Maybe it's time we let YouTube grow up. Maybe instead of constantly referencing YouTube as a site for "cat videos," even when reporting on the advertising side of the site, we should start giving them their due for what they really are: a behemoth of advertising dollars, small business videos, and future television stars.
YouTube is a little bit like a teenager, at least in terms of how the online media treats it. We don't seem to be ready to let them graduate beyond our original label for them: a home for cat videos and other home movie eccentricities.
And maybe when the site launched, that kind of content made up the bulk of what you could find. It did take several years for businesses and brands to jump on YouTube and really begin to see its potential. But that time is now long gone.
And yet nearly every time there's a major news story related to YouTube we still see headlines like this one:
Or this one:
Exactly how long is that kind of reference going to be acceptable? Or even relevant? Why do we still take the world's largest video platform--for amateurs and for businesses alike--and pigeonhole them by calling them a site for "cat videos?"
It's definitely an easy label to assign to YouTube, because it was, indeed, true at one point. But it's not anymore. It's like calling Facebook "a social network for Harvard students" or calling Fox Television a "fledgling network." So I'm proposing a moratorium on making cat videos references when discussing YouTube, and I'm doing it for the following reasons:
It's Just Not True Anymore
First off, let's just do some sample searching for fun--this is in no way scientific.
If you search "cat" on YouTube, you'll see there are 307,000 results:
Now... does that mean that there are only 307,000 cat videos on YouTube? Certainly not. As I said, this is not scientific. I have no idea how YouTube's search engine calculates that number. We also have to keep in mind how many users don't use tags or keywords on their videos. This is just a loose guide.
But look at the query for "dog":
How about "sports?" Over 2 million.
"Music videos?" Over 6 million.
If you want to make a cliche about YouTube, instead of "cat videos," we should be using "music videos." Music videos make up the overwhelming majority of YouTube's most watched and most popular clips. But not cats.
It's Not Fair
I used to think that referring to YouTube as a "cat videos" site was done by people who don't like the company for one reason or another... like a sly semantic way of putting them down. But I think that kind of thing is probably pretty rare, while use of the cat label is widespread.
Regardless of the motive, labeling YouTube as a cat videos site simply isn't fair. They deserve more respect and credit for what they've turned into and grown into. To go back to my teenager analogy from above... it's like your teenager just won the big high school baseball game with a home run, but all you want to talk about is how much trouble he had hitting the ball off the tee back when he was six years old.
When entertainment and celebrity media members write about George Clooney, they don't call him "the Facts of Life actor." He was on that show when he was very young, but he's no longer defined by the early stages of his career. Why should YouTube be any different?
Ultimately, I think it's just an easy stereotype to hold on to. Leading me to my next point...
It's Lazy Journalism
This PCMag.com article from May of this year opens with the line, "Tired of watching cat videos on YouTube?" They also wrote a July 2011 piece entitled, "Beyond Cat Videos: Online Video Watching Jumps." Which is strange, because back as far as 2008, they wrote this opening sentence:
Anyone who still thinks YouTube is just for cat tricks and The Simpsons clips hasn't noticed the many YouTubers making careers out of their short videos.
And yet, three years later, the same site is still making "cat videos" references to YouTube.
They're not alone:
- Business Insider said just four days ago in this article that Daily Motion "feels more like 'media' than just a huge repository of cat videos and Conan clips. For sure, YouTube is getting better at this, but there's still a lot of room for improvement."
- CNN Money says that, "The YouTube of China is more than just cat videos."
- In May, in regard to YouTube Next Up and Creator Institute, Mashable said, "YouTube To Go Beyond Cat Videos By Training A New Class Of Vloggers."
- Last year, Sloan Consortium said, "YouTube Better At Funny Cat Videos Than Educational Content."
- A couple years ago, GigaOm wrote, "YouTube: It Really is Just About The Silly Cat Videos."
- On Quora, there's a question that reads, "What does the dominance of cat videos on YouTube tell us about human evolution?"
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I'm even guilty of it myself from time to time over the past few years. Heck, I wrote about Maru's new book deal just yesterday. I'm not writing this to call anyone out or anything. I'm just as guilty as the next person. But I am suggesting maybe we give it a rest for a while.
Why do we do it? It's not because we hate YouTube (I don't think). It's not even because we really believe the site is all about cat videos--heck, half the headlines listed above are making their "cat videos" reference in an article about how YouTube isn't just about cat videos anymore.
Sometimes I think writers believe their audience considers YouTube a place for cat videos, so they're only doing it to appeal to readers or for SEO purposes.
I honestly think it's just lazy. It's easier. For one reason or another, it's a perception that has stuck with the brand.
I think it's high time we dropped the "cat videos" label and gave YouTube their due. They've become one of the largest online advertising marketplaces, with tens of millions of businesses and brands maintaining a presence and using the site to connect to consumers. They've nurtured entertainers and filmmakers who have gone on to strike TV or motion picture deals and rake in gobs of money. They've almost single-handedly rescued the music video as an art form.
Considering all that YouTube has accomplished in their last few years of growth, it's finally time to admit it, once and for all (and hopefully for the very last time): YouTube is way, way, way more than just cat videos.