YouTube is NOT a “Stepping Stone” to the Mainstream

The term “mainstream” or “traditional” media is currently used when referring to the world of television, film, commercials, and music videos. This expression implies a certain prestige that comes along with sizable production budgets, widespread visibility, and high stakes. Digital content (with the exception of paid services like Netflix) is often considered low-brow: a secondary option for those who cannot afford to buy a cable package nor to go see films.

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 7.17.09 PMHowever, creating digital content – whether that’s on an ephemeral platform like Vine or Instagram or the more distinguished YouTube – is still understood to be a lesser craft than creating traditional content.

And maybe it is. (The pic to the left, by Casey Niestat, begs to differ.)

I’ve certainly covered this dichotomy from many angles, including case studies of platform migration, the relationship of mainstream media with internet actors, and even a guide/rant on how to transition into the mainstream.

But there’s a change happening. Digital productions, Internet stars, and web personalities have become mainstream. And nobody explains it better than filmmaker-turned-vlogger Casey Niestat.

I’ve previously profiled Casey Neistat in my blog entitled “Travel the World, Make Films, and Get Paid,” and if you’d like to know more about this remarkable human, go pop over there and give it a skim. Okay, are you back? Good.

In one of his most recent videos, Casey purports to explain how he got 1 million YouTube subscribers, but instead talks about something much more interesting: how he views the current YouTube landscape.

He starts by explaining that he’s got a lot of “traditional media” awards gathering dust on his bookshelf. These awards are for the feature films he made earlier in his career, for his HBO show, and for generally being a very promising filmmaker. But, according to him, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what he and other digital influences are doing right now, by simply talking to the camera. And I agree with Casey.

While previously, to get an idea across to a wide group of people, you’d need an expensive camera, sound gear, lighting, a crew, and a hard-to-navigate distribution channel – the internet (and particularly YouTube) has made it incredibly easy to share your thoughts with the world.

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 7.14.31 PMSo, according to Casey, YouTube isn’t a “stepping stone” to becoming “mainstream.” YouTube IS mainstream. The people who consume content have no boundaries on who to support and who to follow. They are just as likely to give Beyonce a “like” on Instagram as they are to double-tap a photo of digital star Meghan Tonjes. In many cases, the level of engagement that Internet personalities obtain from their fans is far greater in both number and quality.

And with this year’s Streamy Awards (widely referred to as the Oscars of the Internet) being televised for the first time, the definition of “mainstream” is getting even more inclusive.