YouTube, the video-sharing website and ad revenue machine, turns 10 years old on Saturday, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day.
Over a decade, the site went from humble beginnings to the height of popularity as a purveyor of online productions, both amateur and professional. So let’s jump in Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine and take a look at how YouTube has grown and become the billion-dollar star-making engine we all know and love.
In 2005, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim hatched YouTube out of their San Mateo, Calif. office.
They registered the trademark, logo and domain for the site. Soon after, they posted the very first upload: a clip titled “Me at the zoo” featured Karim in front of elephants.
Short and “elephant-y,” the video marked a major shift in the way the world was about to interact with media. Anyone with a camera could upload footage of their children or pets engaged in crazy antics. Want to start a video diary for the entire world to see? Now you could.
The video remains on YouTube today and still receives comments ranging from levity to the sort of trolling that only the Internet can provide.
Show Me the Money
In July 2006, YouTube reported uploads of 65,000 videos per day. In October of the same year, Google purchased the company for enough money to make Richie Rich do a double take—a cool $1.65 billion in Google stock.
One of the most popular viral videos of 2006 was Evolution of Dance (above).
At the time, there were questions about whether it was a wise investment for the search giant. But for YouTube, it looked like a great deal. The video site got a powerful new overlord with expertise in generating ad revenue.
Google doesn’t release specific financial results for the division, but estimates pegged $1.13 billion in video-ad revenue last year, with the site accounting for 20% of all U.S. digital video ads. YouTube apps now run on everything from phones to smart TVs, and people upload nearly 300 hours of video per minute.
A Star Is Uploaded
No longer is YouTube only a place for mom and dad to shoot a video of Little Stevie eating cereal in a delightfully sloppy way. The website has given rise to all sorts of videos—for practically anything you can think of.
Rebecca Black’s Friday attracted a lot of haters—and views. Between the original and the current upload (embedded), the video has exceeded 200 million views. Black went on to record and shoot a follow-up, Saturday.
From movie clips to YouTube-only series, the site has become a behemoth of information and entertainment. According to the site, it serves more than 1 billion unique visitors, and over 600 billion hours of video are watched each month. That’s nearly an hour for every person on Earth, YouTube says.
Leave Britney Alone was a master class in overwrought first-person video, and a gift for late-night talk show comedians everywhere.
Its stars aren’t just limited to the Web’s playing field, either. They appear on mainstream television shows, get paid endorsement deals, write books and make movies. The appeal of this online superstar vanguard is their accessibility. They interact with fans in ways that Hollywood types like Kim Kardashian never would.
In essence, these people are us, and that makes them all the more alluring. The idea that anybody could become famous is both intoxicating and inspiring. Lucrative too, if you’re compelling in front of the camera.
So hit “record” the next time something hilarious happens and upload the action. Consider it a birthday gift for YouTube. You never know—you might even become the next big thing.
Lead photo by Rego Korosi; YouTube birthday cake image adapted from graphic courtesy of YouTube.