YouTube has a big problem. It simply has too much video.
Until 2011, YouTube was a massive stew of how-to videos, squirrels on skateboards and some wildly popular but relatively underground self-made video entrepreneurs.
What wasn't widely reported was that the volume of video being uploaded to YouTube was growing tremendously. In June of 2007, users were uploading 6 hours of video every minute. Then, two years later, it was 20 hours every minute.
By 2012, it had grown to 72 hours of video per minute, representing a more than tenfold increase in the past five years. Today more video is uploaded to YouTube in a day than all 3 major U.S. networks broadcast in the last 3 years. This turns out to be both a blessing and a curse. YouTube is the world's largest repository of video -- but finding a video in that massive content collection has become remarkably difficult.
So, quietly, YouTube has embarked on a mission to evolve beyond its history of clips and clicks into a full-fledged channel. Actually, a channel of channels.
To do this, they've made one big public bet -- and launched a super-secret project at the same time.
The World Before YouTube...
It's easy to forget there was a world before YouTube. A world where video was hard to find, hard to share and impossible to publish, unless, of course, you were a huge television studio.
But, happily, those days are long gone.
Today, rarely a day goes by when a political candidate isn't dealing with the fallout of a YouTube gaffe, or a foreign government isn't blaming YouTube for some sort of insult or injury.
You'd hardly know YouTube is at the center of a firestorm when you enter the large, airy lobby in San Bruno. Sure, the front door is locked -- presumably security after the worldwide protests from the Innocents of Muslims film trailer -- but other than that it's serene.
The photos of "our founders" Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, are prominently featured in the lobby. Ironic? That's up to you.
And humming through the building -- an army of video reviewers, engineers and project managers happy to continue to foster the growth of a service that is roiling governments, movie studios, publishers and Madison Avenue.
The new video royalty is a growing community of "YouTubers" who are creating videos that connect with a new web-connected video audience.
Simply put, this former headquarters of The GAP is now ground zero for the future of what used to be known as 'television'.
Two YouTubes Emerge...
The new YouTube is, in many ways, the new Hollywood. 'YouTube Originals' is now a 300 million dollar bet, partnering with the best known content creators, celebrities, and YouTube channel stars to fund and produce video channels. Now, a year later, the first hundred channels have been launched from partners including; The Onion, Bonnaroo, NewsCorp's Wigs Channel and Motor Trend.
The top 25of these big sexy titles are now drawing over a million views a week.
The channels that are succeeding are, however, not particularly highbrow. Scantily clad women, hot cars, music, cartoons. Much like cable TV itself, mass audience fare with a special focus on young men.
But YouTube has also been secretly looking down the road to a world of millions of clips in high quality collections of deep, rich content. To manage it all, YouTube is quickly evolving from a creator to a curator of content.
Which is why Dror Shimshowitz is spending all his waking hours trying to figure out how to attract a whole new kind of user to YouTube. Shimshowitz leads a team of product managers, building out YouTube's Curation roadmap. As he explains it, curation has the potential to be the secret sauce for YouTube 2.0.
"YouTube used to be all about uploading content, but now, going forward, a YouTube channel -- you'll have a hard time discerning content that was uploaded by the channel and content that was curated from other sources. At the end of the day -- I don't think the viewer really cares."
But how does YouTube go from upload center to the engine that powers the video-curated web? For that, Dror looked to today's TV formats for a clue. And what he found may surprise you.
"If you think about TV shows like ESPN Sportscenter, that's essentially what these formats are. Clip shows. They have some hosts, talk for a few minutes and then they go to some content that they didn't create but are pulling from other sources. Now we're making that format available on YouTube. Anyone can use the giant library of video content and start to create these hosted Programs."
YouTube wants to turn audience members into creators of curated TV programs. Sports, Music, Entertainment. In fact YouTube has discovered that makers of content aren't necessarily the best curators of content. Makers tend to gather up their own content, while pure curators will explore the wide expanses of YouTube -- and curate content.
And just what does this new breed of YouTube Curator look like? Maybe someone like you.
Shiva Rajaraman is a first-generation American, born in Chennai, India. The product of UC Berkley and Wharton, a lover of both stories and technology, he found himself inexorably drawn to the world-changing power and impact of YouTube. Today, with a warm smile and crisp eye for details he is the Director of Product Management at YouTube.
"My Dad, who's in his mid 60s, he grew up in this tiny town in India, almost like a village. He hadn't been there for ten years and he was about to go back. My mom had been sick, so they hadn't been able to travel. He just wanted to see how things had changed" explains Rajaraman.
Someone had posted a number of YouTube videos, they'd walked through his old town, year after year, and there'd been all this change. Each one of those videos had maybe 10 views. But he found them on YouTube and has this whole flashback to his early days and starts sharing them with everyone he knows. Every social network he uses. He signs up to social networks just to share these videos. That was the moment I was like,"this actually has an impact on people in small places and plays a role in documenting history."
It's also the moment that his Dad became a curator of videos about Thiruvarur on YouTube.
So it seems like a Curated YouTube is on the way, and the reason is pretty interesting. Web video is moving from the desktop to the flatscreen. And the TV viewer has a very different expectation of how video behaves.
"If you think about what you do when you come home at the end of the day and turn on the TV, you don't go searching for programs" says Shimshowitz. "You pull up your DVR, where you have 10 to 20 shows recorded and put one of them on. Or you go to your favorite station where you already know it's channel 264 or your bookmarked channels on your set top box. That's how easy we want YouTube to work."
Curation is a meaningful shift for the YouTube team, having spent the past seven years making themselves the world's biggest repository of video content. But with TV sets on the horizon, there's a curate or be curated wind blowing at YouTube.
"A curator is the best one to tell a 'meme' story, because all that content comes from hundreds if not thousands of creators" says Rajaraman of videos like the Rebecca Black meme. "That, right now, is an element of YouTube that we're focused on."
And focus they must, because as web video shifts to the living room, programs or channels are much better than clips.
As Rajaraman sees it: "having users curate content in channels is one of the best ways to get people watching more YouTube on TV."
Already -- with the channelization project just beginning at YouTube -- the numbers are massive. The web metrics company ComScore reports that YouTube served videos to more than 143 million unique viewers in July of 2010 and had more than 1.8 billion viewing sessions. The average viewer spent 282.7 minutes -- or more than 4 1/2 hours -- watching YouTube videos during the month. YouTube 'views' could be on their site, or on one of the hundreds of thousands of sites that 'embed' YouTube players. In the world, it hardly matters.
As Dror Shimshowitz explains, "Our business model is the same no matter where the video is played. Our perspective on YouTube is, we want to be on as many video screens around the world as possible".
What accounts for the growth? It turns out it's no single thing. First, the company increased video lengths, then raised file size limits -- but, most importantly, the growth of mobile phones and tablets as both content creation and consumption devices has driven usage through the roof.
The result is what Dror modestly calls: "the first truly global video network in the world." And he's right.
Seventy percent of YouTube's 800M monthly viewers are from outside of the U.S. And a stunning quarter of all views are from mobile devices. Just to put all this in perspective, in 2011 YouTube had more than 1 trillion views -- that's almost 140 views for every person on earth.
As Chris Anderson, the Curator of the TED Conferences, said recently: video has the ability to accelerate knowledge. And already YouTube has changed the world in ways large and small. It's turned far away places into digital neighbors. It's given us to tools to share personal stories. It's helped shine a bright light on bullies and gay-bashers. It's given individual educators like Sal Khan the platform to build an educational community. Almost everywhere you look, in the arts, science, politics, justice, music and entertainment, the modest video web sharing site that Chad Hurley and Steve Chen began in 2005 has shaped how we tell stories, and how we see and hear each other.
Now YouTube is embracing the next phase of video. It's called curation. A uniquely human activity that brings together often-diverse things, creates new experiences and makes content contextual.
Curators are sometimes creators, but often not. The skills are related, but different. And if YouTube gets it right, the job of video curator could truly be a whole new job that turns the noisy YouTube video fire hose into an elegant and accessible video gallery. One built and organized just for you.
Steven Rosenbaum is an author, filmmaker, and curator. His book Curation Nation (McGraw Hill 2011) provides a deep look into the emerging trend of Curated Media -- and how Digital Overload requires humans to make sense of it all. His film '7 Days in September' was a curated collection of stories from across New York in the days after 9/11. He is the CEO of Magnify.net, a web video curation platform.
Follow Steve Rosenbaum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/waaywire