An article in the February 2013 edition of Wired (UK) had our Creative Director and CSO drawing strange diagrams in his notebook: Talent Tube, a lengthy feature detailing how ‘YouTube reinvented the entertainment business’. With echoes of the famous Buggles ditty – Video Killed the Radio Star was the first music video to be aired on MTV on 1st August 1981 – the take-home message could not have been clearer: a new generation of content creators is redefining YouTube as an effective replacement for television.
In some senses, Talent Tube is actually behind the times: anyone born in the developed world (and increasingly, the world as a whole) after 1990 consumes media – television included – in ways unrecognisable from those born in the 1960s, and for many members of Generation Y the idea of sitting down to watch anything longer than a few minutes, which includes the vast majority of televisual output, seems absurd. But whether online video has really supplanted television in as neat a manner as the article suggests is a rather more specious contention, notwithstanding the fact that YouTube’s organic search capabilities are several steps beyond anything implemented in TV-land:
1. Production Values. For a whole host of reasons, YouTube still suffers from inconsistencies in production values that would have proven fatal for almost any other medium. Even some of the most esteemed content creators – those with hundreds of millions of views – seem to have little or no knowledge of cinematography, editing, scriptwriting or even getting the best out of the incredible camera technology available to them. Without these, the financial rewards associated with ‘deep’ television watching – intense user loyalty and engagement engendered as a result of watching lots of high-quality material – may yet prove elusive.
2. Qualitative Questions. This point follows on from the first: without a qualitative improvement in the original content being uploaded, there is a risk that YouTube will be perceived as second-tier entertainment – something that has its place, but which is essentially not that far removed from the ‘homemade videos of cats in washing machines’ caricature posited by Elisabeth Murdoch. Even on the Internet, reputations can take years to catch up to new realities.
3. Monetisation. For all the startling figures associated with the Google-owned video streaming giant, only a miniscule percentage of content creators are making any money out of it – even standout channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers and tens of millions of views are yielding an income of around €5,000.00-€10,000.00 per month, peanuts by the standards of the media industry as a whole. These are not the kind of returns that will entice anything above those willing to accept razor-thin margins – and gargantuan initial time losses – in exchange for a possible shot at glory.