There’s a six-year-old boy living somewhere in the U.S. who generates $11 million a year in advertising revenue. His name is Ryan and he reviews toys on his own YouTube channel. Those reviews are watched by millions of kids and adults across the world. An audience that large is worth millions of dollars to advertisers, and Ryan and his family get a cut of that loot.
Due to security concerns, Ryan never discloses his last name, his parents’ names, or the city where he lives. Welcome to the digital age of communication, where video has become an omnipresent blessing and curse.
Earlier this year, the movie Searching won praise at the Sundance Film Festival in large part for telling its murder mystery story entirely on webcams, social media platforms, and streaming devices.
However, when you live in a video-drenched world where a six-year-old makes a fortune on his own digital platform and must take security precautions because of it, filming movies on webcams is just art imitating life–yet again.
YouTubers Are the New Movie Stars
Ryan may be among its youngest beneficiaries, but YouTube has been making millionaires out of regular people for the better part of a decade. The ten highest-paid vloggers on YouTube earned more than $127 million combined in 2017, a figure 80% higher than the previous year. User-created video content has become an accepted, and lucrative, form of influencer advertising that is growing in popularity.
More than a quarter of us now report being online almost constantly.
That success is due to the public’s insatiable appetite for digital entertainment. According to research, the average American now spends an entire day every week online, with an estimated 17 of those hours coming from within our own homes. It’s a figure almost three times higher than at the turn of the millennium, and a force more than 40% of us believes plays an integral role in deciding our political futures.
And those are just “average” figures. More than a quarter of us now report being online almost constantly. We live in an age of unprecedented screen time and visual communication. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it is starting to shape the culture around us.
Filming Movies on Webcams
Searching tells the story of a father’s frantic search for his missing daughter entirely through the medium of visual digital communication. The movie takes place entirely on a computer screen, often through the lens of a webcam. Without divulging any plot points–although we can say there’s an unrelated alien invasion subplot(!)–the father in question retraces his daughter’s steps and interrogates her friends by making his way through video blogs, video calls, home movies, social media posts, traffic camera footage, and text messages.
The movie’s innovative use of these now everyday technologies earned it the Audience and Alfred Sloan prizes at Sundance earlier this year, but it’s not the first film to rely on social media video to tell its tale. One of the best known is Unfriended, from 2014. Profile, released earlier in 2018, uses personal video to carry the narrative, while almost a dozen movies have been shot using smartphone cameras, including Tangerine (2015).
Just as The Blair Witch Project kicked off a string of movies based on “found” video cassette footage almost 20 years ago, you can expect Searching and others like it to inspire more use of what is an increasingly important social communications tool. Because using webcams to film movies and using YouTube videos and other recordings as footage isn’t just clever (as “found” footage was when The Blair Witch Project was made), it now has to do with the fabric of our entire lives.
Video calling, video blogging, and video streaming are now ubiquitous in our daily lives.
Video Is Changing Our World
Nowadays, devices that record video aren’t clunky or hard to manage and the recordings produced aren’t particularly hard to store. Because anyone with a smartphone has a personal, portable video camera, video is everywhere. Videos and video calls are a core form of communication across business, healthcare, education, entertainment, and within our private social lives. With it come both advantages and disadvantages.
Video can remove what is anonymous about anyone who uses it regularly online and invite hackers deep into our personal lives.
VC Daily has previously speculated that telecommuting will affect society by changing how and where we choose to live our lives. Freed from a daily commute to the office, video calling could improve our work/life balance and allow us to live in whatever location best suits our desired lifestyle.
On the other hand, video exposes us to a more intimate form of crime. It can remove what is anonymous about anyone who uses it regularly online and invite hackers deep into our personal lives. There’s a good reason for Ryan to hide his personal details as much as possible. Indeed, one of the central twists in he movie Searching has to do with a fake online identity and the use of phishing to extort money. Recent actual video conferencing crimes have even involved the impersonation of a famous figure over a video call.
That’s the double-edged sword of online video that the trend of filming movies on webcams underlines. Recorded video, video calling, and live streaming offer us new ways of expression that have an unprecedented level of intimacy and accessibility, but they also expose those intimacies to exploitation.
Video is everywhere. Now we need to learn to live with it.