3 Ways YouTube Videos Define Our Culture: Report from DMEXCO '17

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DMEXCo, the world's largest marketing conference, kicked off today in Cologne, Germany, and naturally YouTube took a lead role: "YouTube is a medium that more than any other is a refection of who we are and what we're passionate about," said Kevin Allocca, YouTube's global head of culture and trends in an early conference session. Allocca demonstrated three ways YouTube now defines our culture.

1. What's Niche Is Now Mainstream

"This is an inversion in media," Allocca explained. While it used to be that mainstream culture defined our interests, now people's niche interests get huge views online and influence mainstream culture. There are popular YouTube channels on a range of odd topics, including death metal, cake decorating, primitive survival guides, quilting, cake decorating, and trains. Their creators aren't making videos for the masses, but out of a love of their own personal passions. Those deeply personal videos are finding an audience and increasingly defining mainstream culture.

2. Interactivity

Interactivity is the key element that separates online video from other media, Allocca said. Earlier this year, a live video stream about a pregnant giraffe named April became a global sensation on YouTube, with an average watch time of over 30 minutes. But the sensation was "not about consumption, but about interaction," he said; it was about the conversations viewers were having around the live video. Interaction on YouTube isn't only viewers leaving comments on a video. Consider that Beyoncé created a video for her song "7/11" based on a series of "super selfie" videos created by a YouTuber, enlisting that creator as a choreographer. Both Beyoncé and the creator (Gabriel Valenciano) were then nominated for a Video Music Award. "Today, our reactions have become a part of pop culture itself," Allocca said. Reactions change online content into culture, fads go mainstream, and that in turn leads to more online videos.

3. Individual Expression

What people share online is increasingly personal, and those personal videos are transforming mainstream culture. Consider that James Cordon's carpool karaoke videos were inspired by online videos—personal videos people recorded in their cars. That means TV's most popular comedy bit of the last several years draws on a YouTube aesthetic. Or consider that "Despacito" rocketed to 3 billion YouTube views in record time and is popular around the globe. The most-played German song of the last 6 months is a Puerto Rican reggaeton hit, Allocca noted. It's a sign of how much YouTube is feeding and shaping mainstream culture not just in the U.S., but around the world.

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