YouTube birthday wishes; it continues to define the online video landscape

Jim O'Neil

There are some milestones that just can't be ignored: the 21st birthday, that 50th wedding anniversary, and, for a business, turning five. It's a benchmark that often signifies a business reaching maturity... or at least having reached a point in its life cycle that usually guarantees a sixth, seventh and beyond anniversary. Online video companies that reach five-years-old know it's a big deal. They've survived stumbling out of the gate, expansion, losing key employees. Most have had to reappraise their mission and, for an awful lot of online video businesses that launched in the past five years, they've had to survive some of the worst business conditions since the Great Depression. Not only has online video survived, its evolved and grown by leaps and bounds. And, the biggest leaper and bounder--by far-is YouTube, which celebrated its fifth anniversary, appropriately enough, on Valentine's Day.

Appropriate because--whether you personally love or hate YouTube--regardless of what part of the online video industry you call your own, it is, in many ways, the bell cow that has led and continues to lead our intrepid band of innovators and entrepreneurs toward Nirvana.

It's not the stupid cat tricks, the skateboarder who ends up getting hit with a telephone pole in his, um, private areas, or the raptor devouring a cheerleader. YouTube, with it's billion streams a day, has brought online video to the masses, made it mainstream, made it so commonplace that to imagine the online world without it would be, well, pretty much impossible.

It's altered our sense of entertainment, news, even basic communication.

As CEO and founder Chad Hurley said in his Valentine's Day blog: "Video gives people a voice--from classrooms to war-torn countries... video has the power to give rise to the most diverse set of faces and voices ever seen or heard in human history."

Amen to that.

But Hurley also pointed out that, when YouTube succeeds, its partners do, too. "Our content partners run the gamut, from major Hollywood studios to aspiring filmmakers and vloggers who can turn the ordinary into something extraordinary on the turn of a dime," he said. "Content creation isn't our business; it's theirs. But breaking open access to media and distribution means delivering the world's largest global audience and the revenue models they need to succeed, as well as the tools they need to control their content."

To a certain extent, we're all YouTube (OK, Google) partners; even competing video sites like Bing and all the little sites that keep popping up because YouTube continues to push the boundaries, to stretch our online video horizons, and to draw users in by the bucketful. Of course, there will be casualties, like Veoh, which last week confirmed it was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Regardless, when you look at the overall health of the rest of this nascent industry, "booming" is the only way it can be described, even in the face of a recession that took other industries to the brink of dissolution (seriously, even the iPad can't save the print business).

So, with apologies to Bob Cratchit and his toast to Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, let's raise a glass to Hurley and his fellow YouTubers: "I'll give you Chad Hurley et al., the founder of the feast." Indeed.-Jim