"Don't Forget to Subscribe!" - How the YouTube Revolution Empowered Fans & Changed Relationships
I clicked the red “Subscribe” button on YouTube for the first time in early 2012, tapping the screen of my 1st Generation iPad. YouTube, to this point, stood largely as a bizarre collection of AFV-style clips of skateboarding accidents, though music videos also comprised a hefty chunk of the streaming’s site’s offering.
Prior to 2012, YouTube felt like the Wild West—one could never be sure what might show up in a careless search. In 2012, however, the world learned all about “Gangnam Style” in the hugest explosion of a musician’s work since Slim Shady’s emergence over a decade earlier. YouTube had arrived.
Psy wasn’t the only musician who struck gold—Maroon 5’s “Moves like Jagger” and its 600+ million views rendered almost pathetic the millions of views its earlier hits garnered. Pop stars weren’t alone in their success. By tapping that red button I joined the ranks of nearly a million people who were interested in watching the British duo of Lewis Brindley and Simon Lane play video games. Today, their brand of the YOGSCAST boasts over 20 million subscribers.
So, what happened? In a word, millennials.
In Millennial Fandom, Louisa Ellen Stein writes, “I like the label of third wave fan studies precisely because it insists on locating fandom within the fabric of the everyday” (Stein 10). This third wave of fandom studies invites, “…a determined unsettling of divides between the political and the personal, as well as questioning the notion that academic knowledge can and should be objective” (11).
The importance of this observation lies in its acknowledgement that fandom is not merely a phenomenon—it is also a force.
In a world where television once reigned supreme, the rise of YouTube and other streaming services marked a shift in power from producer to consumer.
For the half-century of television’s unchallenged reign, show selected was dictated to audience by the major networks. These networks did not possess a choke-hold on audiences—if ABC aired dull programming, viewers would switch to CBS—yet YouTube’s rise radically undermined even those powers television corporations once possessed.
Streaming allowed for entertainment on demand like never before. One analytics site recorded over 23 million YouTube active (meaning productive) channels in existence in late 2018, uploading 300 hours of video content per minute (“How Many”). The sheer amount of content being uploaded to YouTube points to mass eyeballs viewing the site on screens.
All this to say that the YouTube revolution placed an unprecedented amount of power in the hands of fan communities. Fans now wield all the powers of creators—and many creators themselves are fans of others’ work.
On YouTube the lines between the political and the personal aren’t just blurred, they are almost nonexistent. Vlogging, a staple of YouTube, illustrates just how difficult it can be to sort out the person from the online persona. By welcoming viewers into the everyday goings-on of life, vloggers turn relationships from a delicate give-and-take into a consumable good.
For better or for worse, this is now an integrated part of the everyday lives of millennials. Whether social interactions as a consumable is tenable long-term remains to be seen. For now, however, awe at the scope of the change is really the only appropriate response to the streaming revolution.
“How Many YouTube Channels Are There?” Tubics, 10 Dec. 2018, https://www.tubics.com/blog/number-of-youtube-channels/.
Stein, Louisa Ellen. Millennial Fandom: Television Audiences in the Transmedia Age. Univ. of Iowa Press, 2015.