Where Have All the Cats Gone? YouTube Is Ruled by Professionals Now

The company's latest list of the top 10 videos of 2013 reveals no one who doesn't make videos for a living
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Take a look at the top Youtube videos for 2013

1. Ylvis - The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?) by tvnorge

2. Harlem Shake (original army edition) by kennethaakonsen

3. How Animals Eat Their Food | MisterEpicMann by MisterEpicMann

4. Miley Cyrus - Wrecking Ball (Chatroulette Version) by SteveKardynal

5. baby&me / the new evian film by EvianBabies

6. Volvo Trucks - The Epic Split feat. Van Damme by VolvoTrucks

7. YOLO (feat. Adam Levine & Kendrick Lamar) by thelonelyisland

8. Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise by CarrieNYC

9. THE NFL : A Bad Lip Reading by BadLipReading

10. Mozart vs Skrillex. Epic Rap Battles of History Season 2 by ERB

Or let me put it another way: what's missing from this list? 

Amateurs, i.e. random people with cameras.

If YouTube began as America's Funniest Home Videos, it has now become Saturday Night Live — including the commercials. The platform's biggest hits are all produced by professionals.

Even homemade-looking videos like comedian Steve Kardynal's ChatRoulette version of Mile Cyrus's wrecking ball retain only the veneer of having been produced by a basement-dwelling chancer. 

Kardynal has an agent and is a paid spokesperson for Ford. Not that there's anything wrong with an enertainer making a living, but in its time, many people thought YouTube was going to be something wholly different from television. 

Now, in this year's top 10, there are more advertisements (VolvoTrucks, EvianBabies, CarrieNYC) than there are clips from amateur video makers. There are no incidental moments, captured serendipitously. No shaky footage from the back of a gymnasium.

The top of the charts is for professionals. 

About the only person who might properly be described as an amateur is the user MisterEpicMann. He's a college student who just started making videos for YouTube for fun in 2009. But his work found an audience and now he makes something of a living at it. 

Which is not to say that regular Joes don't upload video to the site. YouTube does contain multitudes. And there are vast second and third and three-hundredth tiers of videos filled with the America's Funniest Home Videos-style stuff. 

When it comes to putting together a really great video and ginning up a global viral push, people with resources are winning. 

And it's actually been this way for a while. While, for example, 2007's "most memorable videos" featured several homemade videos of people and cats, as Marshall Kirkpatrick pointed out years ago, the most played items have long been music videos from major label artists. 

(The same was true this year, too. The list above excludes official music videos.)

The change in the way that the most popular YouTube videos are produced parallels the professionalization of blogging that has occurred in the last decade.  At one point, many of the most popular blogs were run by single individuals, just because. But media companies responded by creating blogs of their own, or simply hiring bloggers or purchasing blogs. 

So, after a brief flowering of user-generated online media rivaling the scale and reach of professional online media, we've seen a retrenchment of traditional media structures. Sure, millions of people still have blogs, but the bulk of content that's read is produced by a small number of people who do this for a living (inside completely retooled media companies).

YouTube's talent and entertainment discovery methods are not precisely the same as network or cable TVs. It is possible to start a YouTube channel with nothing but a digital camera and work up into the global, viral-hit big leagues. 

And more importantly: videos can jump from one sort of network of people to a wildly different one really easily. The best example of that is the top video, from the Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis

That is to say, the edges of networks are closer together than they've ever been. A kid in Poughkeepsie or Belgrade is more likely to see a French water company ad, a Korean music video, or a Norwegian comedy duo skit than ever before.

And I think that's a good thing? 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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