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Are YouTube Personalities Legitimate Content Creators?

Do you give much thought to the content you consume on YouTube? If you don't, you should. Are YouTube personalities legitimate content creators... or is the whole platform a dumpster fire of Minecraft videos and makeup tutorials?
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I don’t like to admit it anymore, but I’ve been around for long enough that I remember when YouTube was a platform to watch fan-made anime OVAs set to their favorite dramatic teenage songs, poor quality cat videos, and some very weird flash-esque animation that for some reason was… funny? It was a strange time.

Now, YouTube is a beast of a website, with $15.1 billion in revenue brought in during the 2019 financial year. Stats provided by the Google-owned goliath indicates that the number of channels bringing in six figures from ads grows by 40% year over year. Yes, your favorite YouTube channel might be making 6+ figures a year making stupid videos or teaching you how to cook fried chicken.

But in the age where everyone has a high-quality video recording device in their pockets… is YouTube a valid source for good, consistent quality? And, more importantly, are the YouTube personalities we see on the front page and in the trending section valid content creators, or are they no better than the kid down the street with the latest iPhone?

NBC via GIPHY

Why Does YouTube Call Their Creators, Creators?

YouTube used a lot of words when they were trying to foster strong working relationships with the channels that were making the company money. You see, YouTube was really, deeply desperate to get away from the low-quality home movie vibe the site had, and so it turned its attention to the channels that drew people regularly.

via GIPHY

It played with the term partner for a while (we see that come back up in the Amazon-owned Twitch), specifically in the 2010 program they called the Partner Grants, which gave 15,000 users the chance to essentially get an ‘advance’ on their ad revenue checks. This was done to help users create a higher quality of content. The name might not have stuck, but it did the job it was supposed to – that year, the amount of YouTube users that had accounts making more than $1,000 a year shot up 300%.

By the start of 2011, YouTube shared a blog post that said “hundreds” of their users were making six figures – but they wanted more.

YouTube stars was the hot term for a while, but it didn’t accurately portray what these YouTubers were doing. Also, it sounded a little pathetic to call someone making six figures a “YouTube Star”. It was more than just being a pretty face, or acting in a scripted role – they were truly going their own way.

As such, creator was offered in 2010 when Next New Networks started working with YouTube users to grow their channels and distribute their videos, and it stuck. YouTube, and NNN, readily admits they really don’t know where the name came from, though many people speculate it originates from the term content creator, like people who used to write blogs (remember those days?!).

Now, the term creator is so popular it’s actually being taken by other companies. Tumblr calls its ‘big users’ creatrs.

Please note that an influencer is different from a creator. An influencer has lots of followers, sure, and yes, they receive sponsorships just like creators. But many people in the ‘industry’ seem to see influencers as ‘less than’ creators, which we can debate about all day. They often are more ‘branded’ in their own way, and at their core, an influencer is building a brand and platform in order to be used as a marketing vehicle for other companies, or even their own in-house brand.

In a very general and oversimplified way, a creator cares less about outside marketing and more about their own content, what they put out, and producing good, unique content. This is obviously broad strokes.

So… what makes content ‘legitimate’?

When you watch Saturday Night Live and laugh, you might think to yourself, this is legitimate, high-quality content. Or maybe not – I don’t know what you find funny. But we often consider television shows, skits, and other on-TV content as more ‘valid’ and real than what YouTube Creators put out.

It’s hard not to. After all, my new favorite YouTube channel right now is called Ordinary Sausage, and stars a goofy-voiced dude who you never actually see putting a wide range of food into a meat grinder, creating a sausage, and tasting it.

Seriously, that’s the show. Highlights include a full KFC family meal, pig’s brains, key lime pie, and more.

But for every handful of silly or dumb channels that are out there, there are some really excellent ones, too. Lockpicking Lawyer is a guy who tries – and succeeds – to break into every lockbox he can get his hands on. Red Letter Media reviews movies, good and bad, and provides some interesting and often hilarious commentary – the Best of the Worst is truly a household favorite. SortedFoods is a group of guys with a real kitchen, reviewing products and providing a real service.

Red Letter Media via GIPHY

So, you have to ask, what makes YouTube content less ‘legitimate’ than what you see on TV?

Is it a crew? Well…

If you think that SortedFoods is just those four dudes, or Binging With Babish is only him, you’re sorely mistaken.

Some people will tell you that what makes ‘real television’ legitimate is the crew behind it. Television shows and movies have dozens of writers, marketing directors, media gurus, and more behind the scenes. This structure and support system lends credibility, and give more substance. It makes it more ‘serious’, right?

Jeffree Star via GIPHY

Too bad for that. Good Mythical Morning has a huge office with social media experts, writers, creative directors, and camera crew. Babish, AKA Andrew Rea, has picked up some of the best talent in short-form food TV right now, plucking several former Bon Appetite staff members over the years. He even has an agent.

(If you’re interested in diving deeper into the YouTube food scene, check out The Food Television Revolution.)

In fact, most YouTube creators do! They have whole PR firms whose sole job is to manage their ‘talent’, or the YouTuber you see on the screen. If you think Jake Paul, James Charles, or Jeffree Star is creating all of his own content, all of the time, you are sorely mistaken.

There is a whole team behind the most popular YouTube creators. There has to be – one person cannot create that much content regularly, manage all the social media, the advertisements and sponsorships, and still… you know, sleep a few hours a night and eat dinner occasionally.

Is it viewership?

A few years ago, you could argue that viewership of content made it legitimate content. Millions of people watched TV, after all – SNL regularly has over 8 million viewers, which sounds like a lot… right?

Good Mythical Morning via GIPHY

Sure. But Good Mythical More has over 16.7 million subscribers, or people who like the channel enough to stay up to date. Their videos regularly break 1 million views, and they don’t put out one episode a week – they do five, at minimum. Plus the spinoff show, Good Mythical More, which has slightly less viewship at between 250-400k viewers a video. Their second spinoff, Mythical Kitchen, run by the very odd Josh and his crew, snarky Nicole and child-chef Trevor, gets at least a 250k views an episode.

Jake Paul has over 20 million subscribers. Jeffree Star has 17 million, and a successful makeup line to shill – a video that has only been out for two weeks at the time of writing this has over 4 million views. James Charles, makeup guru, has 23 million subscribers, with anywhere from 4-10 million viewers per video.

In fact, his video from a year ago, I Bought A FAKE James Charles Palette, has 46 million views. Two years ago he did Kylie Jenner’s Halloween makeup and pulled in 43 million views.

By all accounts, YouTube videos get more view time than most television shows.

So it’s not the crew. It’s not viewership. Is it content?

We’ve decided that a crew does not define legitimate content, because the best YouTubers have a huge crew behind them. And it’s not viewership, because the most popular YouTube creators have a ton of people watching them.

So, is it the quality?

I think that’s unfair, because yes, there is a lot of garbage content on YouTube – but there is a lot of amazing content, too. With 300 hours of video uploaded every minute to the site, there are bound to be some gems.

In addition to all the content I’ve shared, look at Corridor Crew, a group of guys who work in special effects showing you everything going on behind the scenes of your favorite movie or TV show. SB Nation is an amazing resource for all things sports, including some incredible segments – I never thought I would spend four hours watching a video about the history of the Seattle Mariners, but it was fascinating, and very educational.

Smarter Every Day is just a guy talking about science, arts, and learning things about the world, while teaching the viewers something. Invicta is a channel all about history, and it gives a variety of different perspectives, not just the Western view most people are used to. And…

Well, you get the point, right? I could list educational, informative, or just plain funny channels all day and not run out. These are providing a real service, whether that service is to teach you something new, make you laugh, or something else entirely.

If you consider each YouTube channel as a television channel made to fit a very specific audience, you’ll realize that there is very little difference between a traditional television channel and YouTube channels. Except, of course, there are fewer ads – and you get more of the content you really want.

The answer is yes: YouTube creators are real, legitimate content creators

In case you haven’t been taking the journey, we’ve come to the conclusion that yes, YouTube personalities are absolutely legitimate content creators. While you might not like everything that every one has to offer, there is enough variety on the site that if you poke around, you can find something that you truly enjoy.

You can try and gate-keep content all you want, and don’t feel bad – I did, too. For a long time I dismissed YouTube creators as kids with too much money and free time, or bored people trying to feel special, but that was unfair, and I was still thinking about the cat video era of the platform.

Truth be told, there are incredibly talented people gambling it all on YouTube to do what they love – and share something interesting, informative, or funny with us. We are just so lucky to live in a world where we can easily watch and experience it.