The ongoing transformation of YouTube is a feature story in the current issue of The New Yorker — a reflection of the fact that Google has developed more plans for it than just hosting user videos in perpetuity. Getting people to watch its content with the same dedication still granted to cable TV is the next natural step.
A growing consensus is that all the platform needs to show itself worthy of many billions more in annual advertising dollars is the first must-see smash hit series. Where exactly the breakthrough is going to come from remains a bit of a mystery.
While the company has developed partnerships with amateur content producers, the bigger news has been a $100 million investment in the rollout of professional channels, designed to hook in viewers for more than an occasional distraction. Whether that means an increased potential of exposure for independent productions, or if the most oddball ideas will have to work harder to draw eyeballs, also remains to be seen.
So, this seemed like the perfect time to debut a YouTube School — which gives our new home at the Academy of the Impossible a way to both encourage original production while also reviewing past viral successes. Creativity can also be expressed by just being a viewer: social media sharing and other forms of curation give us all an opportunity to express ourselves by referencing old music videos, new news clips or a link to a timely rant.
For the first session, we were visited by members of the Cynically Tested troupe, which is behind the series Truth Mashup. Producer Dan Speerin might be best recognized in Toronto as the host of a video where he reviewed the "Top 5 WTF Moments of Toronto's Mayor" — uploaded just prior to the landslide victory of Rob Ford. Since his election, the clip has gone through further waves of virality, and will no doubt be discovered again and again.
The repository on YouTube may indeed be unforgiving of any public figure's past. A clip of Republican nominee hopeful Mitt Romney fighting with reporters during the previous presidential campaign, in dispute of proof that he had lobbyists running his campaign, started trending again just as this primary cycle started.
Looking at society through a funhouse mirror has also been a recurring theme of the Truth Mashup videos. Speerin's recent effort with sidekicks Alan So and Vince Kesavamoorthy, a three-minute infomercial for "Tea Party Canada Seminars: How To Hide Your Racism," is reflective of the way that hot-button racial issues are frequently turned into satire.
Recently, the Toronto-based phenomenon "Shit Girls Say" has also inspired plenty of satire about how stereotypes can be exploited for cheap laughs. Franchesca Ramsey, a vlogger from New York, is on track to reach even more viewers with her meta-spoof, "Shit White Girls Say … to Black Girls."
When it comes to being recognized as a YouTube celebrity for your own sake, though, New Yorker writer John Seabrook has to concede that this is where tween tastes prevail. How else to explain the first phenomenon of 2012, a 13-year-old girl from Sydney, Australia with dancing eyebrows, who all but proves you don't even need to try to sing like Rebecca Black to get 15 seconds of fame.
And if all else fails, there is always the chance of another inspired remix like Don Cherry playing piano on his desk, which may well rehabilitate the image of the cantankerous Coach's Corner host before his time is up.
We talked about these videos, and many more, during the first YouTube School. You can join us for the second round which will primarily focus on the platform's evolution toward channels.
For more information, and to sign up for the next session, please visit the Academy of the Impossible.