YouTube opened its latest Space studio in London today (16th August), offering three studios with state-of-the-art audio/video facilities and a retail outlet for YouTube superstars in a building covering 20,000 square feet – making it its second biggest creator space after its flagship building in Los Angeles.
It is located in King’s Cross (where Google/YouTube are slowly but steadily relocating their London HQ to) and is one of nine Space studios in major cities around the world – alongside New York, LA, Berlin, Paris, Mumbai, Tokyo and São Paulo.
At the launch, the company was keen to push the fact that it was investing in creators and offering them an increasing range of tools to make their videos as well as build both their brand and revenues. The subtext was about how it was democratising both creation and media, allowing a whole new generation of stars to come through and establish themselves.
Ben McOwen Wilson, head of YouTube EMEA, said the studios are for the creators and positioned them as part of a broader suite of tools and technologies they offer video makers. “We are just a platform,” he said. “We didn’t begin 11 years ago with this ambition of creating a whole new generation of talent. We began 11 years ago to try and simplify a process that was unbelievably complicated […] We just made video work.”
That was, of course, a back reference to the parlous state of the online video landscape in 2005 which was enormously user unfriendly and restricted how users saw online as a creative place for video production.
“There has been an emergence of a generation of people whose success has been defined by their ability to create content on YouTube and both find their own audience and build their own audience,” he said of what YouTube has facilitated. “We are absolutely investing in giving our creators a platform that allows them to create genuinely high-quality content.”
He argued that YouTube’s biggest break from traditional media is that it has erased gatekeepers and mediators, allowing creators to run everything themselves.
“No one at YouTube’s job is to be the director of the talent,” he said. “We don’t decide who should be successful on our platform or not. There is no one at YouTube saying, ‘What we could really do with is a bit more fashion or music.’ It is the audience and it is the talent who are finding their audience and building their relationship with their audience [who do that].”
Marc Joynes, YouTube Space manager, said the studios are designed to “supercharge the next generation of YouTubers” and “enhance their skillsets”. That includes studios with green screen and VR capabilities as well as facilitating live streaming in 4k straight to YouTube.
Science and technology YouTuber Tom Scott spoke at the launch about how YouTube has enabled him to run his channel full time, something that was unimaginable a decade ago. “This is my job now,” he said. “This pays the rent.”
During a tour of the studios, he told reporters that if a creator’s videos are currently getting between 50,000 and 100,000 views each, they can start to treat it as enough to make a living from. He added, however, that because he has 300+ videos on his channel, he benefits from a long tail dynamic in terms of his overall earning potential.
While the company talked about YouTube being totally democratic, the Space does appear to be somewhat tilted towards the most successful creators, giving them access to more equipment and limiting who can sell official merchandise through its Creator Store (which is open to the public).
If a YouTuber has a few thousand subscribers, they will get access to parts of the studios, but the bigger their subscriber numbers, the more things they can access and the more time they can book out the studios for.
Of course YouTube needs to manage the bookings and can’t just have anyone pitch up and start filming when they see fit.
That said, there is a risk in giving the biggest creators access to the top-level equipment, it is opening up something of a class divide amongst the creator community. The big get bigger and the smaller trail behind.
Those currently waging war on YouTube – among them Irving Azoff, the RIAA and IFPI – will naturally regard this as just so much window dressing and a way of deflecting from the real issues of a) stemming safe harbor exemptions and b) increasing payments to rightsholders.
That said, YouTube has been a catalyst for a whole new generation of creators and they – or the top 1%, anyway – are more than making it work commercially for themselves. Plus, YouTube is continually investing in helping these creators keep creating – and at a higher level. Certain quarters of the music industry would rather more money was going to rightsowners and regard it all as just so much bloviating. A middle ground, one suspects, is still some way off.