Being a Creator is now one of the most popular career choices. Kids in the U.S. and the U.K. would prefer to be a professional YouTuber, Teacher, Professional Athlete, Musician and then Astronaut in that particular order.
When Instagram is making a platform specifically for thirteen year olds and live streamers like Ludwig Ahgren can make several figures from a stream on Twitch, it may not be a complete shock as to why being a creator is such a popular career choice.
The origins of how the creator craze all started is actually quite humble. The first avenger creator economy company was all about having an easy way to upload video on the internet.
Prior to TikTok spawning dancing darlings, before Justin Kan began streaming continuous live video and audio, it all began on Valentine’s Day in 2005 with an online dating service. Three PayPal employees, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim had a simple idea for a dating service. The trio’s idea was to create a dating service that had the killer feature of enabling people to upload videos of themselves talking about the partner of their dreams.
The idea was YouTube. A platform all about the human ‘passion’ economy.
Using a classic PayPal-esque Blitzscaling technique to achieve virality, the trio offered women $20 to upload dating videos. Presumably a few of these videos were like Debbie’s from eHarmony. Although looking at the 1980s video dating montage for men, it wasn’t too great either (check out this to see a just few minutes of how charming it all was).
Unfortunately for the trio, their dating service idea was several years too early. People weren’t accustomed to uploading pictures of themselves and a digital hot or not game yet.
Presumably whilst being super productive, the trio went to look for the Justin Timberlake Janet Jackson Superbowl nippleslip incident online. Unable to easily find the video, the trio realised that video as medium wasn’t really being well addressed on the internet. Pivoting their dating site idea, they decided to make a website that would be much easier for an average internet user with dial up internet to publish, upload and view videos.
In an early interview, Chad Hurley noted that “people were collecting video clips on their cell phones … but there was no easy way to share [them].”
The pivot worked. After Jawed Karim uploaded a video of himself at the zoo in April 2005 and a successful beta launch the next month, YouTube began getting over 30,000 viewers per day. With a daily increase in traffic, they went to secure a $3.5 million investment from Sequoia to scale their service. By one year, July of 2006, YouTube was getting around 20,000 video uploads and 100 million video views per day.
In just under two years, the company was then acquired by Google for $1.65 billion in stock options. The rise of YouTube as a global media distributor was beginning to take shape.
How The Term ‘Creator’ Entered Popular Lingo
Post-acquisition, YouTube’s popularity kept growing. Their growth in daily global internet visits in 2006 was already outpacing the popular social network of the day, MySpace. The popularity was so worrying that in 2008, Larry Irving, the co-founder of the Internet Innovation Alliance feared that the bandwidth consumed by internet video consumption could bring down the internet.
With great popularity comes great monetisation opportunities.
Whilst the early days of YouTube was an eclectic mixture of cat videos and daily mundanity, there were signs that the platform could empower viral marketing. Funny videos like Numa Numa man were being reshared. When Nike sneakily uploaded a video of Ronaldinho receiving football boots under the alias of “JoeB”, hitting 1 million views, Steve Chen noticed the traffic spike and YouTube’s potential to bring in big audiences, big brands and big cash.
But how could they start bringing in bigger brands and more money?
To bring in more premium advertisers, the quality of YouTube’s programming needed to improve. One way to do so, the executives reasoned, was to pump in a $100 million investment into a slate of original content produced by major brands and celebrities.
The investment didn’t quite work as planned.
Looking into their data, the YouTube team finally decided to focus on fostering the community of YouTube stars who were attracting audiences of tens to sometimes hundreds of thousands of subscribers. YouTube called these stars ‘partners’ and anyone with at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 valid public watch hours were eligible to be admitted into the Partner Program.
Investing into the YouTuber community and focusing on the stars was super effective. The YouTube team began doubling down on this initiative and decided to rename their partners with a more utilitarian suited name, ‘creators’. YouTube began opening up creator hubs, studios where YouTube creators could collaborate and produce content. They opened a Creator Academy program to help train people into becoming professional YouTubers.
Following their Creator programs, YouTube also started beginning promoting its creators. Massive billboards and print ad campaigns were launched for creators such as Michelle Phan across New York City buses, subway stations in Los Angeles and magazines such as People.
The success and the popularity of the term creator stuck. The investment into the creator community yielded some massive payouts. By 2014, there were over 1 million advertisers on YouTube and over $1 Billion had been paid out to the platform’s creators.
In observing YouTube’s success and the popularity of the name creator, other platforms such as Pinterest also began calling their top users ‘creators’. Fast forward to 2021, everyone is a creator today.