YouTube and its logo are owned by Google, Inc.
Note: I originally published this on LinkedIn on February 16, 2015. Nonetheless I think the concept is interesting as we continue the transition from physical media towards digital media.
This weekend YouTube turned 10 years old. What started out as a channel without a clear purpose (including turning it into a possible online dating site) now is a global brand, complete with original shows, celebrities, ad revenue, and now the status of being the place to go for video clips of pretty much anything- even news. As more people drop expensive cable packages which bundle channels together and make people pay for channels they don’t want, the internet is seeing an increase in traffic to websites with programming. In one corner is YouTube, a free video watching service which runs ads (except on select channels where they now charge a subscription fee in exchange for removing ads); in the other are sites like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, where one must either pay a subscription, pay per content ordered, or select only certain programs free with ads and pay for newer or ad-free content.
Given that YouTube is immensely popular, especially with the under-25 crowd (a Nielsen Books study shows YouTube is in the top 3 leisure activities in terms of hours spent per week for kids ages 11-17), it seems like YouTube will soon replace old-fashioned TV as the place for people to go for new content. With YouTube’s advertisement-based model for free-to-view content, might this be the future of TV? The others rely on paying customers, either by subscription or by individually purchasing a TV program or movie (as Amazon does, for example-you can buy stand-alone episodes or an entire season of a show), or on the Freemium model (Hulu has select free shows which run ads, or you pay for a subscription to get a bigger library of shows) and as those of us who navigate the world of online platform building know, people really love free stuff. If the price to pay is occasionally sitting through a couple of ads, so be it.
As someone who has his own (inactive) channel (and a total of 2 subscribers-thanks mom and dad) and who is in the process of developing a channel for a nonprofit, along with the one I currently manage for CRI, the question will be whether YouTube will continue to be the place to go for people who want to find an audience to share content but who are very much likely to be swamped by the mind-boggling hours of videos uploaded every hour. What made YouTube so appealing was its a) ease of processing videos for streaming and b) user-generated content that made everyone feel like you could be the next viral star (if that’s what you wanted) or you could post something you thought needed to be shared and leave it to the world to find it, regardless of viral success or not.
But if YouTube begins to replace TV will more original programming, be they “planned” (scripted or set shows) shows and movies or YouTube celebrity channels with higher-resolution cameras and video production, will YouTube still be seen as the place to go for original content? Will viewer stay content with often crudely created videos filmed off webcams or low-cost camera equipment, usually without mics? Or will the better-produced programming completely take over? And will viewers accept a subscription model for select channels, or will users go look for another website which continues the tradition of free user generated content? I’m curious to hear your thoughts about the future of this global powerhouse site.
Sam Ramirez Friedman is the Communications Director of the Caesar Rodney Institute. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or on twitter @sammydrf