Streampunks: Youtube and the Rebels Remaking Media

September 12, 2017


YouTube’s chief business officer, Robert Kyncl, and Google speechwriter Maany Peyvan have teamed up to take you on a revelatory ride through the new media rebellion that is reshaping our world.

In Streampunks: Youtube and the Rebels Remaking Media, an entertainment and tech insider—YouTube’s chief business officer—delivers the first detailed account of the rise of YouTube, the creative minds who have capitalized on it to become pop culture stars, and how streaming video is revolutionizing the media world. 

In the past ten years, the internet video platform YouTube has changed media and entertainment as profoundly as the invention of film, radio, and television did, more than six decades earlier. Streampunks is a firsthand account of this upstart company, examining how it evolved and where it will take us next.

Sharing behind the scenes stories of YouTube’s most influential stars—Streampunks like Tyler Oakley, Lilly Singh and Casey Neistat—and the dealmakers brokering the future of entertainment like Scooter Braun and Shane Smith, Robert Kyncl uses his experiences at three of the most innovative media companies, HBO, Netflix, and YouTube, to tell the story of streaming video and this modern pop culture juggernaut. Collaborating with Google speechwriter Maany Peyvan, Kyncl 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 new media careers.

Kyncl persuasively argues that, despite concerns about technology impoverishing artists or undermining artistic quality, the new media revolution is actually fueling a creative boom and leading to more compelling, diverse, and immersive content. Enlightening, surprising, and thoroughly entertaining, Streampunks is a revelatory ride through the new media rebellion that is reshaping our world.

The good people at Harper Business have shared the following excerpt with us.

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In one of the most memorable episodes of Seinfeld, George and Jerry are sitting in a boardroom with executives from NBC, pitching the network an idea for a new television show. Jerry begins to explain the concept, but George, in a supreme bout of misplaced confidence, interrupts him.

“If I may, Jerry … I think I can sum up the show for you in one word,” he tells the head of NBC. “Nothing. The show is about nothing.”

“Nothing?” the exec asks.“Nothing,” George answers. The head of NBC isn’t so impressed with the idea. Confused, he asks, “Well, why am I watching it?”

George, frustrated, shoots back, “Because it’s on TV!”

“Not yet,” the head of NBC reminds him.

That one brilliant exchange explains four decades of the television industry in ten seconds. What George said was completely true: until the 1990s and the expansion of cable TV, most people had access to only four major channels in the United States and even fewer options if they lived in other countries. That meant that for the most part, you watched whatever was on TV, the same way you bought the products that were sold at your local supermarket. Sometimes what was on was a critically acclaimed show with popular appeal, such as Seinfeld. And sometimes it was Joe Millionaire.

As for who determined what was on, that scene also nails it. It was usually a white man, usually well educated, usually working in New York, usually sitting in a well-appointed office. If you wanted to create a show, you had to somehow get into that office to pitch your idea to a network. That network exec then had to agree to greenlight a pilot episode of that show. Based on how the pilot was received, that show would then have to compete against other shows for the limited number of time slots on any channel. And that channel would have to be included in most people’s cable bundle for the show to even have the chance to be seen.

Though I’ve spoken about television, this mogul-dominated model applied just as well to other forms of mass media, such as film, print, and music. Any situation where there was limited shelf space (literally, in the case of books, CDs, and DVDs; figuratively, in the case of cable bandwidth or broadcast spectrum) meant that both the producers and the distributors of content had to negotiate for placement, leading to greater consolidation within the industry and greater power in the hands of fewer gatekeepers.

Then along came the Internet. It brought with it many things: email, instant messaging, Pets.com—but perhaps the most significant thing it brought was an infinite amount of shelf space. If you want to sell your product, you don’t have to fight to get it stocked at your local supermarket, you can put it up on Amazon or Etsy along with a nearly infinite selection of other products, or even sell it directly on your own website. If you want to get your music heard or your show seen, you don’t have to audition for an exec in New York or Los Angeles or London, you can post it online to YouTube and have the potential to reach more than a billion people. You no longer have to play the game, you can embrace the streampunk ethos, self-publish, and be discovered. And no gatekeeper can stand in your way.

This new dynamic began with print media and blogs, but then, in 2005, it took hold in video. On a cloudy day in San Diego, two friends stood in front of the elephant pen at the local zoo and filmed the very first clip that would appear on a new video-hosting website. It starred Jawed Karim, a young man in a large jacket making a childish joke: “The cool thing about these guys is that they have really, really, really long… trunks.” And it was utterly unremarkable: nineteen seconds of unsteady footage shot on a camcorder in low definition.

But the idea behind the site that Jawed and his friends and former Paypal coworkers, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, created to host that video was remarkable, and its power lay in its pitch: broadcast yourself. Share a video of yourself on YouTube and anyone with an Internet connection could easily find it.

It sounds difficult to believe now, but before YouTube, the act of putting something you filmed online was a nightmare. It meant taking a camcorder cassette to your local mini-mall, having it digitized and burned onto a CD, and then paying to upload the video files to a private server or hosting site. Honestly, you probably would have had an easier time pitching it to a network executive.

But then along came a site that was willing to host that video for free, for anyone, forever. YouTube offered instant global distribution, allowing anyone to share something that everyone could watch. YouTube gave you a little room on the shelf, a little space on the dial, and since then, the media industry has never been the same.

For decades, the media industry was predicated on the idea that a handful of network execs knew best what millions of people would find entertaining or newsworthy. But with the emergence of YouTube and other open platforms, we’ve learned that people’s interests are far more diverse and unique than those execs ever imagined. And we’ve also seen that people are far more open to discovering new voices rather than relying on anointed ones. The overwhelming popularity of Markiplier’s gaming videos, ||Superwoman||’s sketches, or Pentatonix’s music is proof that there is more talent in the world than Hollywood has ever let through the door and more demand for entertainment that doesn’t look or sound like what already exists on the airwaves.

And many of these independent creators outcompete the pros! In several cases, more people are choosing to watch YouTubers than TV shows that talk about similar issues. The same thing that independent cinema showed us in the early 1990s is proving itself true with television: voices outside the system can often be more compelling than those within it.

We assume that the media industry is different from other industries; that the principles of a free market have less sway and that we need moguls to bless what we enjoy. But the success of independent creators on open platforms such as YouTube suggests that the same economic rules apply to media as they do to any other industry.


Excerpted from Streampunks: Youtube and the Rebels Remaking Media.
Copyright © 2017 by RKapital, LLC.
Reprinted here with permission from HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers



Robert Kyncl is the Chief Business Officer at YouTube. He was previously Vice President of Content at Netflix, where he spearheaded the company’s content acquisition for streaming TV shows and movies over the Internet. Robert holds a Masters of Business Administration from Pepperdine University and a B.S. in International Relations from SUNY New Paltz. He resides in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters.

Maany Peyvan is a Lead Writer at Google where he writes editorial and social content, advises on executive communications strategy and leads speechwriting for YouTube. He was previously an appointee in the Obama Administration, serving as Chief Speechwriter at the US Agency for International Development. He holds two degrees from Johns Hopkins, a BA in Behavioral Biology and a Masters in International Relations, with distinction.

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