YouTube is 19 years old. Here's a timeline of how it was founded and grew to become king of video, with some controversies along the way.

  • YouTube was founded by three PayPal employees in 2005.

  • Since launching, it's become the most popular free video-sharing platform in the world.

  • Take a look at the history of YouTube.

In its 19-year history, YouTube has become the undisputed king of online video.

It has well over 2 billion monthly users who watch hundreds of hundreds of millions of hours of content every single day. But many people don't know how YouTube got its start.

The company rose like a rocket ship after its founding in 2005, and was bought by Google just 18 months later. Under Google, YouTube went from being a repository of amateur video to a powerhouse of original content, not to mention a launching pad for its own new brand of superstars, like MrBeast and the Smosh Brothers.

Here is how YouTube got its explosive start, and maintained that momentum to become the biggest force in online video.

In late 2004, three early employees of PayPal — Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim — start working on an idea for a website for users to upload video-dating profiles.

youtube cofounders Chad Hurley Steve Chen Jawed karim
YouTube was founded by three early PayPal employees.Reuters/Lucas Jackson; YouTube

They worked out of Hurley's garage in Menlo Park, California, according to a report from USA Today.

On Valentine's Day in 2005, Hurley — as CEO — registered the trademark, logo, and domain for YouTube.

The website launched to a small subset of users. However, YouTube-as-a-dating-site attracted little interest, forcing the cofounder to take out ads paying women $20 to upload dating videos. Instead, users started uploading videos of all kinds to YouTube.

Based on the feedback, the cofounders transformed YouTube into a free video-hosting platform in April 2005, where each clip had a unique link.

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake
Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake performed during the Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2004.Getty Images Entertainment/Frank Micelotta

But the story of how the cofounders got to this point is a much-contested one.

Karim has maintained that the cofounders drew inspiration from two significant events in 2004: Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl and the devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

However, Chen and Hurley said they thought of the idea of YouTube as a place to upload videos they had taken at a party. Chen said this story was later concocted with the help of an outside PR firm to replace YouTube's dating origins.

In April 2005, the first video ever was uploaded. to the website while YouTube was still in private beta.

Jawed "Me at the Zoo" video
The "Met at the zoo" video is only 18 seconds long.YouTube

The video, called "Me at the zoo," is only 18 seconds long. It shows Karim, one of the cofounders, standing in front of elephants at the San Diego Zoo and talking about their trunks.

Investment firm Sequoia Capital invested $3.5 million in YouTube's Series A round in September 2005.

Roelof Botha
Sequoia Capital partner Roelof Botha.Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Sequoia partner Roelof Botha worked at PayPal with the cofounders, and learned about YouTube after using it to upload old wedding and honeymoon videos.

By December 2005, YouTube officially launched out of beta, and was made available to the public. At this point, YouTube was getting eight million views a day, according to report from Telegraph.

After clips of the Saturday Night Live sketch "Lazy Sunday" attracted millions of views on YouTube in February 2006, NBC demanded a particularly viral clip be removed from the site.

Chris Parnell, left and Andy Samberg in "Lazy Sunday" on "Saturday Night Live."
Chris Parnell, left and Andy Samberg in "Lazy Sunday" on "Saturday Night Live."YouTube

NBC's complaint paved the way for YouTube's "Content Verification Program," which launched in October 2007 to help content creators easily identify videos that infringed on their copyrights and get them removed, The New York Times reported. YouTube and NBC eventually struck a deal to help promote the network's upcoming fall TV line-up in June 2006.

Later in 2005, a video was uploaded to YouTube showing two boys in China lip-synching to the Backstreet Boys. Susan Wojcicki — YouTube's former CEO who was in charge of Google's acquisitions at the time — said the video convinced her it would be worth it for Google to invest in user-generated content by purchasing YouTube.

Later in April, venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Artis Capital Management invested $8 million in YouTube's Series B funding round, bringing total investment in the site to around $12 million. When YouTube was acquired months later, these firms' investments paid out massively, according to a report from the Times.

After a back-and-forth battle between Yahoo and Google, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in October 2006.

Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stand with their arms around one another.
Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at Stanford.James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

The deal netted the cofounders nearly $400 million each in profits. The same day the deal goes through, YouTube moved to its headquarters in San Bruno, California.

The same month Apple launched its first iPhone model in June 2007, YouTube launched its mobile site.

chad hurley
Chad Hurley, YouTube's former CEO.David Buchan/Getty Images

Chad Hurley, YouTube's CEO at the time, predicted that mobile would be a "huge market," making YouTube's mobile site a "natural transition."

In July, YouTube teamed up with CNN to host a presidential debate during the 2008 election cycle, featuring video questions submitted by the public. Seven out of the 16 presidential candidates in 2008 announced their campaigns via YouTube.

In July, YouTube teamed up with CNN to host a presidential debate during the 2008 election cycle, featuring video questions submitted by the public.

In August 2007, Google rolled out its first ads on YouTube videos.

YouTube is using pop-up ads to tell users to stop using ad-blockers while watching videos.
YouTube is using pop-up ads to tell users to stop using ad-blockers while watching videos.YoGinta/Getty Images

Instead of an option for traditional pre-video ads, the company chose a new in-video format featuring semi-transparent banners that popped up on the lower portion of videos and could be clicked away after several seconds.

Later that year in December 2007, YouTube rolled out its "Partner Program" to select creators, allowing them to earn money from their content based on ad revenue.

It allowed YouTubers to turn their hobby into a career. Not even a year later, the most successful creators were earning six-figure incomes, The New York Times reported.

In November 2008, YouTube expanded its ad offerings to include sponsored videos and pre-roll ads, a format YouTube long said it wouldn't resort to because those ads were too intrusive to the audience. However, the benefits paid to brands and advertisers beat out customer experience in the end.

In 2009, YouTube teamed up with media company Vivendi to launch a new music video service called Vevo, responding to music companies' complaints about piracy and unfair licensing terms.

Vevo was launched in response to complaints about piracy and unfair licensing terms. Vevo

As part of the deal, Vevo could distribute its music videos on YouTube, setting the groundwork for Vevo's massive YouTube presence today.

In April 2010, Felix Kjellberg joined YouTube to create content under the channel name PewDiePie, where he first provided video-game commentary before expanding into vlogging and internet memes.

PewDiePie on YouTube.
PewDiePie first joined YouTube in 2010.YouTube

The YouTuber has since surpassed 111 million subscribers, and was the most-subscribed-to solo creator on the platform for several years.

In February 2017, PewDiePie was the subject of a bombshell Wall Street Journal investigation that found nine of his past videos contained "anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery."

One of those videos showed two men, paid by PewDiePie, holding up a sign reading "Death to All Jews." Both YouTube and Disney cut ties with him, and he was kicked out of YouTube's top-tier advertising program.

In October 2010, Hurley, a YouTube cofounder, stepped down as CEO.

chad hurley Salar Kamangar youtube
YouTube cofounder Chad Hurley, left, and former YouTube CEO Salar Kamangar.Reuters/Pascal Lauener; Reuters/Brendan McDermid

In his place, Google appointed Salar Kamangar, who the company said had already been leading YouTube's daily operations for two years, according to a statement provided to BBC.

In April 2011, YouTube officially entered the broadcast business with the launch of YouTube Live.

YouTube live
YouTube Live allowed the site to stream all types of content.YouTube

YouTube Live allowed the site to stream all types of content, including concerts, sports games, the royal wedding, and the Olympics.

In May 2011, YouTube soft-launched a rental service, from which consumers could choose thousands of movies and TV shows to rent and stream directly on the platform, according to Digital Commerce 360.

Later that year, it invested $100 million into its first batch of original channels in a push to create original content on the platform, according to a report from All Things D. YouTube partnered with established brands and major celebrities, a move that creators viewed as the platform's disregard for their value and influence.

In January 2013, YouTube opened "YouTube Spaces" in Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, New York, and Sao Paulo.

youtube spaces la
YouTube Spaces in Los Angeles.Madeline Stone / Business Insider

The spaces functioned as recording and creating studios for YouTube content creators.

After the pandemic, the company announced the spaces closed and said it would be shifting to a hybrid model, combining pop-up locations with virtual events.

In February 2014, Susan Wojcicki — Google's 16th employee who helped convince the company to buy YouTube — was named the new CEO of the video-sharing platform.

Susan Wojcicki
Former YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki first took the top job in 2014.Getty Images

After nearly a decade of serving as CEO, Wojcicki stepped down in February 2023.

Wojcicki said she was stepping down to "start a new chapter focused on my family, health, and personal projects I'm passionate about." She said she would continue to advise the company.

In February 2015, Google launched a "family-friendly" version of the video platform called YouTube Kids.

kids playing on YouTube
Google launched a "family-friendly" version of YouTube in 2015.John Keeble/Getty

The platform filtered content in an effort to ensure it was safe for minors and offers parental controls like limiting screen time and disabling search.

Later that year in August, YouTube Gaming debuted as a way for gamers to livestream their play sessions to a live audience, as well as interact and chat with fans in real-time. The service was meant to counter Amazon-owned Twitch, the dominant force in the live-streaming market, which Google reportedly tried (and failed) to buy a year earlier.

In October, YouTube unveiled YouTube Red, a subscription service that lets customers watch videos and stream music without ads. Three years later, YouTube Red was renamed YouTube Premium and spun off its music streaming to a separate service called YouTube Music.

In March 2017, major companies across the US and in international markets — like AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, and the British government — pulled their ads from YouTube en masse after the Times of London reported that ads were appearing alongside extremist and offensive content.

Hank Green, one-half of the Vlog Brothers, talks about the Adpocalypse in an April 2017 video.
Hank Green, one-half of the Vlog Brothers, talks about the Adpocalypse in an April 2017 video.YouTube

YouTube's ability to police content was put into question, and analysts estimated the boycott cost the company $750 million.

In April 2017, YouTube made the first of two major algorithm changes: It put stricter policies on ads and later revamped its Partner Program to raise the eligibility requirements for money-generating channels.

These changes, along with the advertiser boycott, helped kick off YouTube's first "Adpocalypse," a term creators coined for the advertising impact.

In April 2017, YouTube TV, an on-demand streaming service, officially launched in select markets.

YouTube TV logo on a mobile phone with TV screens in the background.
YouTube TV launched in select markets in April 2017.SOPA Images/Getty Images

The service didn't go nationwide for another two years, and the price has since increased to $72.99 per month.

In November 2017, users found family-friendly videos containing disturbing and abusive content across YouTube and YouTube Kids platforms.

Logan Paul Suicide YouTube vidoe
Logan Paul was suspended from YouTube's revenue program because of a controversial video.YouTube

More advertisers pulled their ads, and YouTube responded by updating its policies around age-restricted content.

In December, YouTuber Logan Paul posted a video of him and friends discovering and filming a dead body in Japan's so-called "suicide forest." Outrage over the video was swift. Although he wasn't banned from YouTube, he was suspended from its top-tier ad revenue program.

Then, in February 2019, YouTuber Matt Watson posted about what he described as a "soft-core pedophilia ring" living in the comments on YouTube videos featuring children. YouTube responded by disabling comments on videos featuring children.

The Federal Trade Commission fined YouTube $170 million in 2019 after investigating whether it violates children's privacy laws by collecting data of children under the age of 13 without their parents' consent.

In February 2020, Google broke out the video platform's ad revenue for the first time since YouTube was acquired.

Google i/o event Sundar Pichai
Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai. Google

YouTube generated $15 billion in ad revenue in 2019, 9% of parent company Alphabet's total ad revenue.

YouTuber MrBeast reached over 100 million subscribers in 2022.

MrBeast smiling whilst wearing a white t-shirt and black hoodie
MrBeast has about 240 million subscribers. Chris Unger

MrBeast started posting videos on YouTube when he was around 13 years old, under the username "MrBeast6000."

After going viral for posting a video of himself counting to 100,000, he started uploading similar content, like him spinning a fidget spinner for 24 hours. Now he's known as "YouTube's biggest philanthropist" for frequently posting charity stunts.

The 26-year-old has 262 million subscribers and brings in about $600 to $700 million annually, although he still doesn't consider himself wealthy and has said he puts most of his money back into producing more videos.

Neal Mohan took over as YouTube's CEO in 2023. The company was once Mohan's client in the mid-2000s when he led strategy as adtech company DoubleClick.

Headshot of Neal Mohan
Neal Mohan became YouTube's CEO in 2023.Google

Under Mohan's leadership, YouTube partnered with the NFL to exclusively broadcast Sunday Ticket football.

The NFL said shortly after the partnership began that YouTube's Sunday Ticket package had more subscribers than it did the year prior on DirecTV.

The CEO is also focused on advancing the platform's AI capabilities and offerings. Mohan said that in 2024, tools like Dream Screen and YouTube Create will encourage more content creation.

In April 2024, two YouTube employees detailed the company's strategy to lean on video and audio at a virtual seminar for podcasters.

Nick Viall from "The Bachelor."
Former Bachelor, Nick Viall, hosts a weekly video podcast on YouTube called "The Viall Files."Craig Sjodin/Getty Images

One of the employees said YouTube Music gives users a choice on how to consume podcasts. They can listen to audio-only or watch it in video format — and they can go back and forth between the two if the episode is downloaded with YouTube Premium.

In 2024, YouTube says it plans to build a Vision Pro app down the line.

Apple Vision Pro headset
The Apple Vision Pro headset was released in February 2024. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Initially, it looked like YouTube was going to ice out Apple's fancy new "spatial computing" headset, the Vision Pro.

A YouTube spokesperson initially told The Verge that access to the site on the headset would be through Safari, and that an app wasn't currently in the works.

But YouTube revealed shortly after the release that a dedicated app for the headset was "on our roadmap."

Competition with TikTok ramped up in 2024 as it puts an emphasis on longer videos.

The logos of TikTok and YouTube.
TikTok incentivizes search and length of videos, competing with Google. Shriya Bhattacharya

YouTube and TikTok are both battling to get creators to post to their respective platforms. One of the biggest ways they can do that is by payout programs

TikTok's new creator rewards program was announced in March after months of testing it in a beta program. It incentivizes creators to post longer videos by requiring users to create videos over one minute long to qualify for payments.

The new program also prioritizes search and said it will assign videos a "search value" based on how aligned they are with trending search topics. That search value will help determine a creator's payout, in addition to other factors like engagement.

YouTube becomes the top platform for AI influencers in 2024 as some creators and companies start to grow their audience with virtual identities.

Ai-generated image of a woman with pink haire wearing a black tank top.
AI-generated model Aitana, who has 200,000 Instagram followers and reportedly makes $11,000 a month with brand deals.The Clueless Agency

The accounts are referred to as digital avatars or AI-generated virtual influencers, and include accounts like Lil Miquela and Magazine Luiza. The AI influencers have been gaining popularity across platforms like YouTube, along with Instagram and TikTok.

According to a report by The Influencer Marketing Factory, YouTube is the top platform for AI influencers, with 59% of participants responding they followed these creators there. TikTok was right behind, with 56%, the study said.

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