The digital in me

StardustMedia YouTube screenshot
The digital in me
November 21, 2014

I feel like such a strong advocate for YouTube. Anytime somebody asks me strange a question, I respond, “Have you checked YouTube?” I use it almost as much as Google when it comes to search engines.

Things I’ve learned to do through YouTube:
* Change a car door handle (you have to take apart the door panel)
* Cool video editing tricks
* How to gather material for sewing
* Photoshop secrets
* Hook random electronics up to one another to work how you want them to.
* etc.

Screen Cap: A 2008 Plastics webisode.
Screen Cap: A 2008 Plastics webisode.
I’ve used YouTube since 2007 for posting videos of The Plastics (We made wrestling webisodes cool before anyone else. True story!), Stardust video interviews, and more. With Stardust alone, I have uploaded over 90 videos and have almost 400,000 views. FOUR-HUNDRED-THOUSAND PEOPLE HAVE HAD ACCESS TO MY WORK.

Think about that.

Without the use of YouTube, how would I have generated such a large audience? Moreover, how would I have generated such a large audience with NO cost!?

For my Research Methods class this fall, we had to select a topic that we felt was important where if we were to do research, it would allow us to learn something. Naturally, I thought of YouTube. YouTube stars are infiltrating our traditional media culture and some have made quite the successful transition. I wanted to share pieces of my final paper with you because I really enjoyed doing the research and I find the possibilities of YouTube to be endless–we can really take our projects as far as our imaginations will allow us. This equates to about half of my paper–I’m trying not to make this too lengthy for you–but I was fascinated by the things I learned and I think you will be too!


Being a star in the digital world may be more fact than fiction where handsome rewards are eagerly awaiting victors of communal giant, YouTube. Founded in 2005, YouTube is a social networking platform that allows billions of users to discover, watch and share videos that they create. The platform provides the unique opportunity for users to connect with other users around the world; an audience (About YouTube). In October 2006, Internet giant Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion (Sato, 2012).

Distinctly, YouTube reaches more adults aged eighteen to thirty-four in the United States than any cable network (Cooper, 2013). This demographic accounts for thirty-percent of the platform’s users. Astoundingly, YouTube does not include users under the age of eighteen in their statistical analysis, which is a group that includes more than one million fans. According to comScore’s 2013 report, it was found that forty-one percent of the YouTube audience is situated between the ages of twelve and thirty-four (Gutelle, 2013). With such a wide audience that spans the planet having access to creative freedoms, YouTube is undoubtably changing the way one consumes, creates, shares and thinks about modern media. As in any society, popularity with a mass audience creates a form of celebrity. Certain “YouTubers,” as they are called, are transforming their accounts into Internet stardom–introducing the globe to a new type of celebrity and a new subculture.

YouTube has even instituted a monetization method–a la showing ads before a selected video plays–so users can make money off of their original creations. Essentially, YouTubers are able to create videos and make money–quite different from being cast to play a role in Hollywood to earn pay. Brooklyn born brothers Benny and Rafi Fine earn between $239,000 – $2.41 million each year after YouTube’s forty-five percent cut. The pair also receives sponsorships from some of today’s top companies, much like a real celebrity, including Ford and Comedy Central (Jacobs, 2014). PewDiePie may perhaps be YouTube’s most popular user, boasting more than 23.9 million total subscribers and 3.69 billion total views. His earnings are estimated to be between $825,000-$8.47 million yearly. PewDiePie’s content consists of video game commentary and includes video titles like, “DO YOU EVEN ARCHER BRO?! – Probably Archery,” (sic) (Jacobs, 2014). To better situate this into perspective, Sunday Night Football finished the 2013-2014 television season as the number one show in primetime with 21.528 million viewers (The Deadline Team, 2014).

Aside from the millions of views, subscribers and bank account balances, these YouTubers have risen to a new level of stardom thanks to the sharing of their product by the platform’s users. Bethany Mota, for example, began her YouTube channel in 2009 by uploading hauling videos, outfit ideas, recipes, and makeup tips (YouTube). Mota now owns her own clothing line that is sold at Aeropostale while making deals with other retailers like Forever 21 and JC Penney (Hollister, 2014). The YouTuber has also transitioned into mainstream media with appearances on Project Runway as a guest judge and is a current cast member on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars (Turnquist, 2014; ABC, 2014). Additionally, Lucas Cruikshank, better known to the world as Fred Figglehorn, launched his YouTube channel at the age of thirteen. Five years after the launch, Nickelodeon released two “Fred” movies and a series called “Marvin Marvin,” (Lanning, 2013).

This study aims to measure the influence that the more popular YouTubers have on user demographics–including the under eighteen category–and how the overall channel as a whole has amended current cultural perceptions and spawned a new subculture that lends dependence to the self-made YouTubers themselves. Research will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the values YouTube users place on channels and how the cultural subgroup is recognized by humanity.

Literature Review

The YouTube experience is an artistic medium that provides a means of participatory culture where there are no gatekeepers allowing users the ability to bond, use their voices, fulfill personal gratifications, find niche content and for the lucky few, earn a living by becoming a star (Ahlquist, 2013; Cayari, 2011; Chau, 2010; Jones, 2010; Lewis et al., 2013). A social connection is forged through interaction on YouTube because users have the common belief that their contributions matter and that conversational pieces are authentic (Chau, 2010; Sato, 2012). As Chau further explores, by allowing content to easily be shared and part of the communal discourse, this displays a prioritization which enhances a member’s sense of belonging and generates platform loyalty.

Interestingly, very little research exists on this platform but is slowly growing, despite YouTube being one of the most frequented websites on the Internet (Ahlquist, 2013; Cayari, 2011). According to some of the investigative work that has been done, it has been found that virtual spaces are becoming portals to communities where users bond with others (Chau, 2010).

Boh3me. In February 2007, YouTube user Boh3m3 conducted a study where he asked his fellow users to upload a video letting him know why they “Tubed?”, (Jones, 2010). The results of this independent study have proven valuable in breaking down universal beliefs (Wesch, 2007). What this study turned up with its open-ended question included reasons such as entertainment, connection/socialization, enjoyed watching videos, creativity and self-expression, authenticness, the hope of becoming famous, surveillance, alternative to mainstream media, ease of communication and the sense of community (Wesch, 2007; Jones, 2010). The respondents to Boh3m3’s question can be considered early adopters of the YouTube culture due to the nature of the platform’s recent purchase by Google at the end of 2006. Respondents freely admitted that they thought watching videos on YouTube was a great alternative to watching the news on television and that it seemed like human nature to enjoy watching people (Jones, 2010). Furthermore, Boh3m3 was able to use two hundred fifty-nine video responses for analysis where he broke his study down to the length of time that respondents had been involved with the website and the average consisted of one hundred forty-five days with twenty-five of the respondents having just launched their accounts for the purpose of replying the day their video submissions were received (Jones, 2010).

Burgess & Green. In 2007, Burgess & Green did a study measuring the most popular videos on YouTube under the headings Most Viewed, Most Favorited, Most Discussed and Most Responded (Cayari, 2011). This study was based off of research Patricia Lang did where her ethnographic investigation broke down the constructs of both ordinary and casual participants on YouTube. This approach problematized how one can understand participation by individual users (Burgess & Green, 2009). The Burgess & Green study noted in their findings that user-created content commanded the findings due to the large number of vlogs–video blogs–on the platform (Cayari, 2011). Amateur videos have traditionally been successful on YouTube because users want to feel a connection to the talent (Sato, 2012).

Rotman & Preece. Rather than looking at the individual user, Rotman & Preece focused their study on identifying components which aided in the formation of YouTube communities (Rotman & Preece, 2010). As a result, their findings indicated that diversity was a source of community strength that contributed to a shared purpose for why users congregate to specific videos. In addition, YouTube users noted that subgroups exist within the larger scope of YouTube allowing one to develop close relationships with others that are based on more fixated objectives that can range from thrill seeking videos to videos that are made for pure entertainment purposes (Rotman & Preece, 2010). Rotman & Preece also establish that the term “YouTuber” is part of the YouTube culture and when used, others will understand that it is used to describe a dedicated user of the platform. Specific attributes to the term will continue to be diagnosed through ongoing use (Rotman & Preece).

Mainstream Success
Faces that once started in the YouTube world are becoming integrated into the mainstream culture. Since the platform has continued to grow and flourish since its inception, the opportunities for YouTube stars has risen, accordingly. Dumenco has created a compelling argument that YouTubers are destined to be mainstream stars. Her evidence is based on the recent successes of users like JacksGap–two British twin brothers who have quite a fan base on Tumblr that post gifs of their YouTube videos (Dumenco, 2014a; Dumenco 2014b). Due to his YouTube success, Harley Morenstein has been offered his own show on the cable channel G4 TV (Sato, 2012) Similarly, Jenna Marbles has found achievement outside of YouTube with her own SiriusXM hour long show dedicated to talking about trending YouTube videos (Demenco, 2014b). Demenco (2014b) also takes into account Ingrid Nilsen, who posts lifestyle videos about fashion and makeup. Nilsen will be appearing on the Lifetime show “Threads” next to fashion designer Christian Siriano and two Seventeen Magazine editors (Dumenco, 2014b). As Sato (2012) points out, on television, the celebrity is part of an unattainable world, but YouTube has allowed Tubers to establish a connection with viewers–almost making them feel like friends.

Recruitment. Assumingly, one can believe that an ordinary person gets lucky and has an original video go viral. That can be the case, sometimes. Larry Shapiro, executive at Fullscreen– a studio that signs YouTube talent, admits that his organization has an entire A&R department– much like a record label–that combs through videos on YouTube to find the next diamond in the rough (Dredge, 2014). Disney has even purchased Maker Studios, a rival of Fullscreen, for up to $950 million. Maker Studios aids in the creation of content that certain YouTube Partners disseminate through their channels (Sato, 2012). In addition to studios scouting out talent, YouTube is actively searching for new Partners through the use and collection of statistics and algorithms. This allows YouTube to identify accounts that provide a significant amount of content on a consistent basis (Sato, 2012).

YouTuber Profile. Most YouTubers are in their twenties and have built a following based on their consistency for uploading content (Sato, 2012). Moreover, the mean age of a star YouTuber is twenty-seven, with an audience of eighteen to thirty-four year old females (Klima, 2013). Latest reports also show that viewers on these channels are collegiate students (Chau, 2010; Ahlquist, 2013). According to Harley Morenstein, a successful YouTuber, one needs to be a special type of person in order to reach a favorable outcome with qualities including nerdy, awkward and different (Sato, 2012). Hence, YouTubers are loved for being an unfiltered and authentic version of themselves (Dumenco, 2014). YouTubers tend to relate to their audience more than television actors and actresses because they seem “normal,” (Sato, 2012). In line with the findings from Rotman & Preece’s study (2010), the level of intimacy and effort that YouTubers put into their vlogs can make the content creator-content viewer relationship like that of pen pals. The amount of YouTube stars has increased over the nine years that the platform has existed to where more than one thousand different users worldwide now earn over $100,000 a year from their YouTube revenues (Lewis et al., 2013). Similarly, YouTubers like Michelle Phan have over 600 million views which equates to a global Olympic audience (Lewis, etc al., 2013). YouTube is providing these stars with access to an audience that could never have been reached before, and the Tubers have thus created relationships with their viewers through comments and replies to where the viewers hold the YouTubers as idols and mentors (Ahlquist, 2013).

Uncharted Analysis
Many questions have been left unasked that can guide one to recognize the impact YouTube and YouTubers have on the past and how that will effect future perceptions of how the platform and its stars have reconstructed their roles within society. It has not been concluded the type of portrayal a YouTuber plays outside of the dot com domain which is becoming an increasingly important topic since Tubers are progressing into mainstream avenues like television, movies and magazines. Do users still feel emotionally connected to the YouTube stars when they appear on additional mediums that do not involve Skype-style videos from the confines of the Tuber’s bedroom? Are those who do not actively participate or hold accounts on YouTube inspired to independently seek out the YouTubers’ previous work after seeing the star on a different medium? Does this lead the individual to becoming a fan of the YouTuber on the original platform which their stardom began? Does one’s perception of the YouTuber change with the different bodies of work?


I would love to hear any stories that you would love to share about your uses with YouTube! Do you even ‘Tube?!

Another question I pose to you: Is the “mainstream” really so mainstream when we have services like Hulu… and series going straight to NetFlix? Does making it in the digital world equate to a similar success and influence that a “mainstream” star possesses?

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