2006 saw the astonishing rise of the video sharing website YouTube. Founded less than two years ago by three PayPal employees, it was sold in October to Google for a cool $1.65 billion in Google stock. According to a survey in July, 20 million viewers a month visit YouTube and they watch 100 million clips every day. This week, journalist Jake Coyle of Associated Press released his list of the top ten videos of 2006 declaring this to be the year that YouTube became “culturally ubiquitous”.
Number 1 in the list is Lonelygirl15. The series of videos purported to tell the story of high school girl Bree and her lonely life as the daughter of well-travelled parents. She has a boyfriend and a webcam and she spills the beans about her emotional life in her videos. Bree proved a quirky hit and she quickly became YouTube most viewed site. Then in September, Lonelygirl15 was exposed as a hoax. The videos were scripted and Bree turned out to be 19 year old New Zealand actress Jessica Rose. The creators exploited the anonymity of the Internet to pull off a new kind of storytelling. The site remains popular despite being exposed as fiction.
At number 2, is Saturday Night Live's "Lazy Sunday" which did much to start the momentum for YouTube early in 2006. Lazy Sunday was a music video starring Saturday Night Live (SNL) cast members Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg. It mixed the hipness of rap and comedy with a knack for well-rhymed cultural references. It aired on SNL in December 2005. After being posted to YouTube, it was viewed more than five million times. Finally its popularity alerted copyright owners NBC Universal who asked the site to remove it in February. The video is still available on NBC’s site.
Republican senator George Allen from Virginia was deeply embarrassed after his racial slur of an opponent’s native American volunteer was captured on video. Coming in at number 3, Allen repeatedly called a volunteer for Democrat James Webb a "macaca” at a campaign rally saying “This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent.” A macaca can be a monkey, a town in South Africa or a racial slur against African immigrants in some parts of Europe. As a large result of the publicity of the video, Allen lost his re-election bid.
AP awarded the number 4 vote to the YouTube founders themselves. Chad Hurley and Steve Chen posted a video after they sold their stake to Google. They thanked their users and promised to remain committed to the project. They also were now filthy rich.
At 5 was the video Here it Goes Again by the American band Ok Go featuring the band doing a very elaborate choreographed dance on treadmills. The video was viewed by over 1 million people in the first 6 days. By virtue of this exposure, the band scored a massive radio hit and an MTV video music awards performance. The video is now the 8th most viewed item on YouTube with almost 9 million views.
Michael Richards won 6th spot for his head-turning racist rant at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles last month. Richards said he lost his cool during a stand-up slot while being heckled. Richards repeatedly called the heckler a nigger. The former Seinfeld star went on the Letterman show and deeply apologised for his rage. But the damage was done and the YouTube video of the tirade did much to leave Richards “washed up” as predicted in the video itself.
Number 7 was a victory for the grey brigade. Although it is seen as a youth marketing tool, the user geriatric1927 has become one of the biggest and unlikeliest stars of the YouTube community. Geriatric1927 is Peter from Britain dubbed “virtual grandad” by the media. Born in 1927 and now a widower, Peter has been telling his life story on camera. He now enjoys the status of YouTube’s elder statesmen to a growing audience of younger viewers.
Coming in at number 8, is the video of police officers striking a suspect in California which had big repercussions. Two police officers repeatedly struck William Cardenas while arresting him. The footage was captured by a neighbour on a phone camera. When the footage was shown in court it was ruled as "more than reasonable” behaviour. But when the video was posted on YouTube, over 155,000 viewers were horrified by this version of reasonableness. The FBI is now investigating the case as potential police brutality.
Number 9 highlights the international appeal of YouTube. Two art students in China became internationally known without saying a word. Known as the "Two Chinese Boys" or the “Back Dormitory boys”, Huang Yixin and Wei Wei became renowned for their passionate and over-the-top lip-synching of Backstreet Boys songs. The career of the two basketball-shirted Chinese Boys is now on the move and they have been hired by a Beijing media agency for a Pepsi television commercial.
Finally at ten is another Asian entry. “Funtwo” is a young guitarist in his bedroom playing a rock arrangement of Johann Pachelbel's Canon using a difficult technique called sweep picking. Canon is a turn of the 18th century piece known for its solemn chord progressions. It was an instant success with almost 8 million views. Funtwo’s baseball cap obscures his face during the video. Funtwo was eventually revealed to be 23-year-old Korean Jeong-Hyun Lim.
They were the best of 2006. The big question for YouTube in 2007 is how it will handle the copyright challenges. 65,000 videos are downloaded to YouTube every day, many of which are in breach of copyright. The issue of a merger between Google Video and YouTube also needs to be addressed. For now however, YouTube’s large user base continues to enjoy the democratisation of video.