YouTube executive Robert Kyncl took the consumer electronics industry on a trip through a time machine -- just five years ago -- when subscription service Netflix didn't stream movies online, Internet television service Hulu didn't exist and YouTube was still in its infancy.
The times, and the way viewers consume entertainment, are a changin', as Kyncl underscored in his Thursday keynote address at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that charted the rapid rise of the Internet as a distribution platform.
Netflix, which got its start in 1998 mailing DVDs to subscribers in its trademark red envelopes, streamed 2 billion videos in the fourth quarter of 2011. Hulu now boasts 30 million monthly users. And YouTube attracts about 800 million viewers a month.
"The speed with which we're running is incredible," said Kyncl, YouTube's global head of content partnerships. He predicted that Internet video would soon account for 90% of the traffic on the Internet.
Kyncl said YouTube is a platform where someone like Michelle Phan could follow her own passion -- and not her mother's desire that she become a doctor -- to create instructional makeup and beauty videos. Her YouTube channel now attracts twice as many regular viewers as a program on cable's Style network, he said. And that audience led to a sponsorship from a mainstream advertiser, Lancome.
"It's a wonderful, magical story that wouldn't have been possible five years ago," Kyncl said. "But it's possible today."
Kyncl portrayed Internet video as the next major step in the evolution of media, once dominated by three broadcast networks that together commanded 100% of television viewership in the U.S. The emergence of cable and satellite distributors made possible the fragmentation of the audience around niche programming.
By 2020, Kyncl predicted, about 75% of channels will be transmitted by the Internet. The global reach of sites like YouTube will allow for even more specialized channels to draw together sizable audiences of passionate enthusiasts, he said.
Machinima, a YouTube channel for video game fans, now attracts more than 1 billion views every month from about 116 million people around the world, said Chief Executive Allen DeBevoise, who participated in a panel discussion after Kyncl's presentation.
YouTube's initiative to bring established TV producers and stars to its platform has attracted such entertainment notables as "CSI" creator Anthony Zuiker, actor Rainn Wilson, best known for portraying Dwight Schrute in NBC's "The Office," and Felicia Day, creator of the Internet series "The Guild."
"I'm here because of what I've learned from the user-generated content ... on YouTube that has inspired me," Zuiker said.
--Dawn C. Chmielewski
Photo: Robert Kyncl, YouTube's head of global content, in the company's Santa Monica offices. Credit: Christina House / For The Times