​How YouTube went from David to Goliath

It costs nothing to place a clip on YouTube, yet it could be seen around the world.

Google, the Internet search giant, smelled potential, and purchased YouTube the next year for more than a billion-and-a-half dollars' worth of stock. Soon after, the people making YouTube videos found they could earn more than attention -- they could earn a living.

Hannah Hart and Grace Helbig really have blazed a trail to Internet stardom.

Hart is the creator of "My Drunk Kitchen" -- cooking videos that feature, well, a drunk chef at work.

O'Donnell asked, "Do you feel like a pioneer?"

"Only when I wear a cool hat and ridin' a wagon!" Hart laughed.

"You have that coonskin hat" laughed Helbig.

"I do! Do I feel like a pioneer? Only time will tell. I feel proud to be doing what I'm doing. And I'm excited that it seems to be creating a lot more opportunity in a world where opportunity is hard to come by."

Helbig's videos are comedy monologues with a confessional bent. She's just the sort of friend most teenage girls would do anything to have.

Hart and Helbig have translated new-media success into old-media spin-offs: a cookbook and a cable TV show.

And on YouTube, they earn money in the most old-media way possible: They geta cut from commercials on their videos.

"You know the ads that play in front of your YouTube video, like when you watch a video online?" said Hart.

"I kind of find that annoying," said O'Donnell.

"How dare you!" laughed Helbig.

Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart on their YouTube success

"So a portion of those commercials we get as partners with YouTube," said Hart. "So YouTube is, like, our big business partner that we work with."


But that big business partner is still finding its way. Despite its global impact, YouTube struggles to do one thing: make money.

"I think YouTube finds itself at an interesting crossroads and a potential identity crisis," said Jocelyn Johnson, the founder of Video Ink -- an online video trade publication. She says YouTube's free-for-all nature, where users -- not the company -- create content makes it hard to attract ad dollars.

"YouTube has, historically, struggled with that," said Johnson. "It's an open platform, so anybody can upload any type of content. And that right away makes advertisers a little bit nervous about what types of advertising they're putting on that kind of platform."

YouTube stars Sorted Food on why their cooking show works

And smoothing out its rough edges seems to be a high priority at YouTube. The company is lending professional gear and studio space to popular video makers. There's heavy promotion of food and fashion, subjects familiar to traditional TV audiences (and TV advertisers).


It's a major shift from where the website started.

Susan Wojcicki, YouTube's CEO, was asked by O'Donnell if the company is having an identity crisis.

"I don't think so," she replied. "I think at YouTube, we know there's a lot of things that we want to get done. And so the challenge for us is just to figure out, 'Which thing are we gonna work on first?' Because we have a list of 100 things we want to do to make the platform even better."

Wojcicki was one of Google's first employees, and was a driving force in its acquisition of YouTube, for $1.65 billion. "Yeah, it was a big price tag," she told O'Donnell. "And YouTube wasn't generating any revenue at the time. But I think what you want to do when you're in technology is, you want to look and see, 'What does the future look like?' And then from that figure out, 'Well, what do you need?' or, 'How can you build for that future?'"

Indeed, the future is here -- and YouTube, for better or worse, is leading the way. If the company still has work to do, YouTube has already created untold possibilities for the people uploading those videos -- thousands of them, every minute.


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