YouTube creators say studio closure will impact community, access to resources

TORONTO — Video creators are calling on YouTube to make stronger commitments to Canadian productions after the company announced it’ll close its only permanent studio in the country.

The Google-owned technology firm sent an email to its creator community on Thursday outlining plans to replace its Toronto studio with “pop-up” locations in different regions across Canada. The goal is to stake a temporary presence in cities that otherwise wouldn’t have access to the streaming giant’s equipment and experts, the company said.

YouTube has tested the “pop-up” concept before in Canada by opening shop twice in Montreal for roughly a week each time.

But Dan Speerin, a writer and early adopter who started making YouTube videos in 2006, said by closing space in Canada’s largest city, the Silicon Valley company is playing into “the old Canadian problem” that lessens the overall emphasis on homegrown productions.

“Pop-ups are great PR,” he said of the plans for temporary studios. “They might be able to offer a quick hit of education or fun, but they can’t foster a healthy culture.”

It’s the exact opposite strategy YouTube emphasized when it opened the doors of YouTube Space Toronto at George Brown College three years ago amid a boom in the growth of the creator community.

The 3,500-square-foot facility was accessible to YouTube personalities with more than 10,000 subscribers. The more popular their channels were, the more access they had to studio time. It quickly became a hot spot for Toronto creators to mingle and tap into resources they might not otherwise have, as well as a space to hold launch parties.

Mark Swierszcz, manager of the Toronto space, said in a statement YouTube is looking into options for a different kind of permanent Toronto facility for local creators and “will have more to share very soon about a future home.” The company declined to provide any further details on those plans or when they would take shape.

The Toronto closure comes as YouTube moves away from occupying properties that aren’t owned and operated by its Google parent. Another location in Mumbai, India, that operates on the grounds of a school will close, though studios in other cities, including New York, London, Paris and Los Angeles, will stay open.

Megan MacKay, a Toronto-based YouTuber who utilized the Canadian resources, said she felt the studio was “a really good place for YouTube to cultivate raw talent and give people the opportunity to learn something new.”

Canadians also used the studio as a soapbox for worldwide audiences.

Musicians dropped in for live performances, including country singer Jess Moskaluke, rapper Shad and rocker Matt Good who recorded live concerts for their YouTube channels, while popular YouTube personalities such as Lilly Singh swung by to attract crowds.

Ottawa creator Elle Mills, who has 1.6 million subscribers, will be at the YouTube Space on June 6 for a meet-and-greet with fans.

In many ways, the Toronto studio was a “club house” that gave smaller channels the sheen of “a professional level” production, said Steve Saylor, whose channel Blind Gamer showcases video games from a blind man’s perspective.

He was invited into the YouTube studio in 2017 to shoot a reaction video where he slipped on a virtual reality headset and played “Star Wars: Trials On Tatooine.”

“Blind Gamer Tries VR for the First Time” became a hit on Reddit and helped Saylor build his subscriber count. His time in the studio introduced him to a creator community he probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. He expects those foundations will fragment without a permanent space.

“We basically live in a bubble a lot of the time. We create videos in our own home,” he said.

“The YouTube Space brought that community together. To see that now kind of disappearing, to me, I see that our community is going to start to disappear.”

A recent study by Ryerson University found there are about 160,000 YouTube creators across the country, but the company’s record for supporting Canadian content has been spotty.

Less than two years ago, YouTube proudly launched “Spotlight Canada,” a curated page that promised to promote homegrown talent by highlighting standout videos. The page quickly slipped into neglect and hasn’t been updated in nearly six months.

YouTube’s plan to adopt a travelling cavalry approach with “pop-up” locations may have mentorship benefits for communities outside Toronto, but Speerin suggested it’s “pitting Toronto against everyone” else in Canada.

“We’re taking the toys away from Toronto and we’re spreading them out,” he said.

“I think they could’ve done both — this isn’t a poor company.”

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