YouTube is an online video sharing and social media platform owned by Google. Around the world its users watch more than one billion hours of YouTube videos each day. YouTube creators popularly referred to as YouTubers upload over one hundred hours of content per minute
Over the years YouTube has expanded from beyond the website into mobile apps, network television, and permitting other services like Discord and Nintendo to access YouTube. The range of videos on YouTube is seemingly infinite as users can find music videos, video clips, short and documentary films, audio recordings, corporate sponsored movie trailers, live streams, video blogs, as well as content from popular YouTubers. Most content today is still generated by individuals, including collaborations between YouTubers and companies that sponsor YouTubers. Over the past six years established media corporations such as Disney, Viacom, and WarnerMedia have created and expanded their corporate YouTube channels to promote their content to a larger audience. YouTube also acts as a social network by allowing users with a Google account to watch and upload their own videos, comment on videos, rate and respond to comments, like or dislike videos, create playlists, and subscribe to other users and channels.
In 2006 when YouTube was a year old, it was bought out by Google for US$1.65 billion.
Under Google from 2006 onwards YouTube evolved from a small video streaming platform to an international juggernaut influencing popular culture, internet trends, and creating multimillionaire celebrities. YouTube as a company had revenues of $19.8 billion in 2020. Globally, after Google.com, YouTube is the most visited website with over one billion monthly users. Google’s ownership of YouTube has also changed its business model as it no longer makes revenue from advertisements alone. YouTube now offers paid content such as movies, and exclusive content. YouTube itself and approved creators participate in Google’s AdSense program which generates move revenue for both parties.
YouTube’s expansion also lent itself to become one of the landmarks of the modern internet and an integral part of daily life. With billions of hours of content and thousands of niche communities YouTube has also fostered a great social impact. As YouTube has grown and evolved it has become involved in many controversies that have made headline news. Such issues include: YouTube’s self-censorship, alleged corporate favoritism, users spreading conspiracy theories, and issues regarding child safety and wellbeing.
Founding and initial growth (2005–2006)
YouTube was founded by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim. The trio were all early employees of PayPal which they left enriched after the company was bought by eBay. Hurley had studied design at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Chen and Karim studied computer science together at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
There are multiple stories told of the company’s founding. According to a story that has often been repeated in the media, Hurley and Chen developed the idea for YouTube during the early months of 2005, after they had experienced difficulty sharing videos that had been shot at a dinner party at Chen’s apartment in San Francisco. Karim did not attend the party and denied that it had occurred, but Chen commented that the idea that YouTube was founded after a dinner party “was probably very strengthened by marketing ideas around creating a story that was very digestible”.
Karim said the inspiration for YouTube first came from in the 2004 Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction when during the halftime show Janet Jackson‘s breast was exposed. Karim could not easily find video clips of the wardrobe malfunction and 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami online, which led to the idea of a video sharing site. Hurley and Chen said that the original idea for YouTube was a video version of an online dating service, and had been influenced by the website Hot or Not. They created posts on Craigslist asking attractive women to upload videos of themselves to YouTube in exchange for a $100 reward. Difficulty in finding enough dating videos led to a change of plans, with the site’s founders deciding to accept uploads of any type of video.
YouTube began as a venture capital–funded technology startup. Between November 2005 and April 2006, the company raised money from a variety of investors with Sequoia Capital, $11.5 million, and Artis Capital Management, $8 million, being the largest two. YouTube’s early headquarters were situated above a pizzeria and Japanese restaurant in San Mateo, California.In February 2005, the company activated
www.youtube.com. The first video was uploaded April 23, 2005. Titled Me at the zoo, it shows co-founder Jawed Karim at the San Diego Zoo and can still be viewed on the site.In May the company launched a public beta and by November a Nike ad featuring Ronaldinho became the first video to reach one million total views.The site launched officially on December 15, 2005, by which time the site was receiving 8 million views a day.Clips at the time were limited to 100 megabytes, as little as 30 seconds of footage.
Contrary to popular belief, YouTube was not the first video-sharing site on the Internet, as Vimeo was launched in November 2004, though that site remained a side project of its developers from CollegeHumor at the time and did not grow much either.The week of YouTube’s launch, NBC-Universal’s Saturday Night Live ran a skit “Lazy Sunday” by The Lonely Island. Besides helping to bolster ratings and long-term viewership for Saturday Night Live, “Lazy Sunday”‘s status as an early viral video helped establish YouTube as an important website. Unofficial uploads of the skit to YouTube drew in more than five million collective views by February 2006 before they were removed when NBCUniversal requested it two month later based on copyright concerns. Despite eventually being taken down, these duplicate uploads of the skit helped popularize YouTube’s reach and led to the upload of further third-party content. The site grew rapidly and, in July 2006, the company announced that more than 65,000 new videos were being uploaded every day, and that the site was receiving 100 million video views per day.
The choice of the name
www.youtube.com led to problems for a similarly named website,
www.utube.com. That site’s owner, Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment, filed a lawsuit against YouTube in November 2006 after being regularly overloaded by people looking for YouTube. Universal Tube subsequently changed its website to
Broadcast Yourself Era (2006–2013)
On October 9, 2006, Google announced that it had acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in Google stock. The deal was finalized on November 13, 2006. Google’s acquisition launched new newfound interest in video-sharing sites; IAC, which now owned Vimeo focused on supporting the content creators to distinguish itself from YouTube.YouTube logo from 2015 until 2017
The company experienced rapid growth. The Daily Telegraph wrote that in 2007, YouTube consumed as much bandwidth as the entire Internet in 2000.By 2010, the company had reached a market share of around 43% and more than 14 billion views of videos according to comScore. That year the company also redesigned its interface with the aim of simplifying the interface and increasing the time users spend on the site. In 2011, more than three billion videos were being watched each day with 48 hours of new videos uploaded every minute. However, most of these views came from a relatively small number of videos; according to a software engineer at that time, 30% of videos accounted for 99% of views on the site That year the company again changed its interface and at the sametime introduced a new logo with a darker shade of red. A further interface change, designed to unify the experience across desktop, TV, and mobile, was rolled out in 2013.By that point more than 100 hours were being uploaded every minute, a number that would increase to 300 hours by November 2014.
During this time, the company also went through some organizational changes. In October 2006, YouTube moved to a new office in San Bruno, California Hurley announced that he would be stepping down as chief executive officer of YouTube to take an advisory role, and that Salar Kamangar would take over as head of the company in October 2010.
YouTube’s New CEO (2014–2018)
Susan Wojcicki was appointed CEO of YouTube in February 2014. In January 2016, YouTube expanded its headquarters in San Bruno by purchasing an office park for $215 million. The complex has 51,468 square metres (554,000 square feet) of space and can house up to 2,800 employees.YouTube officially launched the “polymer” redesign of its user interfaces based on Material Design language as its default, as well a redesigned logo that is built around the service’s play button emblem in August 2017.
Through this period, YouTube tried several new ways to generate revenue beyond advertisements. In 2013, YouTube launched a pilot program for content providers to offer premium, subscription-based channels within the platform. This effort was discontinued in January 2018 and relaunched in June, with US$4.99 channel subscriptions.These channel subscriptions complemented the existing Super Chat ability, launched in 2017, which allows viewers to donate between $1 and $500 to have their comment highlighted.In 2014, YouTube announced a subscription service known as “Music Key,” which bundled ad-free streaming of music content on YouTube with the existing Google Play Music service. The service continued to evolve in 2015, when YouTube announced YouTube Red, a new premium service that would offer ad-free access to all content on the platform (succeeding the Music Key service released the previous year), premium original series, and films produced by YouTube personalities, as well as background playback of content on mobile devices. YouTube also released YouTube Music, a third app oriented towards streaming and discovering the music content hosted on the YouTube platform.
The company also attempted to create products to appeal to specific kinds of viewers. YouTube released a mobile app known as YouTube Kids in 2015 designed to provide an experience optimized for children. It features a simplified user interface, curated selections of channels featuring age-appropriate content, and parental control features. Also in 2015, YouTube launched YouTube Gaming—a video gaming-oriented vertical and app for videos and live streaming, intended to compete with the Amazon.com-owned Twitch.
Consolidation, Censorship and Controversy (2018–present)
The company was attacked on April 3, 2018, when a shooting took place at YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno, California which wounded three and resulted in two deaths (including the shooter). By February 2017, one billion hours of YouTube were watched every day and 400 hours of video were uploaded every minute.Two years later, the uploads increased to more than 500 hours per minute. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when most of the world was under stay-at-home orders, usage of services such as YouTube grew greatly. One data firm estimated that YouTube was accounting for 15% of all internet traffic, twice its pre-pandemic level.In response to EU officials requesting that such services reduce bandwidth as to make sure medical entities had sufficient bandwidth to share information, YouTube along with Netflix stated they would reduce streaming quality for at least thirty days as to cut bandwidth use of their services by 25% to comply with the EU’s request. YouTube later announced that they will continue with this move worldwide, “We continue to work closely with governments and network operators around the globe to do our part to minimize stress on the system during this unprecedented situation”.
Following a 2018 complaint alleging violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)., the company was fined $170 million by the FTC for collecting personal information from minors under the age of 13.YouTube was also ordered to create systems to increase children’s privacy. Following criticisms of its implementation of those systems, YouTube started treating all videos designated as “made for kids” as liable under COPPA on January 6, 2020. Joining the YouTube kids app, the company created a supervised mode, designed more for tweens in 2021.
During this period, YouTube also got into disputes with other tech companies. For over a year in 2018 and 2019 there was no YouTube app available for Amazon Fire products and in 2020 Roku was forced to remove the app from its streaming store after the two companies couldn’t come to an agreement.
YouTube primarily uses the VP9 and H.264/MPEG-4 AVC video formats, and the Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP protocol. By January 2019, YouTube had begun rolling out videos in AV1 format. In 2021 it was reported that the company was considering requiring AV1 in streaming hardware order to decrease bandwidth and increase quality.
At launch in 2005, viewing YouTube videos on a personal computer required the Adobe Flash Player plug-in to be installed in the browser In January 2010, YouTube launched an experimental version of the site that used the built-in multimedia capabilities of web browsers supporting the HTML5 standard. This allowed videos to be viewed without requiring Adobe Flash Player or any other plug-in to be installed. On January 27, 2015, YouTube announced that HTML5 would be the default playback method on supported browsers. With the switch to HTML5 video streams using Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (MPEG-DASH), an adaptive bit-rate HTTP-based streaming solution optimizing the bitrate and quality for the available network.
The platform is able to serve videos at optionally lower resolution levels starting at 144p for smoothening playback in areas and countries with limited Internet speeds, improving compatibility, as well as for preservation of limited cellular data plans. The resolution setting can be adjusted automatically based on detected connection speed, as well as be set manually.
From 2008 to 2017, users could add “annotations” to their videos—such as pop-up text messages and hyperlinks and which allowed for interactive videos. By 2019 all annotations had been removed from videos, breaking some videos which depended on the feature. YouTube introduced standardized widgets intended to replace annotations in a cross-platform manner, including “end screens” (a customizable array of thumbnails for specified videos displayed near the end of the video).
In 2018, YouTube became an ISNI registry, and announced its intention to begin creating ISNI identifiers to uniquely identify the musicians whose videos it features.
All YouTube users can upload videos up to 15 minutes each in duration. Users can verify their account, normally through a mobile phone, to gain the ability to upload videos up to 12 hours in length, as well as produce live streams. When YouTube was launched in 2005, it was possible to upload longer videos, but a ten-minute limit was introduced in March 2006 after YouTube found that the majority of videos exceeding this length were unauthorized uploads of television shows and films. The 10-minute limit was increased to 15 minutes in July 2010.Videos can be at most 128 GB in size or 12 hours, whichever is less.As of 2021, automatic closed captions using speech recognition technology when a video is uploaded is available in 13 languages. YouTube also offers manual closed captioning as part of its creator studio. YouTube formerly offered a ‘Community Captions’ feature, where viewers could write and submit captions for public display upon approval by the video uploader, but this was deprecated in September 2020.
YouTube accepts the most common container formats, including MP4, Matroska, FLV, AVI, WebM, 3GP, MPEG-PS, and the QuickTime File Format. Some intermediate video formats (i.e., primarily used for professional video editing, not for final delivery or storage) are also accepted, such as ProRes. YouTube provides recommended encoding settings.
Quality and formats
YouTube originally offered videos at only one quality level, displayed at a resolution of 320×240 pixels using the Sorenson Spark codec (a variant of H.263), with mono MP3 audio. In June 2007, YouTube added an option to watch videos in 3GP format on mobile phones.In March 2008, a high-quality mode was added, which increased the resolution to 480×360 pixels. In December 2008, 720p HD support was added. At the time of the 720p launch, the YouTube player was changed from a 4:3 aspect ratio to a widescreen 16:9. With this new feature, YouTube began a switchover to H.264/MPEG-4 AVC as its default video compression format. In November 2009, 1080p HD support was added. In July 2010, YouTube announced that it had launched a range of videos in 4K format, which allows a resolution of up to 4096×3072 pixels.In March 2015, support for 4K resolution was added, with the videos playing at 3840 × 2160 pixels. In June 2015, support for 8K resolution was added, with the videos playing at 7680×4320 pixels. In November 2016, support for HDR video was added which can be encoded with Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) or Perceptual Quantizer (PQ). HDR video can be encoded with the Rec. 2020 color space.
In June 2014, YouTube began to deploy support for high frame rate videos up to 60 frames per second (as opposed to 30 before), becoming available for user uploads in October. YouTube stated that this would enhance “motion-intensive” videos, such as video game footage.
YouTube videos are available in a range of quality levels. The former names of standard quality (SQ), high quality (HQ), and high definition (HD) have been replaced by numerical values representing the vertical resolution of the video. The default video stream is encoded in the VP9 format with stereo Opus audio; if VP9/WebM is not supported in the browser/device or the browser’s user agent reports Windows XP, then H.264/MPEG-4 AVC video with stereo AAC audio is used instead.
Since 2009, viewers have had the ability watch 3D videos.In 2015, the company began natively supporting 360-degree video and it has since allowed for live streaming of 360° video at up to 4K resolution.Citing the limited number of users who watched more than 90-degrees, the company began supporting an alternative stereoscopic video format known as VR180 which it said was easier to produce. The company now allows users to watch any video using virtual reality headsets.
In response to increased viewership during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company temporarily downgraded the quality of its videos. The company developed its own chip, called Argos, to help with encoding higher resolution videos in 2021.
YouTube carried out early experiments with live streaming, including a concert by U2 in 2009, and a question-and-answer session with US President Barack Obama in February 2010 These tests had relied on technology from 3rd-party partners, but in September 2010, YouTube began testing its own live streaming infrastructure. In April 2011, YouTube announced the rollout of YouTube Live. The creation of live streams was initially limited to select partners. It was used for real-time broadcasting of events such as the 2012 Olympics in London. In October 2012, more than 8 million people watched Felix Baumgartner‘s jump from the edge of space as a live stream on YouTube.
In May 2013, creation of live streams was opened to verified users with at least 1,000 subscribers; in August of that year the number was reduced to 100 subscribers,and in December the limit was removed. In February 2017, live streaming was introduced to the official YouTube mobile app. Live streaming via mobile was initially restricted to users with at least 10,000 subscribers, but as of mid-2017 it has been reduced to 100 subscribers. Live streams support HDR can be up to 4K resolution at 60 fps, and also support 360° video.