It's becoming harder and harder to remember the days when YouTube was principally known for its quirky user-generated videos featuring cats on skateboards and the like. The evidence of YouTube's transformation into a legitimate video distribution powerhouse seems to pop up on an almost daily basis. Here are a few of the disparate items that have hit my radar:
- Disney's decision to acquire Maker Studios, a multichannel network for YouTube talent, for somewhere between $500-$900 million, which conferred huge legitimacy on YouTube's audience.
- Viacom settling its 7 year-old copyright litigation with Google, a tacit admission that it's better to cooperate with YouTube to leverage its audience, than to continue fighting.
- The upcoming NewFronts, in which YouTube and other MCNs are positioning themselves to ad buyers as bona fide alternatives to well-established cable TV networks in terms of overall reach and ability to target certain demos.
- The announcement of a new event during the NewFronts, dubbed "Ubertube 2014 Brand Summit," presented by Pixabiity and YouTube, specifically to explain to brand marketers how to optimize their interactions with YouTube's audience.
All of this activity highlights YouTube's increasingly important role in the video ecosystem. YouTube's key asset is of course its massive audience. In an age when audiences are fragmenting in countless directions, YouTube's ability to engage millennials in particular, is more important than ever. No surprise, money follows eyeballs, hence all the interest from both established media companies and advertisers.
When Google bought YouTube there was a lot of skepticism about the deal. Looking back on it though, Google has masterfully preserved YouTube's core uploading feature, while at the same time professionalizing it to drive monetization. YouTube has been the most critical player in democratizing video, thereby reducing Hollywood's iron grip on what we watch. YouTube isn't perfect, but it's a long way from where it started.