Streampunks: YouTube and the Rebels Remaking Media
By YouTube Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl, written in collaboration with Manny Peyvan
HarperBusiness, hardcover, $29.99
YouTube has probably been the media company that has changed the world more than any other, yet little is known about it.
Over 1.5 billion people log in to YouTube every single month to watch viral videos, late-night TV clips, news broadcasts, sports highlights, music videos, on how-to tutorial on nearly every subject, generating billions of views.
YouTube has changed the way we’re informed, educated, and entertained. It’s changed how advertisers and marketers think and plan.
Perhaps the biggest and least appreciated change is that YouTube has given rise to a new class of independent creators and entrepreneurs, many who have gained more influence than traditional celebrities and media companies.
In YouTube Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl’s book, Streampunks: YouTube and the Rebels Remaking Media, which was written in collaboration with Manny Peyvan, the rise of YouTube and its revolutionary effect on media is examined like never before.
At YouTube, Kyncl’s role is to oversee commercial and creative relationships for the platform. He previously worked for HBO and at another groundbreaking media company, Netflix, where he spearheaded the company’s content acquisition for streaking TV shows and movies over the Internet. He was listed in Variety’s Dealmakers Impact Report as one of their “disruptors.”
Kyncl and Peyvan give a boots-on-the-ground account of the upstart company that brought video to every computer screen and tablet and examine how the company evolved. They also reveal the people, principles, and practices reshaping the way digital media gets created and consumed.
This work explains how the new rules of entertainment are being written and how and why the media landscape is radically changing, while giving aspiring “Streampunks” some necessary advice to launch their own media careers.
The next wave Streampunks are going to face challenges, such as how to break through, the questions of legitimacy and critical appeal they must answer, and the difficulties of sustaining a long career in an ever-evolving industry.
There are firsthand accounts of the rise of some of YouTube’s most influential Streampunks, such as John Green, Lilly Singh, Casey Neistat, and Tyler Oakley, as well as the dealmakers brokering the future of entertainment like Scooter Braun, Brian Robbins, and Shane Smith.
YouTube has made media more democratized than ever, which has made stardom accessible to emerging talent around the world, including teenagers filming game reviews from their bedrooms that enjoy fan bases rivaling top movie and TV stars.
Kyncl makes the point that despite concerns about an era of “Peak TV” overwhelming audiences or technology impoverishing artists and undermining artistic quality, the new media revolution is fueling a creative boom and leading to more compelling, diverse and immersive content.
Streampunks is an enlightening and entertaining story about the new media rebellion that is reshaping our world.
Kyncl writes of how he grew up with media and the rapid change that has taken place:
“There’s nothing on TV.
“No, really, where I grew up there actually wasn’t. I was born behind the Iron Curtain, in Communist Czechoslovakia, in 1970. By the time I was a teenager, my choices for entertainment were – to put it mildly – bleak. Books were censored by the Office of Press and Information; we had only one newspaper, Rude Pravo, the official paper of the Communist Party; and the state controlled the radio, the airwaves, the cinemas, and the symphonies. It was illegal for a private company to print a publication or broadcast a signal. It was illegal to reproduce more than eleven printed copies of anything. And it was illegal for a band to perform without a license.
“Faced with those options, I had only one choice: to get creative.
“I obtained books through samizdat, the underground distribution network that began under Nazi occupation (1984 was an early favorite of mine). I bent the antenna of my transistor radio just so, in order to hear bands such as Bon Jovi, Scorpions, and Tears for Fears come in scrambled over the airwaves from West Germany. And if I was lucky, I would get hands on a bootlegged VHS tape that friends of mine somehow managed to smuggle into the country.
“I can still remember the first Western film I ever watched: The Terminator. But because there was no money for proper subtitling or dubbing into Czech, one person did the voice-over for every character in the film. It was, by any standard, a terrible viewing experience. But it didn’t matter. My friends and I watched it three times in a row.
“Today I look at my two teenage daughters and the ways they have to entertain themselves. I look at the limitless number of books they can read on their tablets (though they prefer hard copies from Amazon). I look at the thousands of outlets they can browse through on their phones to get news. I look at the millions of songs they can listen to on Spotify, the thousands of films and shows they can watch on Netflix, and the hundreds of channels they can lean back and watch on our satellite TV package. I look at all of that, and think about how their options for entertainment vastly outnumber those I had growing up. Hell, they vastly outnumber the options that kids growing up in America had just ten years ago. But even with an ocean of media before them, I see how they choose to spend a significant amount of their free time: watching YouTube.
“In less than one generation, we’ve reached a point where what we watch, read, and listen to is no longer determined solely by states or corporate monopolies but by us. With the creation of YouTube, for the first time people were given access to free, instant, global distribution of video. While streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Spotify have done an incredible job distributing traditional content in new ways, open platforms such as YouTube have changed who is able to produce, distribute, and consume media. All of a sudden anyone in the world could share a video with everyone in the world.