Once upon a time YouTube was all about the cat video.

While there’s still plenty of content starring cute, cuddly and quirky pets (and people), in 2016 YouTube is about a whole lot more.

I’ve been following YouTube, and online video in general, since we started posting Stark Insider videos to the site way back in 2006.

Back then, YouTube was not owned by Google. Simply the act of publishing a video ten years ago meant you had a good chance at getting a view or two. Not so today. Now you’re battling for attention, not just against the aforementioned cuteness, but also against some names you may sort of know well: President Obama; Jimmy Fallon; Jimmy Kimmel; John Oliver; the Kardashians; Ellen DeGeneres; Taylor Swift; Beyonce; and… and, well, you probably get the idea. YouTube is the new TV.

With that, whether or not you produce videos, here’s some of the top YouTube trends of 2016 you might want to know about.

Trendspotting: Top 10 YouTube Trends for 2016

 1. YouTube is the Online Video Platform… By Far

Online Video Market Share
Source: Datanyze.

YouTube isn’t merely a place to upload or watch a video. It’s a place to build a business. With built-in monetization models, including a new subscription option (YouTube Red), analytics, training courses, and marketing tools, YouTube is an all-in-one platform for a business or individual looking to reach a global audience.

You don’t even necessarily need your own studio. Google launched YouTube Space last year. These are physical locations in major cities that enables YouTubers to “learn, share, and create.” So far you can find these them in Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, New York, São Paulo, Berlin, Mumbai, Paris, and Toronto. That investment alone should tell you that this is the wholly platform war of the 21st century. Amazon. Hulu. Facebook. Traditional broadcasters like Comcast. All our figuring out to get content creators in their corner. Because, top tier content translates into viewers. And those viewers translate into advertising, which, of course, turns into gold.

2. Live is All the Rage

Live feeds are popping up all over the place. Some are spontaneous — breaking news! — while others are planned efforts, promoted far in advance. You can find them across all the major social platforms. The big three for 2016, though, are Facebook (Facebook Live), Twitter (Periscope), and YouTube (YouTube Live Stream).

Live streams can result in strong engagement. There’s often no better way to capture attention than to share the moment, as it happens, in real-time. With large audiences at home during the day, such as stay-at-home Dads and Moms, and those with flexible schedules, such as students, there’s the possibility to capture a viewer’s attention at all hours of the day.

If your a business or individual exploring video for the first time, the live stream could warrant consideration. I’d first ask these questions: (1) what is my goal with video?; (2) who is my target audience?; and (3) is packaged video content (produced offline and uploaded) or live unedited content the best way to serve and engage with them? Remember: just because the option, and technology exists, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best fit for your particular project.

3. Reaction Videos

What’s better than sharing your reaction to the latest Justin Bieber video?

Watching someone else react to that very same video.

No doubt, reaction videos are a hot sub-genre on YouTube in 2016. Crying. Laughing. Cheering. Booing. All of it are experiences that can be shared. YouTube is great for that because of its built in engagement system — namely, commenting. Social networks form around specific topics, and draw those interested in sharing their thoughts — good, bad, indifferent — about some new video, movie, or bit of news.

It would be hard to imagine ten years ago that there’d be a thing called The Reaction Video. One where we’d watch someone (a stranger) give a play-by-play of their reaction to something. Odd. Interesting. Quirky. But definitely a YouTube trend to watch for 2016.

4. Production Quality Soars

Yes, you can still shoot YouTube videos with an iPhone. After all, if the content is good, the content is good. That’s what matters more than anything.

Still, there’s a flight to production quality on YouTube that’s hard to ignore.

Take a look at one of today’s top tech video producers Marques Brownlee. His YouTube channel has a huge subscriber base, some 3+ million as of this post. He uploads videos about tech like thousands of others. But he separates himself from the pack with a slick combination of information, entertainment, and humble pie. Lately, though, he shared with us that he’d begun using a RED Raven cinema camera to record his videos. That, plus advanced production accessories such as sliders, LED lights, and stabilizers give his videos a very polished appearance. If a viewer had to choose between a MKBHD video or someone else’s shaky cam because they have limited time, he’ll get the view every time.

Production quality doesn’t guarantee a better video of course. But in this sea of content, video producers are searching out every tiny advantage to give them an edge.

5. Like a Great Movie, Writing Matters

In the past, YouTube was more spontaneous. That’s changing quickly. Not just because episodic shows are using YT as their platform as choice, but also because independent writers are making their voices heard. Strong writing = strong opportunity for views.

In 2016, it’s often not enough to just push record an see what happens. Sure, that works for viral videos based on violence, or a random event, or something extremely funny. Usually, though, those are one-offs. Those looking to build audiences need something more. That’s where writing comes in.

Writing means more than just coming up with an idea and writing it down.

It also means crafting a story’s ebb and flow, and thinking about “beats” and pacing. Timing matters. As does structure. Those that can pull it all together are perfecting the art of story-telling.

One of the best examples on YouTube when it comes to writing is millennial Natalie Tran. Her communitychannel run out of Australia is a superb example of amazing writing at work. Tran has many talents. In fact, not only does she script her videos, she stars in all the parts (often in various costumes). Her editing skills are superb too. But, at the end of the day, it’s her writing — and ability to observe little quirks about everyday life — that set her apart. The results speak for themselves: 1.8 million subscribers and 571 million views, and growing by the day.

Writing matters!

6. VR & 360 Video? Not Yet…

Not quite a trend, but worth mentioning given all the hype. We’re starting to see VR and 360-degree videos hit YouTube. The results are definitely mixed. For example, many 360 videos looked poorly stitched together, and resolution is low.

Many suggest that VR and 360 are the future of video, that viewers can control the experience. That may be true. What we’re seeing so far, at least in 2016, is that viewers actually want to lean back in their chair, eat their Cheerios and watch a video, not be a switcher, choosing angles, and doing the heavy lifting that video producers already do for them.

VR? 360? Not quite. Ones to watch for sure. Jury’s still out.

7. Unboxing Videos Still Reign (for better, or worse)

Got a new phone? Record yourself opening it. Admire the box. Praise the power cord. Stroke the phone. And count the views…

Unboxing videos are that strangest of YouTube video. Often as informative as they are voyeuristic. For every slick unboxing video shot with proper backdrops, well-written voiceover, and professional lighting, there’s the one shot in some guy’s basement. Regardless, it seems we all want to know… what’s in that box?!

8. Video is Growing Fast

Cisco Systems Report: Global Consumer Internet Traffic

If you think YouTube is big today. Wait a few years. Cisco Systems (a large backbone provider of the gear that powers the Internet) predicts that 80% of all internet traffic will come from video by 2019.

It’s not too late to get in the game. The internet has become visual. Snapchat. Instagram. YouTube. We are often more interested in photos and videos then we are words.

Further, YouTube, along with Twitter and LinkedIn were sited as the top three future plays. According to one study by Social Media Examiner, 66% of marketers plan to increase their use of these social networks in their future marketing plans.

9. YouTube is Dominating Search


No surprise really that YouTube videos would populate search results. Google is the number one search engine in the world, and it owns YouTube. So not much of a stretch here to see this outcome.

This should open eyes among those of you trying to up your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) game.

As a small business owner or individual web site owner, you want your site appearing in Google Search Results Pages, even better if on the first page. Traditional blogging is one way to achieve that goal. Another: publish quality videos to YouTube.

10. Personality. Personality. Personality. (for better or worse)

Above all else, in 2016 personality is the key to winning over audiences.

Clinton Stark
Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear