YouTube booming in PHL

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YOUTUBE creator Alex “Wassabi” Burriss on his channel’s popularity: “ took off and it just hasn’t stopped. It’s gotten crazier and crazier.”

By Zsarlene B. Chua, Reporter

WHEN YouTube was started 14 years ago, it was originally intended to be a website where people could shoot, post, and share their videos, and while the original purpose remains, the video-sharing website has become so much more — it is now a platform on which people can build careers.

“I’ve watched YouTube over the years change the landscape [in the United States] and I think it’s starting to happen elsewhere as well. I think YouTube is now a platform for media,” Mark Lefkowitz, head of YouTube Creator and Artist Development for Asia Pacific, told reporters during a press conference preceding the YouTube Fanfest Manila on May 26 at City of Dreams Manila in Parañaque City.

“People are leaving broadcast television and cable television in the US [for YouTube]. So I think it’s a platform that allows everyone to have a voice and share their experience with the world,” he added.

Since August 2018, the site has been the second most popular website in the world after Google, according to analytics website, Alexa.

Mr. Lefkowitz admitted that it comes as a “shock to [him]” when he goes to YouTube events like YouTube Fanfests and he sees the screaming fans of various content creators.

YouTube Fanfests (YTFF) are typically held annually in various cities in the world and have been held in Manila since 2014. The one-day live show brings local and international YouTube stars together on stage to entertain their fans.

This year, the Philippines saw two international and 15 homegrown “creators,” as those who make content posted on the video sharing site are called, take the stage including Alex Wassabi and dancer/choreographer Matt Steffanina, Ranz Kyle and Niana Guerrero, Hannah Kathleen, JaMill, ThatsBella, Rei Germar, and Ken San Jose, among others.

The event was held on May 26 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City and was attended by thousands of fans who lined up at the venue hours before the live show started at 6 p.m.

“We’re now seeing people who are everyday people becoming stars in the platform, so to me it’s unbelievable but it’s really cool, like anybody can be famous,” he said.

Mr. Lefkowitz mentioned that he has noticed the Philippines is “starting to take off” as the company’s numbers showed that there are currently over 750 channels with 100,000 subscribers and more than 60 channels with more than a million subscribers in the country. Last year, only about 300 channels had passed the 100,000 subscriber mark and 19 channels had more than a million subscribers.

“I get really excited when I think about the Philippines because there’s so much opportunity here, we just started to see over the last few years a lot of diverse creators come online. We have seen creators from the north of the country… [to] the south,” he said.

“The Philippines is, I would say, just starting to catch on in terms of a YouTube culture. And I think we’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth last year,” he added.

A successful YouTube career can bring in considerable amounts of money — social media tracking and analytics website Social Blade estimates that YouTube’s most popular content creator, Pewdiepie (real name: Felix Kjellberg), who has more than 96 million subscribers, can earn up to $14.8 million annually from YouTube ads alone.

Other revenue streams like sponsorships are also available for creators.

“I don’t know how [much] all of these make but we see people more and more who are able to earn a living on YouTube, which for us, makes us really happy that they can do what they love and they can actually earn a living here,” Mr. Lefkowitz said.

“In the beginning, it was just me and my friends doing whatever we wanted to do,” said Alex “Wassabi” Burriss, at a roundtable discussion on the same day, “and now I have a manager and assistant and agent — all this stuff — and a whole team of editors and cameramen.”

Mr. Burriss started his YouTube career in 2006 and currently has over 11 million subscribers and has clocked in more than 4 billion views. He is known for his challenge videos, skits, and travel vlogs, among others.

“I’ve been making videos for 13 years and [during] the first five years, it was just me and my friends having fun, we weren’t getting paid to do it. There’s no other reason [to do it other than] we just like making videos. And then it took off and it just hasn’t stopped. It’s gotten crazier and crazier,” he said.

He now describes his YouTube career as “more of a business” and that it’s “gotten a lot more difficult” because more and more eyes are on him.

“When I started, it was like a new thing: it was like uncharted territory and you kind of had to figure [things] out as you went, and now it’s a lot more pressure because there are just so many other YouTubers. So you got to try really hard to find your voice and find what you want to be and what you want kids to look up to you for,” Mr. Burriss said.

“And with all this power or responsibility you have to be more careful [with] what you do,” he explained.

With YouTube’s ever-growing popularity, it has become a continuous challenge for the site to try and maintain a “responsible and healthy” environment as it has faced criticism over the years when it came to its response to copyrighted content, conspiracy videos, videos involving minors, monetizing and demonetizing content, among others.

“We started to make a lot of changes: I think we made 30 policy changes over the last year to try and strengthen our guidelines… [Creators] should make sure they follow our guidelines and are creating responsible content,” YouTube’s Mr. Lefkowitz said.

Among the new policy changes is that YouTube will now show abbreviated subscriber counts instead of precise totals starting August.

The change was prompted by the recent drama which happened between beauty YouTubers James Charles and Tati Westbrook where Mr. Charles lost more than 3 million subscribers while Ms. Westbrook gained more than 4 million in a week.

(The drama revolved around Ms. Westbrook announcing her disassociation from Mr. Charles, whom she had been friends with since he started YouTube four years ago, after accusing Mr. Charles of allegedly hitting on unwilling straight men and for promoting a competitor to her health supplements brand.)

While Mr. Charles has regained more than a million of his lost subscribers, ripples have been felt in the community, and while YouTube did not explicitly state that the aforementioned issue was the reason for the policy change, they did say that they want to “foster a sense of digital well-being” as content creators are “just too concerned about their [numbers],” said Tu Nguyen, communications manager, YouTube APAC during the press conference.

Mr. Burriss said that after more than a decade in YouTube, he is at a point where he “doesn’t look at numbers anymore.”

“I just do whatever I want to do and then I film it… my main focus now is just to have fun,” he said.

“I think for creators to be successful, it’s really important to be authentic and really share the message you want to share. And so I would advise creators [that] if they want to be successful, to think about that and to be themselves,” Mr. Lefkowitz said.