Once, events like Stream Con NYC -- a massive confab of video creators, distributors and advertisers happening this weekend in New York -- was all about YouTube. But the creative community represented here is increasingly being courted by other networks looking to take a bite out of Google's video service, including Facebook video, Twitter’s Periscope, Snapchat Discover, Verizon’s go90 and startup YouNow.

Back in 2010 when Tony Valenzuela created the BlackBoxTV channel on YouTube, three of those players didn’t focus on video and the other two didn’t even exist. In the past he'd created a web series for MySpace, but he was quickly taken with YouTube's power to build an audience.

“I’ll never forget about sitting in Iron Man 2, and my iPhone started crashing because the emails from subscribers were coming through,” Valenzuela said. “Something’s happening on this YouTube thing where you push the yellow button and all the sudden millions of people are responding.”

Yet YouTube is no longer his exclusive hub. While he still posts daily on the site, Valenzuela now has a new series and a new platform to his name. A sci-fi web series called “The Fourth Door” is one of the six original series currently on Verizon’s new mobile-only network called go90, which is investing hundreds of millions in content up front. 

“Do not underestimate the power of a phone as such an efficient distribution platform of online video,” said Kathleen Grace, the chief creative officer of New Form Digital, who is working with go90 and Valenzuela on the project. “Let’s hope that the go90s of the world realize that it’s a long game and it’s a marathon.”

For now, YouTube and Facebook are claiming top spots when it comes to views. The two giants represent 80 percent of all online video views, according to Michael Kassan of MediaLink. Half the video views on Facebook and YouTube come from mobile devices.

Facebook may have 4 billion daily views, YouTube may have 10 years of engineering and distribution experience as a video platform, but there could soon be something else. Valenzuela likened it to the history of television networks building up content. "It’s the shows that make the network work. Just like nobody knew what Fox was until America’s Most Wanted and The Simpsons happened," he said. 

With new entrants, competition is growing for talent. “We get approached on the daily by various startup apps and platforms wanting to get influencers on board to use and share their services,” said Taryn Southern, a YouTube star known for her music video parodies. “I haven’t seen anyone completely abandoning ship, but there’s certainly been a movement for certain creators to develop strategies off-YouTube for growing their audience.”

It's not just a diversity of networks but also of styles. YouTube moving toward cable TV with its YouTube Red subscriptions service; meanwhile, networks like Snapchat have created entirely new video viewing habits. "The human behavior that Snapchat created … that whatever you’re about to see you’ll never see again. How much attention you give to that one snap is incredible," said Justin Rezvani, CEO of theAmplify, an influencer marketing company.

A Concrete System

Unlike YouTube -- and the hundreds of other apps and TV channels with millions of viewers -- Verizon had none to offer with go90. What the telecom could promise Valenzuela was a hub for high-quality and engaging content catered to smartphone users.

“I like the go90 experience because it’s curated. I saw YouTube go from being very curated to being very open to now being very curated,” said Valenzuela, sitting cross-legged on a couch in the lounge of New York’s Maritime Hotel. He had been scouted by Kathleen Grace of New Form and formerly of YouTube six years back when he premiered the trailer of “Find Me”-- what would later become “The Fourth Door” -- at South by Southwest.

Launched last month, go90 just inked a deal with Disney’s Makers Studios for an original series to add on to over 35 other exclusive series. Verizon said they plan to double by the year’s end and has other 65 content partners representing 290 brands.


The investment has also been supported by a reported $80 million marketing campaign.

“I think Verizon’s taking a real stake on the content,” said JC Cangilla, SVP of business development at New Form Digital Studios. “The other thing is the ability to clip and share. We think that’s cool. We see the audience and brands and marketers clamoring for that.”

Go90’s features follow in the social sharing and distribution methods that marketers praise about other mediums like Facebook and Snapchat. “It’s new and challenging the marketplace. I want to have a watercooler moment that I share with everyone,” Cangilla said.

King Of New York

Launching a video app goes far beyond just building out the tech and finding some talent. Companies are striving to lure creators with millions of subscribers and brands with big ad budgets who can support the growth.

In New York, go90 wasn’t alone. Google’s Beau Avril had opened the industry-focused part of the event to tout the statistics behind the company’s last 10 years. YouTube-born stars Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart led a two-hour show to close the first night. Hundreds of fans lined the meet and greet lines for YouTube’s stars like GloZella, Connor Franta and Mikey Bolts. Livestreaming site YouNow sponsored a set-up where creators could stream throughout the day.

“I love YouTube. I’ve been watching YouTube since I was like 10. Shane Dawson was my life. Although I’ve gotten more recently into Vine, Snapchat. I just got a smartphone,” said Olivia Watt, a 17-year-old from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, who attended the event. Watt hadn’t heard of go90, yet, nor YouNow.

But, as YouTube star Taryn Southern noted, creators are increasingly looking to new mediums. “The growth was insane,” said Frank Gioia of his reach on YouNow. The 21-year-old had gotten his start on YouTube. Brent Morgan, a YouNow partner, told IBT in June that some of his friends on YouTube were "kind of scared of YouNow coming."

younow broadcast YouNow partner Brent Morgan plays piano and sings a mix of original tunes and covers on a live broadcast for fans. Viewers can choose to pay to get their comments highlighted. Photo: YouNow

YouNow, which is based in New York, announced in July that they had reached 1,000 paid partners and planned to double by the year's end. The company recently brought on song premieres by Vine-born star Shawn Mendes and popular a cappella group Pentatonix. The app boasts that daily users' spend an average of 51 minutes per day on the app, beating Facebook's estimates of 40 minutes.  

However, YouNow is not the only app with that live feature. New players like StreamUp, a livestreaming site led by Will Keenan formerly of Endemol Beyond USA, are boasting big viewership numbers. The desktop site has 21 million monthly active users with its formal launch planned for January 2016.

The Smartphone TV

For creators and marketers, it’s a battle for views, the quality content, the right medium and the features. Tech companies are pitching their mobile apps and their product offerings as the best destination for content creators and the ad spend that follows them.

While currently under an ad-based model, Verizon's go90 follows in that priority of pulling users in with content, hoping that the views will come, just as the creators did. “Delivering on the promise of a great story is platform agnostic,” Valenzuela said. “Most great innovation happens in platforms like go90 because they have to. You have to have a reason for people to go away from all the screaming that those networks have to do just to make you care.”