YouTube Is Not The Future; It’s Been The Future For Nearly A Decade

Stars like Jenna Marbles and Smosh have been famous for years.

The Variety cover featuring Mr. Dawson and Ms. Marbles. (Facebook)

The Variety cover featuring Mr. Dawson and Ms. Marbles. (Facebook)

There have been a lot of cover stories about Vine and YouTube stars over the last several months.

Shane Dawson and Jenna Marbles graced the cover of Variety, Jerome Jarre made the cover of AdWeek, Bethany Mota on the cover of FastCompany, and so on.

But, why now? Why has it taken so long?

While many of these articles are praising the innovation and progressiveness of entertainment and advertisers participating in the space, the harsh reality is it is not innovative.

After 10 years, are these YouTuber really the “future” of anything? YouTube’s first video was posted nine years ago this past April.

Let that sink in for a second… YouTube is nearly a decade old.

It’s been over eight years since Smosh began generating over three million views a video. Three million views within the television world is no joke, that puts Smosh in the same league as prime time mega hits Modern Family and Shark Tank.

This is six years after Dawson exploded on to the scene and five years since he began collaborating with the likes of Shay Carl, Lisa Donovan and others on The Station. Of course, The Station was the start of Maker Studios, which has since been purchased for nearly a billion dollars by Disney.

Jenna Marbles began wielding legions of fans over four years ago.

In reference to Dawson, Variety states that “he may be huge on YouTube, but few in Hollywood know who Shane Dawson is. Not yet, anyway.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

The whole “these guys are the future of media” feels tired and out of touch. If someone has had fame (if by fame we mean millions of adoring fans) for years, and Hollywood executives are just recognizing it for the first time today, does that make it innovative?

Or… does this newfound recognition mean that YouTube creators are only now entering into the purview of a demographic which has remained oblivious to a tidal wave of media consumption that resides outside of TV or movie theater?

These long established icons for millennials and tweens alike have been wielding audiences more influential than some of the most popular TV shows for years.  In fact, several YouTubers generate more views in a single week than the cultural phenomenon Game of Thrones.

In referencing the likes of Dawson and Marbles as stars of a not too distant future, we as marketers and entertainers are fooling ourselves about the realities of today… and yesterday…. and the way it has been for nearly a decade now.

This is the classic innovator’s dilemma — to continue to invest in what we know versus expand into new territory.

These issues are not unique; many industries are struggling to adapt to a digital world. Recently a New York Times internal report revealed their own inability to create a meaningful online presence — consistently viewing their digital presence as an online extension of their print magazine. NiemanLabs described the outcome of the NY Times report as showing the publication being “oriented toward an old model. It’s journalists turning their own reporting skills on themselves.”

I’d argue the same is very much true for advertisers, marketers, networks and movie studios — most are awkwardly stumbling around in the digital landscape failing to adapt or even recognize the realities of media consumption today. Meanwhile individuals have built empires.

The words overlaid across the Dawson and Marbles Variety cover states “Rising Stars” as if to imply these are the future of media of tomorrow — while that’s likely to be true, I’d argue they’re the stars of past and present as well.

Brendan Gahan (@brendangahan) is a YouTube expert helping Fortune 500 brands with their YouTube influencer and community building campaigns. He was named Forbes 30 Under 30 in Marketing & Advertising and one of the 25 Top YouTube Business Power Players for 2013.

YouTube Is Not The Future; It’s Been The Future For Nearly A Decade