The word ‘YouTube’ means something different to us all. For some the site is a platform to showcase their talent, for others a place to discover that talent, while many see it as a treasure trove of funny cat videos. It’s nuts to think that for some of the site’s most popular content creators, YouTube is a full-time job.
As the web rapidly evolves into a vast, powerful landscape, iconic sites like YouTube are swept to new heights and the effects of the popularity are fascinating (well, to a geek like me anyway).
The figures are staggering. It’s not as rare as it once was for ‘YouTubers’ to have hundreds of thousands of subscribers, viewers and Twitter followers. Some often find it hard to process that they are real people, not just numbers on a screen. It’s bit like wondering how on earth you rarely leave your house, but have managed to acquire 894 Facebook friends.
One way YouTubers can meet their audience face to face is at gatherings. Summer in the City (SitC) is a YouTube gathering in London that began as 40 friends in a park and grew in popularity along with the site. This July the gathering expects an attendance of around 10,000.
The gathering is a weekend of live music, informative panels and some insanely intense meet & greet sessions with the most popular content creators. Last year I was lucky enough to be asked to play a few tunes at SitC; my ticket into one of the most bizarre events I’ve ever experienced.
It was held at a stunning London venue called Alexandra Palace. As soon as I reached the entrance, I began to notice differences between this gathering and those of previous years.
Firstly, the gathering is now ticketed, with security and medics on site. Ironically there was no signal in the venue and the Wi-Fi was down that weekend, leaving thousands of YouTubers, Facebookers and Tweeters with no other choice but to speak to one another out loud.
I met some girls that had travelled to the gathering from the Philippines, while some people stood in queues for up to five hours to meet the big names. Discussion online focused on the guarded green room where the well-known YouTubers gathered, taking refuge from the screaming ‘fangirls’ waiting for them.
This notion of the ‘VIPs’ struck a chord with some and there was outcry against the divide between viewer and creator, the ‘us-and-them’ atmosphere that had developed. However, that seems to be what it’s come to. Security at gatherings increased as some YouTubers required police assistance after being chased, cornered and assaulted by fans at public gatherings.
This year’s SitC controversy surrounds whether or not the most popular ‘tubers mightn’t show up unless they’re paid to appear. It’s a tricky one and I can understand both sides of it really. With so many YouTubers now represented by management and various agencies, the issue is more complicated than it may appear.
Online audiences have reached the millions. Popular YouTube channels can attract more regular viewers than national television stations. This begs the question: do they need YouTube or does YouTube need them?
Of course, in the words of Spiderman’s uncle, with great power comes great responsibility. Many YouTubers have a young audience and must decide whether or not to censor and filter their content accordingly.
Making your life so public is a vulnerable spot to be in; they must protect their private lives from the thousands of prying eyes of viewers who feel so emotionally connected with them that they believe they deserve to know everything. However, it’s all a small price to pay for having one of the coolest, most unusual jobs in the world.
It’s undeniable at this stage that these top YouTubers are the celebrities of 2014. This ascent to fame may not seem as glamorous as the Hollywood route, but it certainly feels a little more relatable. People really connect with how human their videos are.
Of course, it’s easy to lose hours hopping from one video to the next, watching your favourite vloggers interact in endless collaboration videos, doing the cinnamon challenge, or bringing their mum in to do the cinnamon challenge. It can come to the point where you know so much about the YouTubers you watch that you feel like they’re your friends!
At that point close your laptop and read a book.