The very question is, in and of itself, potentially inflammatory in this day and age. YouTube is, after all, the all-but-crowned successor to the television. On the flip side, it is the bane of every network and movie studio out there; lashing out much the same as old Hollywood did when the television itself came along. Here’s the question though: is YouTube starting to suck? And when I say ‘starting to’ I mean in the slowest, most unnoticeable form imaginable, and when I say suck, I don’t mean viewers, I mean become bad. Let’s take a look.
It’s Still The Wild West
Yup, YouTube remains a frontier in terms of the content you can find on there. New stars are being discovered all the time. Videos continue to garner millions of views and those seeking their fifteen minutes of fame have no finer platform on which to launch their bid.
YouTube is a level playing field much like the Wild West. Nobody really cares where you’re from, who produced your video or even how much money you spent to make it. There’s plenty of examples of expensive animation on YouTube, but there are also lots of independent animators showcasing their wares too.
In that respect, YouTube isn’t starting to suck by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, we’re still very much in 1830s time as far as it’s concerned. In other words, the best is yet to come.
Everyone IS Equal…Or Are They
It’s easy to say that YT is equal, and on the whole, it is. Anyone can set up an account and get streaming. However, while all accounts are created equal, some have a better shot at success than others.
The first (and most obvious) difference is advertising. YT will gladly host your video but it is up to you to actually get it seen (for the most part.) Without an audience, you’re video is next to useless. Things are different of course, if you’re posting them for fun, but stardom only comes to those with a bit of drive behind their activities.
Besides the advertising part of YouTube, there are the channels. Now, these parts of the site are ostensibly to give viewers the ability to automatically get notified about new content from their favourite creators. There’s nothing wrong with that either, in theory.
In practise, channels serve to concentrate audiences and draw them into themselves, where a vast array of content is available. It should be noted that many channels offer content from numerous creators.
The issue is that channels not only vacuum up users, they also vacuum up their time. If a user spends an hour on the site watching the latest content from their subscribed channels, then that is an hour they are also not watching any independent content either.
Long story short, YouTube provide a platform for independent creators, but also provides the means for their audiences to be diverted from them at the same time.
It’s Keeping Costs Down
YouTube keeps costs down. it’s as simple as that. The simple reason is that the internet as a whole has never been able to support the same kind of money that traditional TV, radio and print has. With lower revenues coming in, there is an explicit incentive to keep production costs low.
Just to note, this doesn’t apply to content that was created with the intent of originally broadcasting it elswhere. Independent films created for the festival circuit, old TV shows and films and so on, are exempt. We’re talking strictly new stuff here.
Animation has flourished on YT partly because it can be cheaper to produce than live-action and because it also has greater longevity too. Many animated shorts that were posted at the dawn of the YouTube era (literally) are still hosted today; and remain extremely popular.)
With such a fragmented audience split among many thousands of channels, it will be impossible to create content on the scale that existing TV networks do today. That’s a double-edged sword in many ways, but if cheap content can work on YouTube and high-quality shows can work on Netflix, then I we should be OK.
Commercialism is Running Rampant Though
You’d have to be pretty blind to not see all the ads that YouTube has these days. Of course, pretty much every website has ads on it these days. While that may seem innocuous; commercialism on YouTube runs far deeper than banner and sidebar ads.
Ads before, during and after content have also long been a part of YouTube and have become an accepted part of the YouTube experience. For some people though, the ads seem to load quicker than the content. That’s something to consider, eh?
Yet the ads are only a small part of the commercial side to YT. Creators throwing a pop-up ad in their videos hoping to make a buck are not where Google makes their money. Nope, instead there are a few, less obvious areas where revenue pours in.
The first is professional content. This isn’t a contradiction to what I mentioned above, but rather in addition to it. While the production costs of content may be low, there are plenty of commercial enterprises using the site. Frederator is one animation-related one, DreamWorks is another (through AwesomenessTV.)
This is not a slight at commercial content, but rather to highlight that yes, there is money to be had from broadcasting content on YouTube; it’s just that big boys are doing it as well as independents.
In addition to the commercial entities, YouTube offers partnerships and the like to brands. The gist is that the brands spend money (on advertising or whatever) and YouTube delivers the viewers. This is the time-honoured tradition of TV networks and newspapers where the real customer is the advertisers, and the real product is the consumer.
Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it just runs counter to the original idea of YouTube as a place that was all about the content. On another level, there is the concern about harvesting user-generated data to fuel the entire system.
Is YouTube really starting to suck?
On one level, yes, yes it is. Commercial content already outshines the vast majority of independent content, and given the company’s desire to push channels over individuals, that only seems set to continue. YouTube remains a great service to getting your content out there, but chances for success are becoming ever more remote.
Secondly, every day, YouTube become more akin to traditional TV networks. Advertising drives the business, and is anywhere and everywhere on the site. Overall, the user experience is cheapened to the point where Netflix seems more akin to the BBC. In other words, pay a little bit every month, but gets gobs of commercial-free viewing instead.
It ultimately comes down to personal opinion as to whether YouTube is getting better or worse (and it really depends on what side of the creativity fence you are on.) However, it is hard to say that the ideal of YouTube as a place for videos and videos alone is numbered.