By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley
YouTube wants users to discover and shape the world through video
Video sharing website YouTube now gets more than two billion hits daily.
That's nearly double the number of people who tune into the US's three prime time TV stations combined, its owners Google have said.
The news comes as the site celebrates the day five years ago when the first beta version of YouTube was launched.
"I see this great growth opportunity in the online video market and we are positioning ourselves to be a leader," co-founder Chad Hurley told BBC News.
"We are a stage and we give everyone in the world an opportunity to participate and that is being a video platform for creating a solution for people to not only upload and distribute their videos on a global basis but to find and share videos."
He also said that while the two billion hits a day marked a real milestone "I feel we have much further to go.
From cat videos to political videos to "how to" videos to entertainment - that is YouTube
Chad Hurley, YouTube co-founder
"Two billion video streams is a large number but on average people are only spending 15 minutes a day on the site compared to five hours a day watching TV.
"I don't think we could have ever planned or imagined we would get to the scale or the size we are today. We were mostly trying to create a video solution for ourselves based on our own frustrations. We are proud of what we have achieved so far but we have a lot of work ahead," said Mr Hurley.
The site was bought by Google near the end of 2006 for $1.65bn. Just seven months ago it clocked up one billion downloads a day.
The early years
The slogan for YouTube is "Broadcast Yourself" which Mr Hurley said was a play on "be yourself and also captured in my mind the essence of the site which was to let people express themselves."
The first person to express themselves on the platform was fellow co-founder Jawed Karim who posted a 19 seconds long video called "Me at the Zoo". It was uploaded on April 23, 2005 and can still be viewed on the site.
The first video posted to YouTube: Co-founder Jawed Karim at the Zoo - Video courtesy of YouTube
Among the other videos that have made YouTube history is that of a wounded girl dying in front of a crowd during the Iranian election protests, a YouTube interview with President Barack Obama, Ronaldinho's Nike advert and singer Susan Boyle's performance on Britain's Got Talent competition on TV.
"We wanted to create a level playing field that gave everyone that ability to be seen and heard," said Mr Hurley.
"Maybe early on people only recognised us or explained YouTube by placing it in a box but there are so many people on our site and we receive so much content over a 24 hour period, it can't be about one thing.
December 2005 8 million videos watched a day
January 2008 10 hours of video uploaded every minute
October 2009 1 billion views per day
March 2010 24 hours of video uploaded every minute
"And so from cat videos to political videos to "how to" videos to entertainment - that is YouTube," added Mr Hurley.
Today it hosts channels for everyone from Queen Elizabeth to the Pope and from President Barack Obama to the Iraqi government.
"YouTube really is a phenomenon and is very much part of popular culture," said Catharine P Taylor, media blogger at news website BNET.com.
"It really is a game changer because it gives everybody a platform to broadcast from. There are many examples where an average citizen has become a big hit on YouTube and that is something that would have been impossible to contemplate five, six years ago."
In those early days the site was known for hosting pirated snippets of TV shows or movies. Even today material gets pulled from the site because of issues over copyright.
"They have made a lot of progress about weeding out illegal content," said Allen Weiner senior vice president of research at Gartner.
YouTube's front page was a very sparse looking one five years ago
"They are serious about it. Their future depends on it."
As a result YouTube has been working hard to win over content makers as it modifies its service to stream professional films and cash in on a trend towards internet television.
Industry watchers have said YouTube could possibly become part of the Google "media cloud" where people can access films, books, magazines tv shows and other digitised content.
"YouTube is going to change in a lot of ways in the next few years," Ryan Lawler of video site NewTeeVee.com told BBC News.
"I think we will see it on more devices and see it used more for live streaming. There are real opportunities for it to become a traditional content distributor like the cable channels. YouTube streams make up around 40% of all online video watched in the US, so there is massive scale there and lot of opportunity."
Analysts have predicted that while the site has struggled to reach profitability since its creation, 2010 could be its year.
Bloomberg News pointed out that the biggest challenge facing YouTube advertising is what makes it so popular - its user generated content. Many advertisers are wary of placing adverts that might run next to videos that might also offend or upset the audience.
"Obviously we want to work with everyone and show the value we can bring on multiple levels. It could be as simple as marketing a movie or show to our users and driving those audiences to another place for the experience.
"We are trying to create opportunities for everyone and this is not just about making big deals with major networks," said Mr Hurley.
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