YouTube Competitions Over the Years

by Paddy Johnson on May 23, 2011 A Brief History Of

Hands up if you don’t know what a youtube contest is. I’ve been talking about them for the last four years, but in case you’ve missed one of those posts: participation usually involves spending hours at home on youtube selecting a bunch of funny videos you hope will be voted “better” by America’s finest in the flesh; drunk 20-somethings.

I’m not exactly what you’d call a newbie in these sorts of contests — I’ve been losing them ever since I started participating in 2007 —  but that track record has mysteriously served me well. I’ve been re-invited to these things nearly every year.

Seeing as how that’s the case, I thought I’d produce a rough time line and a few accompanying observations. Never has the production of a historical document on such a subject been so desperately needed.


  • 2006 – Google Me This: Introduced in 2006 at the New York Underground Film Festival. What happens? A couple dozen underground filmmakers and visual artists scour Google video for the most bizarre, dismaying and generally obscure movies on the Internet. A general air of camaraderie exists.
  • 2007 – Tube Time (NYUFF): Takes place in a large auditorium at Film Anthology, and audience members are given lots of booze. Rich Juzwick of Four Four won the competition hands down with Why Must I Cry, a music video and soon to be discovered meme worth more than 4 million views. The crowd was not friendly to those who presented losing videos. I suffered.
  • 2007 – ROFL! (Joe’s Pub) etc. A response to an unruly crowd at NYUFF, ROFL!’s take was to charge more at the door and hand pick the participants. Given that the internet is free at one’s home and the only people who give a shit about the micro-celebrities of the web are the micro-celebrities of the web the idea wasn’t a screaming success, but it wasn’t without its moments. Rocketboom’s Andrew Baron participated and presented slideshow videos that kicked everyone’s ass. Also, ROFL marked the beginning of many informal youtube nights and competitions at bars across the city. This was a short lived trend.
  • 2008 – Tube Time (NYUFF). The audience was unfriendly to the extent that I was embarrassed to have friends witness the event. The organizers were dismayed with the crowd.
  • 2010 – 2011: The World Series of Tubing (Eyebeam). Youtube culture matures to the point that the most obscure video isn’t what voting audiences want any more. At least that’s the mentality Eyebeam fellows Jeff Crouse and Aaron Meyers bring to the table with The World Series of Tubing. Here, “professional” surfers have videos loaded onto playing cards that can be read electronically and projected side by side for voting onto a large screen. An audience votes with lazer pointers. Here, the assumption is that video freshness isn’t as important as your performance. How can you charm the audience into giving you more lazer points? You can play the same video twice. You can speed up or slow down your video by tilting the card a certain way. You can take off your pants. This last option technically could have occurred at any contest, but World Series was the only one that really demanded such a skill.


  • Technical difficulties always effect the results of these contests. Early on it was that the videos wouldn’t load, the sound wouldn’t work or voting wasn’t counted properly. Now it’s that the videos won’t load, the sound won’t won’t work and voting isn’t counted properly. Basically, if there’s a tech problem to be had, it will only rear its head once an audience is present.
  • Intro graphics and trailers accompany almost all youtube competitions. Most recently, Aaron Meyers and Jeff Crouse created an extreme sports type graphic for their competition, though The New York Under Ground Film Festival (NYUFF)/Migrating forms typically commissions artists.  Ben Coonley made a Dr. Zizmor trailer in 2008 I particularly liked, as did Leslie Thornton, in 2010 for Migrating forms (this year Ryan Trecartin made the spot). Incidentally, Coonley was a 2007 Tube Time participant who was ousted by John Seroff with a video Coonley had made earlier that year.
  • Hosts: Each contest has them, and everyone I’ve ever met complains that it’s the most difficult gig they’ve ever had. They are necessary, but no one performs brilliantly. I beginning to think it’s impossible. (Previous hosts include Cintra Wilson, John Edgar Park, and Kenyatta Cheese).
  • The organizers and participants of these competitions are often the type who were busy ten years ago with the role of Dungeon Master (assuming they were old enough). Now they either write code for fun, blog or have parlayed their intense interest in web surfing into consulting jobs. Arguably all of these jobs have become more hip than a game of D&D ever will, though it’s still a specialized crowd.  The sex appeal of a pixel based tie, while clearly great, does not extend far outside these social circles.

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