Shane Dawson has shown what YouTube can truly be

19 October 2018, 15:27 | Updated: 19 October 2018, 15:32

shane dawson essay
Picture: Shane Dawson
Benedict Townsend

By Benedict Townsend

No matter how you felt about the series, there's no denying that it has changed YouTube forever

Well folks, here we are, the end of the road. Shane Dawson's much-hyped documentary series about Jake Paul has finally come to an end. And what a rollercoaster it has been - how far we've moved and evolved from those initial teases.

It would be a lie to call the series perfect - in fact, the imperfections of the series are probably the most fascinating aspect, at least in my opinion. Part of the appeal of following the process has been observing the way Shane has grown and evolved as the episodes progressed, sometimes correctly, sometimes not.

I'm not going to ignore the missteps within the content itself: the initial inappropriate approach towards personality disorders, the ongoing backlash around whether Shane was too quick to forgive racist behaviour from Jake. These are valid topics for discussion, but today I want to step back and look at the series as a whole. Let's examine the videos less from a sense of what they were about, and more in a sense of how they have impacted the landscape of YouTube.

At the time of writing, it has been less than 24 hours since the final instalment of the series - 'Inside The Mind Of Jake Paul' - hit YouTube, and the video already has close to 8 million views.

These are not normal numbers.

These are music video numbers. The 1975 posted a music video for their excellent song 'Love It If We Made It' a few days ago and that is, at time of writing, only sat at 800,000. YouTube videos have never had the kind of impact that Shane's series has.

Shane has achieved the impossible, he has created the one thing that everyone swore YouTube and services like it would destroy: appointment viewing.

The most prominent narrative surrounding online video is that it has killed the 'outdated' concept of live TV, which archaically requires viewers to be sat down in front of their screen at a precise time each week or risk missing out on the action. Instead, we are told, we have much more choice with online video: we can choose when and where we want to consume our hashtag content, free from the constraints of what other viewers may be doing.

via GIPHY

But more and more we are seeing that this idea simply isn't true. The unstoppable rise of live-streaming, and the recent spate of historic television viewing figures have shown that there is still an undeniable appetite for live video events. The appeal of a communal viewing experience is still as powerful as ever, it's just that the venue has changed.

Shane has finally realised the long-held dream of YouTube and its creators - he's made a full blown series that has captured the imagination of the public.

YouTube Red (or YouTube Originals, or YouTube Premium, or whatever they're calling it this week) has been producing high budget series for a while now, but its paywall model has meant that they have never broken through to the wider user base.

Long form video has certainly been on the rise on YouTube for a while now, not least because it's an easy way for creators to rake in more ad money, but these tend to be simply longer, less edited more rambling versions of the kinds of YouTube videos we've been getting for years. These aren't fully produced series in the way Shane's doc is.

Sure, it's not gone smoothly, but was it ever going to?

Looking back, Shane documentary was pretty bizarre. It seemed to lack a clear aim, aside from just generally trying to work out how one human being could possibly be so annoying.

Shane twisted and turned in the wind as fans reacted to the episodes. This created something truly unique to the digital platform: a documentary that could evolve and change - in real time, in response to its viewers.

It was an interactive experience, even if Shane probably hadn't anticipated it would be.

And as much as people may be dissatisfied with the nitty gritty of the series (and they have every right to express their opinions), we cannot deny that YouTube is going to be different now - I would say better. Creators are clearly going to try and emulate Shane's success and most will probably not be very good, but the lesson has been learned that online viewers have the appetite - and the patience and dedication - for a long form series, and indeed, for content that challenges their ideals.

I never thought I would call myself 'a Jerika stan' but I watched this damn documentary and now here I am.

This series was a bit like the first iPhone - shiny, new, exciting and fundamentally pretty janky.

But such is the curse of innovation.

Sure, the iPhone XS is much more slick than the first iPhone, but it couldn't exist without the first iPhone. Another series will come along - probably even made by Shane himself - and it will be miles better than this Jake Paul series, but it will owe a massive debt to this series for its very existence.

After years of boring, repetitive pranks, social experiments and made-up 'storytime' videos, Shane has finally grabbed YouTube by the shoulders and given it the shake it truly needed.