By Rene Sylvestre Williams
We all remember when astronaut Chris Hadfield uploaded a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” to YouTube in 2013 before he finished his tour on the International Space Station. Today that video, a culmination of his five months on the station, showing what life in space was really like while he conducted experiments and shared photos of different parts of the world, has 43 million views. Not only was it a marketing success for NASA and Hadfield, it also helped highlight Canada’s role in space exploration.
YouTube, it turns out, actually plays a significant role within Canadian media, according to a new report from the Audience Lab at the Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD)
The Watchtime Canada report says Canadian YouTubers have leveraged what the platform offers: a free platform, metrics, diversity of creators and perspectives, and the ability to become entrepreneurs who not only make a living from their channels but also create jobs and the ability to connect with Canadian and global consumers.
YouTube (and its parent company Google) has been in the hot seat recently for its algorithm which has been seen as an entry-point to to far-right extremism, but Irene Berkowitz, author of the report, says that for the most part, Canadians feel largely positive about the application and benefits of the platform.
The study, which used original research from two field surveys done across Canada, had 1,500 YouTube consumers and 1,268 YouTube creators. While the authors found various findings, which can be read here, there were five major takeaways:
YouTube as learning space
Seventy per cent of Canadians who watch YouTube rank the platform as the first media space they go to learn things whether it’s about space from Chris Hadfield, cooking or science as seen with the YouTube channel AsapScience.
Low barrier to entry
The platform itself costs approximately $6 billion a year to run and it takes 45 per cent of its creators’ advertising revenues. The cost of entry is low, with no fees or barriers to upload content and the numbers needed to monetize is also low, with 25 per cent of Canadian YouTubers (40,000) meeting YouTube’s basic requirement for monetization with more than 1,000 subscribers.
In return, they get access to YouTube’s metrics, which gives them immediate quantitative and qualitative feedback. This gives them the ability to continuously beta-test their content based on subscriber count, clicks, views, like and comments. This information allows them to pivot to a topic that resonates better with their audience as seen with Aysha Harun, who started her channel focusing on makeup but found her audience really liked her more lifestyle-oriented content.
Offline, YouTube has YouTube Spaces, where budding creators can attend sessions to learn how to grow their channels and creators with more than 10,000 subscribers can use the space to make videos. All of this is free to creators.
Who hasn’t been frustrated when they get the ‘this video has been blocked in your country’ notice thanks to copyright? Since creators upload directly to the platform, there are no rights negotiations for any country. This means that Canadian creators can not only speak to their Canadian audiences, but reach out internationally. No other media platform offers this breadth and depth of reach. This also allows them to negotiate deals from anyone, not just Canadian brands.
Traditional Canadian media is presumed to not be very diverse as most companies prefer not to say. YouTube, on the other hand, gives Canadian creators the opportunity to not only express their diverse views but to also access diversity in perspectives, genders, ethnicities, languages and genres.
The survey found that a third of Canadian creators are under 25 and nearly 75 per cent under 45 years old. Eighteen per cent of the respondents self-reported as a visible minority (Statistics Canada reports 20 per cent of Canada’s population identifies as visible minorities.) Plus, three per cent YouTube creators self-reported as Indigenous, which is very close to Canadians who identify as Indigenous people (4.3 per cent).
Adding to the economy
The authors, Irene Berkowitz, Charles H. Davis, and Hanako Smith, found that the most successful Canadian creators not only make a full time living from their channels but could be considered job creators. The 40,000 creators who have monetized their channels have also created 28,000 full time equivalent (FTE) jobs. The study found that 15 per cent of the YouTubers earn $50,000 in gross annual revenue, 12 per cent earn $75,000, nine per cent earn $100,000 and six per cent earn $150,000.
When it comes to YouTube as compared to the traditional media space, the authors don’t see it as direct competition. The platform isn’t going away and will only get bigger as it offers more options to users and creators (original content, the ability to rent movies and shows, etc.). What they found is while it is the first place Canadians go for learning content, it’s not the first place they go for other media. Legacy media is still the leader when it comes to sports, comedy, news and information. What they see is complementary, not competition.