Shorter videos, more flashiness: Is YouTube really moving in the right direction?

What sort of content will continue to prosper on YouTube going forward?

YouTube was founded in February 2005 by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim as a platform meant to share videos that were too large for e-mail. In the 17 years since then, it has evolved massively and become a social platform of its own. YouTube’s growth has been huge. It is estimated today that about 24 hours of video are uploaded to the platform every 15 minutes. But what type of content has this growth helped the most, and where are we going from here?

History of gaming on YouTube

Gaming has always been a topic of interest among the younger cohort of YouTube users. Videos about gaming have existed on YouTube since it was founded, but they only truly gained popularity in around 2008, when game commentary came to the mainstream. You can find videos of people playing just about any game in the world on YouTube. However, there are a few games that have always been more popular than the others, such as Call of Duty, Minecraft, and for a short while, Fortnite. Later on, when live streaming was introduced, creators used it to stream games as well. This continues to happen nowadays, but most live streaming is now done on Twitch, a platform made exclusively for live streaming.

How have gaming creators made themselves popular?

Gaming is always the first category that comes to mind for anyone thinking of starting a YouTube channel. This does not mean every gamer on the platform becomes extremely successful. Many, many gaming videos out there have views in the single figures. So, what makes gaming videos and gaming creators, popular?

One quality that may make gaming creators popular is skill. This is even more true for games that are inherently competitive, such as battle royales and other games such as the FIFA series and Rocket League. However, not all successful gamers on YouTube are highly skilled. This is more true for casual games. What makes creators more entertaining when they play these games is how they manage their content and the persona they give off.

What personalities do people like watching on YouTube?

The answer to this question has changed over the years. The digital landscape about 8-10 years ago meant that most YouTube viewers were of age. This meant more mature personalities were successful on YouTube, evidenced by the growth of gamers such as DanTDM and PewDiePie. As time went on, the proportion of young viewers in the viewer base became larger and larger. As a result, YouTubers have had to adapt. In today’s landscape, louder and more sensational content gets a lot more viewership, as the growth of Dream, MrBeast, and Dude Perfect would suggest.

Educational videos

Educational videos have always been around on YouTube but have also always been among the least viewed. This is because the everyday viewer is looking for entertainment rather than education, and education is not entertainment for everyone. Education channels have always relied on pure quality. Those meant to engage younger students are usually much softer and light-hearted, such as Khan Academy, whereas those meant for elder students are more objective and content-oriented, such as PBS Terra and PBS Space Time. Throughout YouTube’s history, one educational channel has existed as a ‘dark horse’. Vsauce, managed mainly by Michael Stevens, is the most popular educational channel on the platform. It aims to capture the interests of viewers through quiet and awkward humor, smartly utilizing awkward pauses, memes, jokes, and complete diversions from the topic to keep viewers hooked and coming back.

What trends on YouTube nowadays?

As mentioned earlier, more sensational content is more successful on the video-sharing platform in today’s landscape. This applies not only to the actual content of the video but also to its title and thumbnail, as these are meant to be the first thing pulling viewers to a video. This has resulted in much more active thumbnails and titles typed out in all caps. However, this does not automatically make the title and thumbnail good or attractive, as there is much room to ‘swing and miss.' Many thumbnails can come out looking cliché, using the same old tricks such as big arrows pointing at something or surprised emojis. Others can look really ‘cringe’ and repel viewers rather than attract them, such as those containing a person making a really weird, astonished face.

Who does it best today?

With so many channels out there nowadays, you would think there would be many out there who understood the system very well. However, there is one very clear winner when it comes to understanding how YouTube promotes videos nowadays. MrBeast, a channel with over 100 million subscribers and one of the fastest growing channels today, is managed by Jimmy Donaldson, the man known to understand YouTube best. The biggest YouTubers in the world take his advice on how to grow their channels. The secret to his success is fast-paced content with an appropriate level of sensationalism, and titles and thumbnails are sensational but not repetitive or overdone.

The advent of Shorts

YouTube Shorts was a feature added in 2021, meant for short videos (under 2 minutes) that are scrollable. It was a natural consequence of the evolution of the YouTube platform as viewers went increasingly for short and sweet rather than long, drawn-out content, and a direct competitor to the recently released fast-growing short video platform TikTok. But what is the real communal value of Shorts? Some creators use them to clip funny moments from their own or others’ longer content, but most creators upload exclusively Shorts. Though these videos can give viewers a short laugh while they are busy, they are being viewed by lots of people outside of this category. These videos are almost too short to contain entertainment of any true value or teach viewers anything useful. Ultimately, this wastes people’s time and especially for younger audiences, keeps them away from activities that are productive or achieve purposes such as education, training, or skill development. It is probably the worst feature to ever grace the platform for the effect it has had on the community and the general landscape of YouTube viewership.

The future

At the moment, it looks like Shorts are going to continue performing moving forward, along with other sensationalized content. From a communal perspective, this may not be the right direction, but creators can’t be held completely responsible. Most of them make a living by uploading content to YouTube and the fact of the matter is, the more views they pull, the more they earn. In an ideal world, the ‘YouTube algorithm’ should evolve to also promote content that isn’t necessarily sensational but contains quality entertainment or educative material. Whether it does or not, only time will tell.

Written by Saim

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