YouTube Is a Sign of Fast-Moving Times

If you want an example of hyper-speed in the digital world, consider the video-sharing company YouTube. A year ago hardly anyone knew it existed. Now millions of users look at YouTube videos daily; it played a role in the 2006 Congressional elections, and in October, Google bought YouTube for a whopping $1.65 billion.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

On the Internet, 2006 was the year of YouTube. Twelve months ago, who would have known that lip-synching teenagers and stolen bits of TV shows would be worth $1.65 billion? But in October, that's how much Google paid for YouTube and its collection of laughing babies, anime and music videos.

(Soundbite of baby laughing)

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man (Singer): Well, imagine as I'm facing the pews in a church corridor and I can't help but to hear. No, I can't help but to hear.

BRAND: In the space of a year, YouTube has sent the entertainment industry off in a new direction.

NPR's Wendy Kaufman has this report on the rise of YouTube.

WENDY KAUFMAN: It started modestly enough. One of YouTube's founders posted videos of his cat P.J. on a newly created video sharing site. Fast-forward 20 months and the way we think about entertainment is changing. Beyond that, we have less privacy and there's more transparency in public life.

YouTube wasn't the first to offer an online video sharing service. But Kevin Werbach of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School says there were a number of reasons that it gained so much traction so quickly.

Mr. KEVIN WERBACK (University of Pennsylvania): One thing that they did was made it drop dead simple for people to submit videos. Another thing that they did was made it very easy for people to share those videos on their own Web sites like MySpace, blogs and other places. And the third thing that they did right, which was somewhat risky, was they had an open model.

KAUFMAN: While other sites screened content for copyright and other problems in advance, YouTube didn't. It took material off the site only if there were complaints. That meant more people put more stuff on YouTube. And now nearly 20 million people view the site each month.

Some of the videos are wacky, weird or amateurish. This man's taking his dog, Ginger, for a stroll.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man: Okay. Time to walk. Time for a walk. My little neighborhood. La, la, la, la, la.

KAUFMAN: But there's also highly produced material from mainstream entertainment companies such as Capitol Records. OK Go is the band.

(Soundbite of song, "Here it Goes Again")

KAUFMAN: And then there's political content, as Republican George Allen of Virginia learned in his Senate campaign this fall.

Senator GEORGE ALLEN (Republican, Virginia): Friends, we're going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas. And it's important that we motivate and inspire people for something. This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca or whatever his name is, he's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great. We're going to places all over Virginia.

(Soundbite of cheering)

KAUFMAN: Allen's racially charged and dismissive remarks were seen and heard by millions on YouTube and millions more when network TV picked up the story. The remarks may well have cost him his U.S. Senate seat.

As Jeffrey Cole, executive director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California, puts it, nothing goes away anymore.

Mr. JEFFREY COLE (University of Southern California): And Americans are learning more slowly that everything you do and say - even if you're not a celebrity, but especially if you're a celebrity - everything you do and say is being recorded. And now there's a place that you take those recordings and everybody can see them over and over again.

KAUFMAN: YouTube is also changing what entertainment looks like. Consider Lonelygirl15.

Ms. JESSICA ROSE (Actress): (As Bree) Hi, guys. So this is my first video blog.

KAUFMAN: The YouTube video blog, which was very popular earlier this year, was eventually exposed as fake. The so-called blogger was really an actress. Still, it demonstrated just how popular short-form video could be.

Google's purchase of YouTube for $1.65 billion last fall prompted some analysts to question whether Google had overpaid. Two other individuals are shaking their heads, in this case, with giddiness. Chad Hurley and Steve Chen are both in their late 20s.

Mr. CHAD HURLEY (Co-founder, YouTube): This is Chad and Steve. We're the co-founders of the site. And this is great. Two kings have gotten together.

Mr. STEVE CHEN (Co-founder, YouTube): The kings.

Mr. HURLEY: The king of search, the king of video have gotten together. We're going to have it our way.

KAUFMAN: Google bought the online video sharing site for a number of reasons. In part, because it was hot and in part because it didn't want anyone else to get it.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.

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