Last May, YouTube regulars witnessed the resurrection of a legend. Dan Howell, the 31-year-old British vlogger (video blogger) and radio host, has returned to the platform after an absence of more than three years. The man who once starred in one of the most ambitious and lucrative YouTuber tours in history – in 2017 he and colleague Phil Lester gave 80 performances in 18 countries – left YouTube in late 2018 after announcing he was suffering from depression and couldn’t Upload more content to the “ultra-competitive and extremely toxic” medium.
He returned in an atypical way. As Julia Esposito explains in 34th street Magazine: “Unpredictably, Howell’s video wasn’t just a short, 10-minute apology for leaving, with promises of future content,” but more of a “hour-and-a-half audiovisual manifesto” entitled “Why I Quit YouTube.”
Howell’s video gave reasons familiar to anyone who’s followed the platform’s evolution closely over the past few years: Youtuber Anxiety Syndrome, which forces content creators to endure grueling routines to keep uploading videos even if they don’t have anything have something new to say; the many cruel and unsympathetic comments; and the (alleged) belittlement of content, which Howell sees as a result of the “dictatorship” of an inflexible and opaque algorithm. “What’s the point of turning your own life into some kind of embarrassing reality show just for YouTube to fill it with ads?” Howell said in one of the most melodramatic moments of his tour de force video.
Nothing for the impatient
The Brit’s blatant 100-minute confession – in which he stood in front of a camera and recapitulated his life, career and troubled relationship with the platform that made him a star – became an instant hit. To date, the video has been viewed over three million times. Esposito describes it as “an achievement, an act of countercultural honesty,” and many of the viewers who saw it live appreciated the maturity, intelligence, and sensitivity of his reflections.
The buzz the video generated reflects how much YouTube today has changed compared to how Howell left it in 2018. At that time there was still an old guard that appeared around 2010. An aristocracy of YouTubers had a huge audience; They produced short videos, only a few minutes long, that featured lewd, thoughtless, and narcissistic humor.
Such was the case of Catherine and Austin McBroom, an unscrupulous couple whose channel reached nearly 19 million subscribers. Their content served up vulgar transgressions, in which they insulted and demeaned one another and played pranks with dog feces and menstrual blood; Racist, homophobic and misogynist comments on the videos were not uncommon. As Stephanie McNeal explains in a BuzzFeed article, the McBrooms have found that their joke is out of control. They shut down their vlog “to travel and spend time with their kids.”
According to McNeal, the couple was one of many “Jurassic relics of old YouTube,” a place where people were shocked and appalled by tacky spectacles like Logan Paul’s display of a corpse, David Dobrik’s indifference to a sexual assault that happened right under his nose, Jason Cid’s prank calls to the police and the fake miscarriage that the shameless Sam and Nia dedicated several videos to.
The difficult transition to another platform
Some of YouTube’s “star system” from ten years ago is still intact (for example, Dobrik and Paul are still among the most followed content creators), but many of them end up with the fear and premature burnout experienced that Howell spoke of. Brothers Jake and Logan Paul have toned down their content and now devote much of their time to boxing. In 2021, YouTube fined Dobrik and he lost many of his followers; Today, he is cautious in his efforts to revitalize his digital empire.
Amidst this old guard of provocateurs and human traffickers with scathing humor is emerging a new generation of YouTubers who don’t aspire to amass such large audiences. Instead, they try to find their own niche; They do this by showing more videos that are longer and more meaningful. Matilda Boseley, the editor of The guardHe just wrote an exhaustive article on the “creators of insanely long content”.
Now that YouTube is competing with the somewhat frivolous immediacy of TikTok, the likes of Quinton Hoover of the Quinton Reviews channel are indulging in extravagances like his eight-hour video(!) examining the Nickelodeon series victorious. The play offers a truly substantive analysis, combining humor, erudition and pop sensibility, but it still runs for eight hours, or as Boseley puts it, “an audiovisual goliath.” The guardThe editor of asks if anyone watches these videos from start to finish. How did a video essay channel that has been producing content for so long garner 750,000 followers?
Suitable for different tastes
But according to NBC News journalist Morgan Sung, video length doesn’t really matter: “It’s just about having a good time with someone you like and whose point of view interests you. If at any point you are tired or bored, you can stop watching at any time.”
Sung cites the case of Jenny Nicholson, a YouTuber with over 900,000 subscribers who has also recently been creating long-form pieces. On June 22, she uploaded an 80-minute commentary on the bizarre plays being performed at an evangelical church in Winnipeg, Canada.
As strange and obscure as the subject of the video may seem, it has already racked up 2 million views. The comments show that subscribers are fascinated by Nicholson’s way of expressing herself and her somewhat caustic sense of humor (“I love it when Satan bazookas Jesus Christ to death and then comes out of the dump covered in delicious pyrotechnics “). and quirky cultural interests.
Nicholson surmises that long-form video has become popular again because “there’s a segment of the audience that enjoys consuming inquisitive content without giving it their full attention. It’s the equivalent of the passive TV viewing of previous generations, who turned on the set because it kept them company: “You find something long and interesting, to a certain extent, and you let it play in the background while you do something else. What happens to the fruits of her labor is clear to her: “Most people who start playing one of my videos stop after a few seconds; After that, I’m alone with an audience that really cares about me, and [those viewers] will probably stay with me to the end.”
Kevin Perjurer, who specializes in creating feature-length documentaries for his channel Defunctland, believes multi-hour videos are a good antidote to the burnout YouTubers often experience, regardless of the attention their audience gives them: “I’d rather spend several months producing content that moves me the most and into which I can put all my knowledge and creativity than producing three or four short pieces a week.” Perjurer firmly believes in a cleaner, more artisan and more enthusiastic approach to creating audiovisual Content: “I want people to see that I give my all in everything I do and not just string together routine stuff videos. If one of my pieces catches their attention, they have everything I’ve created for the channel over the past five years [available to them].”
Sung also points out that there’s another, more mundane reason for spending hours talking in front of a camera: “The content is easier to monetize than most short-form video options.” The journalist notes that longer videos require the insertion of multiple ads enable; Additionally, she says YouTube’s algorithm prioritizes increasing minutes watched over more traditional metrics like the number of views or subscribers.
Stars are few and far between
Whether out of intent, romance, or because they have the time and the lot to say, long-form YouTubers like Hoover, Nicholson, and Perjurer are beginning to proliferate on YouTube.
According to data from technology website Earth Web, YouTube has around 2 billion regular users around the world and a total of 37 million active channels (which means they’ve uploaded at least one video in the last 18 months). The vast majority of these channels have such a low number of subscribers and views that their creators do not earn any income whatsoever.
The 600 creators who have reached 10 million subscribers represent the true elite. Earth Web estimates that only around 24,000 YouTube channels have ever surpassed one million subscriptions. Online legends like PewDiePie — the Swedish expert on video games, humor and internet culture whose channel has 111 million subscribers and who has reportedly amassed a personal fortune of $54,945,000 (€55 million) — top the list .
The creators of very long video essays on music, movies, children’s television shows, and plays performed in Canadian churches have less sexy metrics, but they are internal pros, YouTube’s enlightened working class. Their impact goes beyond the obvious numbers. Through people like her, the platform offers diverse, original and mature content, moving away from the oligopoly of crude humor, video games and health and beauty tips. Perhaps these changes also explain why a free spirit like Dan Howell has decided to return to his former playground after such a long absence.