YouTube Rewind: the growth of the platform beyond viral videos


YouTube released their 2016 rewind video Wednesday and within the first 24 hours it garnered nearly 40 million views, breaking the record for most views within a day and beating out Psy’s Gangnam Style.

Since 2012, YouTube has been creating a series of mashup videos overviewing each years’ internet trends and viral videos featuring the top YouTube creators. Every year shows a new progression in how many creators are featured, from which regions of the world they come from, along with dictating what kind of content goes viral on the platform. YouTube encourages conversation on social media with the hashtag #YouTubeRewind, where both viewers and creators express their excitement for and inspiration from the platform.

Looking at YouTube now compared to its early days, the landscape has changed significantly, especially in terms of the effort required in building a channel, says media professor at Ryerson University, Ramona Pringle.

With increased growth in notable creators, viral videos, and internet trends, even the length of YouTube's rewind video increased year-after-year; in 2012, their video was four minutes long whereas this year, it's nearly seven minutes long.

“There is just so much content being posted every single minute,” says Pringle.

It’s estimated that on average, 300 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute; that’s roughly 432 thousands hours of content everyday.

“To stand out amidst all of that noise without an established following is really challenging,” says Pringle. “Add to that the opaque algorithms that influence user searches, and it gets even more challenging.”

As YouTube continues to grow and can become a career, demand to garner a following increases, thus over-saturating the platform. The first channel to hit a million subscribers, meaning users get notified when the channel posts a video, was in 2009 and since then, grew to nearly 3000.

Statistics gathered from Social Blade.

In 2012, YouTube announced their Gold YouTube Play Button plaque, delivered to those with one million subscribers and soon after, they announced the Silver YouTube Play Button plaque for those with 100 thousand subscribers. Just last year, YouTube revealed the new Diamond plaque, awarding users with over 10 million subscribers.


YouTube creators strive to receive one of those plaques from YouTube, like Nikola Ragus, content creator based in Montreal, but getting there isn’t as easy as it may seem.

“The main problem is finding people to have a conversation with,” says Ragus. “The way I combat that is still a struggle, but I try to find topics that will stimulate conversation, but even that is quite a task.”

Ragus has been creating videos for YouTube since 2006 with hopes to some day build a large community to talk with and develop ideas from. He says the best advice he’s gotten for growing his channel is finding a niche and sticking with it. For him, that means daily vlogging his life on his main channel, "Diragusa" and providing flute lessons and education on the "The Flute Channel."

 Statistics provided by Social Blade, organized by Janine Maral.

“I think if you're starting in the vlog space now you'd have to do something pretty big to get major attention,” says Abby Ho, head of the CBC Creator Network. “But it's not to say that you can't build that up if you're doing exciting things and have good search which is a great way to be discovered nowadays as well as getting distribution from other partners or collaborators.”

Some YouTube creators “win the lottery” on YouTube. Take Casey Neistat for example, entrepreneur and filmmaker who gained attraction when he posted a film revealing Apple’s “dirty secret” with their iPod batteries only lasting 18 months. The video, posted in 2003, went viral, before viral videos, or even YouTube, existed.

Neistat created his YouTube channel 2010 but started daily vlogging in March 2015 with 200 thousand subscribers. Since then, he gained nearly six million subscribers. A part of this was through his style of video production; Neistat’s daily video consisted of cameras worth thousands of dollars, all the while making his videos look effortless. YouTube creator Nerdwriter1 dissected his effortless style in a video called "Casey Neistat: What You Don't See."

“Casey has good production values as well as that vlog format but I think it's really that he gives people insight to things that he's doing that's very exciting,” says Ho. “It's going to be helpful if you have good writing, and good production, and good lighting and good sound and all that.”

The Fine Brothers Entertainment react series has evolved since their start in this year. With their increased production quality, it grew the series to the point where they created a separate React channel.

But, not all YouTube creators have the same resources as Casey Neistat and The Fine Brothers Entertainment. That’s when creators start looking towards signing to a multi-channel network (MCN). Working with an MCN is a way to get help producing videos and getting collaborations, both with other YouTubers and with brands, for both larger and smaller creators.

“A multi-channel network is very helpful because it brings in a lot of resources that you wouldn’t usually have access to,” says Brampton, Ontario based YouTuber, Harjit Bhandal from the channel YouTwoTV that he runs with his friend, Jasleen Saini.

The two started their channel earlier this year and have since gained over 200 thousand subscribers.

“We honestly feel like there’s no actual formula to success in the online world. You just have to be persistent and consistent,” says Bhandal. “[Much Digital Studios helps with] everything from studio space and equipment, to guidance and exposure.”

Popular MCNs like Maker Studios, owned by Disney, and Fullscreen have locations world-wide, but mostly in the United States where most of their content creators and businesses are based. However, with a majority of Canadians consuming YouTube daily, MCNs are growing in Canada too. Along with Much Digital Studios, there are other MCNs  like Kin Community and Studio71.

There’s also CBC’s creator network, which according to Ho, is unlike an MCN or an agency, rather a network that works closely with digital storytellers on any platform.

“[It] helps us tell more stories, help us reach more Canadians, and help us build out a new generation of people that are storytellers,” says Ho.

In October, the CBC worked with the fourth annual Buffer Festival, a film festival for YouTube creators held in Toronto, to host their own Canadian screening featuring Canadian YouTube creators.

“We're looking for creators that can partner with our brands and our distribution,” says Ho. “We work together to create something that is a fit for that creator's voice as well as the voices of our particular channels and brands; it has to all be aligned.”

YouTube isn't just a place for funny family clips shot on cellphones tor high-scale productions with teams of people behind-the-scenes, rather all that and everything in between, all the while building a community for passionate users.