Remember this song released in 1979 by The Buggles? The main lyrics, "video killed the radio star," were inspired by a Sci-Fi novel depicting a soundless world in which an opera singer was trying to survive.
The analogy might seem absurd, but YouTube "gurus" might as well be killing the noise, the social conversations happening on YouTube.
The myth of a long-lasting user-generated content platform now faces a lot of contradictions. How do you maintain a certain authenticity within a network that is now driven by advertising and highly monitored by brands? How to keep the sort of underground, initial energy of YouTube users when it's now accessible on any TV set?
YouTube "gurus" close the doors to comments
A growing trend among YouTube celebrities is for them to close the comments for their videos, forbidding subscribers to add their opinions or suggestions in reaction to the video content. That's something which can be due to a sort of exasperation with trolls and hate speech; but which can also be analyzed as the consequence of the institutionalization of YouTube as a broadcast platform and no-longer a community-driven one.
And it might look like a logical move in the celebrity chain, so to say: once an individual becomes an "information-maker," why would he spend time with the crowd after all?
Most YouTube celebrities climbed achieved their acclaim because of the support of a community, so getting rid of it is a pretty brutal sign. It means to stop "sharing" the success of a channel.
The fall of the YouTube star may not be quick because the YouTube celebrity still owns a strong basis of subscribers whatever happens. But their rise might slow and their engagement rate could fall. An interesting Reddit thread explores which YouTube beauty celebrities now seem less attractive. It's interesting to see that Michelle Phan is often mentioned, because of the commercialization of her content ... and the progressive distance with her real followers.
What's even more dangerous? To be attacked beyond YouTube. The growing popularity of Guru Gossiper should be a very strong warning for YouTube celebrities. Vice wrote that " 'Trash a Guru' is the main draw with over 743,000 posts."
The end of amateurism?
As Jin Kim explains in the brilliant dissertation "User-generated content (UGC) revolution?: Critique of the promise of YouTube":
"Amateurism in UGC came to be compromised when the line between UGC and PGC started to blur. From a techno futuristic perspective, YouTube seems to make the audience into interactive users, but that interactivity is close to active consumption in the realm of disposable celebrity."
This is a growing constraint. What was initially a territory of possibilities, is now an entertainment platform with rules and codes. Even kittens-videos are now professionally produced by studios to "go viral." Considering the fact that between 70% of content consumed on mobile will be videos by 2016, the hunger game has just started.
From individualities to movements
Nonetheless, if the initial promise of YouTube is slightly changing, there are also more and more "movements" consolidating on the video-sharing platforms.
An interesting movement regroups "Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response" aficionados, or ASMRers. These people create and consume a huge number of videos that are supposed to liberate a sort of dopamine:
"it's a tingle in your brain, a kind of pleasurable headache that can creep down your spine. It's a shortcut to a blissed-out meditative state that allows you to watch long videos that for someone who doesn't have ASMR are mind-meltingly dull. Not everyone gets this feeling, and though some people can get the tingles through sheer force of will, most depend on external "triggers" to set them off. Triggers can include getting a massage or a haircut or a manicure, or hearing someone talk in a soothing tone of voice"
GentleWhispering has about 300,000 subscribers who crave watching and listening to her... gentle whispers.
This example represents an alternative to the celebrities' phenomenon, barely possible to forecast and barely possible to commercially "build."
YouTube keeps its original promise in its depth: regrouping.