Thousands of teenagers stood in line for hours this week in the sweltering Anaheim, Calif., summer heat at the sixth-annual VidCon online-video conference to get selfies with their favorite YouTube stars. As throngs of screaming fans rushed from one Web-celebrity sighting to another, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki presented her opening keynote, and said that the company "just had its best year ever." She also shared numbers to back up the bold statement.
The online-video phenomenon that pioneered entertainment for the social era a decade ago reaches more millennials than any cable network, and it has more than a billion global users, according to Wojcicki. Average YouTube viewing time is up 60 percent over last year. YouTube members also upload more than 400 hours of video every minute on average, according to Wojcicki, and the revenue YouTube pays out to channels that pull in at least six figures a year grew by more than 50 percent. "The number of people who watch YouTube every day is up 40 percent year on year," she said.
YouTube faces growing competition from Facebook
YouTube continues to grow despite all of the new competition it faces from Facebook and others that followed it into the video market. When Facebook last revealed its numbers in April, the company said it had jumped from three billion to four billion videos per day during the first four months of 2015.
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Many of YouTube's biggest video stars have experimented with other platforms, including Facebook, and today they post clips that used to be exclusive to YouTube to many other sites. Wojcicki admits competition is heating up, but she isn't sounding the alarm bells … not yet at least. "We think it's complementary to our business, we think it's a way to grow," she said during the VidCon keynote. "[Creators] will come back to the place that generates the most success for them."
Sharing advertising revenue with video creators has been a hallmark of YouTube's platform for years, but the company also faces a new threat from Facebook on that front. Facebook plans to start sharing ad revenue with video creators later this summer, and the social giant said it will match the revenue-split model used by YouTube: 55 percent to creators and 45 percent to the company.
Wojcicki said she returned to VidCon this year to convince YouTube creators that they can still find audiences and make money on the platform, which Google acquired almost nine years ago and that dominated the online video market for the better part of the last five years.
"With YouTube you are able to stay true to yourself and find an audience as passionate as you are," she said. "YouTube is about authenticity, and the more authentic your voice is, the more fans you can draw in."
YouTube redefines celebrity status at VidCon
YouTube is changing the definition of what it means to be a celebrity via the connections it enables and maintains, according to Wojcicki. "Creators … from around the world were able to spark a massive change, the reinvention of television," she said. "The traditional rules of television, those 22-minute episodes or those strict time slots, they're being rewritten in favor of new kinds of entertainment, interesting new faces and above all, engagement and community."
Online celebrities that most adults have never heard are everywhere at VidCon. "We're finally in an era where diversity on the screen reflects the diversity of our society," Wojcicki said.
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YouTube is also releasing new features and more vertical-specific apps to improve the overall experience and keep its creators and fans engaged, she said. For example, the company released a redesigned flagship app this week and is working on a new "YouTube Gaming" app, which is expected "soon."
Following the release of the new YouTube Kids app earlier this year, the top 100 family-oriented creators saw their viewing time increase 80 percent faster than the rest of YouTube, according to Wojcicki.
Last year, during her first VidCon keynote, YouTube's chief wore a t-shirt and jeans on stage, but this year she sported a business-like black dress. The formal attire could represent the more serious tone Wojcicki is trying to convey today at YouTube — a company that just celebrated its first decade but must continually evolve if it hopes to survive another.