TORONTO - Google is searching for Internet addicts roughly 18 to 34, who spend seemingly every waking hour connected to the Internet, who are comfortable on camera, don't mind getting personal with millions of strangers around the world, and have a knack for trend spotting.
The search giant is looking for members of that cohort that has come to be known as "generation C."
The digital natives of generation C are seen as the early adopters who will help legitimize YouTube as a real rival to conventional TV, since they're already looking to the video platform for prime-time entertainment. They'd rather watch an hour's worth of short five-minute clips than whatever sitcoms and dramas are on TV.
And they're also enthusiastic creators of engaging, shareable online content that attracts the young eyeballs advertisers covet.
"This is the person who creates content, who curates content, they like to be connected with the world around them ... and they just have a very different interaction with content than we're used to seeing," says YouTube's manager of strategic partnerships Ipsa Desai.
She says Google feels the "C" in generation C can stand for creation, curation, connection and community.
"They've grown up with the Internet, they've grown up being connected to their friends, and not just their friends, but communities of people who share similar passions."
While mobile video viewing is still in its nascent stages, Google says 80 per cent of generation C users are already watching YouTube on their smartphones. And they're hyper multitaskers — Google estimated they switch between devices or digital platforms like social networks 27 times an hour. That's an average of a swap every other minute.
As buzz about the gen-C label spreads, more big-time content creators and advertisers are looking to target that audience and shift some of their attention away from TV.
A year ago, Brian Robbins was a top producer of teen-targeted TV shows, with credits for titles including "One Tree Hill," "Smallville" and "So Random!" He then switched gears and started AwesomenessTV, a YouTube channel for teens which has since signed up 600,000 subscribers and racked up more than 120 million views. In May, AwesomenessTV was acquired by Dreamworks Animation for a reported $33 million.
Robbins says his shift to producing digital content was inspired by watching his teenaged son's nightly routine change.
"He doesn't really watch TV anymore. Whereas our weekends used to be spent watching our kids glued to the TV with their friends now my wife and I laugh watching them on that same sofa, TV off, with their heads buried in their phones and tablets," says Robbins, who adds that half of AwesomenessTV's views are coming from mobile devices.
"Seeing this reaffirmed for me the reason I decided to make content on YouTube in the first place because the best way to reach and engage teens is to go where they already are and that's online."
Toronto-based Temple Street Productions, which has produced "Being Erica," "Orphan Black," "Recipe to Riches," "Over the Rainbow" and "Canada's Next Top Model," is also betting on YouTube as a major new channel for content.
The company recently spun off a new entity called Boat Rocker Studios, which will work with YouTube content creators to take their videos to another level. The content partners will have access to high-tech equipment at a studio the company is building in Toronto.
"We focused on the term 'Boat Rocker' for a couple of reasons but one was to really capture that gen-C idea of wanting to rock the boat and wanting to contribute to content as much as consume it," says Michel Pratte, Temple Street's vice president of media ventures.
"It's taking people who may not have been the right fit for traditional media but it didn't mean they didn't have the right talent. We want this space to be the hub, the place for collaboration, where the best creators can come and focus Toronto's digital creative community in one location."
He says the content will be designed specifically for online viewing although it's possible it could be repurposed for TV.
"Its initial place will be digital but that's not to say that either the talent couldn't migrate to another platform or that the content couldn't be cut and put on another platform," he says.
"I think the word digital will probably go away and we'll look at it as content."
Desai says viewers are starting to get really hooked on online content and no longer place a higher value on what they see on TV.
"The world is changing, the world of content production and consumption is changing, and I don't think anyone knows exactly what it's going to look like in the future," she says.
"But I think the point is it's not going to be just traditional broadcast or I don't think it's going to be just YouTube either. It's going to be some sort of hybrid where it's all about the content and the screen that you watch it on, and the type of connection you get it over is less relevant to the user."