Five Months After Its Debut, YouTube Is a Star

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By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 1, 2006

The closest Terry Turner comes to Washington politics is his job as a bureaucrat at the Pentagon -- until, that is, he fires up the camcorder pointed at a makeshift TV studio in his Arlington apartment.

It's there that Turner, 45, brings his dreams of being a political commentator -- the next Bill Maher, perhaps -- one step closer to reality. Once a week, Turner uploads homemade video of his political rants to YouTube.com, hoping people will watch.

Turner is among the growing number of amateur videographers trying to tap into the mushrooming phenomenon called YouTube, a Web site that encourages users to "Broadcast Yourself" by posting short video clips to the Internet universe.

Though it debuted only five months ago, YouTube.com attracts 6 million visitors each day to watch two-minute video clips that amount to the Internet's version of "America's Funniest Home Videos" meets "American Idol." Every day, users stock the site with 35,000 homemade videos of lip-syncing, dancing, silly animation and commentaries on any topic, all of which are commented on and rated by viewers.

Fast Internet connections and digital video cameras are giving average people a new avenue to fame. With other homegrown phenomena such as Web logs, or blogs, and radio-style podcasts, the Internet is changing people's relationships to the media and putting more power into the hands of consumers.

Big corporations want in on the action, and giants such as Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., AOL LLC and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN have launched video sites of their own. But YouTube's do-it-yourself popularity, fueled by word of mouth, catapulted the site past its bigger competitors in months. That success is drawing the attention of mainstream media.

"Marketers are already interested in looking at how to invest in it," said Lucian James, president of Agenda Inc., a brand marketing firm. "It comes at a perfect time when brands are looking beyond the 30-second commercial and are looking for new ways to connect to their audience."

YouTube has already launched a handful of budding online celebrities, such as David Lehre, a 21-year-old college student from Washington, Mich., a small town north of Detroit. Lehre and his friends edited and starred in a short film called "MySpace: The Movie." In one scene, a young guy who agrees to go on a blind date with a woman he met on the popular social networking site finds out she is not as attractive as she presented herself online.

The short became an instant viral video hit and spread rapidly through e-mails and links from other sites. It also helped push YouTube into the lexicon of Internet users, especially among the MySpace.com crowd.

Lehre now says he has a talent agent, an attorney and a pending deal with Fox to create a new comedy show that will compete with NBC's "Saturday Night Live." A Fox spokesman said Lehre has had talks with its alternative programming division but would not comment on any pending deal.

In an interview, Lehre described a recent series of meetings with the heads of major TV and movie studios. "Every meeting I went into, they were pretty much scared of me," Lehre said. "They were kind of looking to me for the answer. I'm hitting a market they're not hitting anymore, and they're looking for the next big thing."

Lehre believes entertainment executives are looking to the way young people use the Internet to keep their businesses viable. "People connect with my movies because I'm just 21, and all my friends are 18, 19, 20," Lehre said. "Kids our age want to see stuff that we make."


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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