Hollywood is trying to buy-in."
Professor Cunningham said what was happening in the US entertainment industry had important implications for the rest of the world, including Australian policy, consumers and the production industry.
"The number of new participants, the professionalisation of amateur film makers, the commercialisation of content and the shift in advertising to online being seen in the US will be mirrored here and Australia needs to capture more of these opportunities for our industry," he said.
"There are some very good digital video producers in Australia and some of the pioneers are comedians," Professor Cunningham says, pointing to the success of the The Katering Show, in particular the Thermomix episode which has racked up well over two million views and saw the show get picked up by ABC TV — after becoming the most watched ABC iview original series ever.
Professor Cunningham points out online distribution giants like Netflix and Amazon were creating and commissioning their own content in addition to distributing Hollywood's traditional film and television products. YouTube, meanwhile, has spawned an ever-growing number of multi-channel networks, the new aggregators that help content creators position themselves amongst the hundreds — even thousands — of new and rebranded TV, music and games channels.
"YouTube is not the only player. Other platforms include Facebook, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, Vimeo and Vessel which are available to develop subscriber/fan bases of significant size. The followings are always transnational in composition, often generating significant advertising and sponsorship revenue and, increasingly, the attention of mainstream media," he said.
YouTube scale metrics show more than one billion users, revenue estimated in 2015 at US$4 billion per annum, four billion videos watched per day, uploads of 400 hours per minute, downloads of 7752 hours per minute, and viewing now comes 50 per cent from mobile devices.
At a local level, as at late 2015 Australia had 23 YouTube channels with over 1 million subscribers, and more than 100 channels with over 300,000 subscribers — and Professor Cunningham says this shouldn't be ignored by policy makers.