We’ve heard much speculation, rhetoric, and hyperbole about blogs killing newspapers, mp3s replacing CDs, new media replacing old. While some of it is vastly exaggerated, there’s enough truth of it to have many industries scared and scrambling to respond. Cable networks NBC and Fox(via parent company News Corp) have announced plans to build a rival to YouTube, offering their own television shows and feature films on an ad-supported site, partnering with Google competitors Yahoo!, MSN, and AOL. While the success of the partnership and the service itself remains dubious, it would allow NBC and Fox to regain some small measure of control over their own content and traditional domain of professional, episodic television and full-length film. What it cannot hope to reproduce however, is the user-generated content frenzy of YouTube.
That remains the arena of YouTube itself and rising challengers including Veoh, MetaCafe, and Vimeo. Google, like any parent or parent company, is in many ways responsible for the success of its child and needs to be thinking about ways it can improve YouTube to better compete in online video, search, and advertising. Fortunately for Google, despite not being employed by them, I’m still willing to offer my advice on how to accomplish this as a good Social Strategist should. Of course, if another media company or video startup should beat them to it…
YouTube has the potential to do for video what blogs did for writing: make personal publishing a reality. The problem is that while YouTube provides a platform, it doesn’t provide the tools. Geocities, pre-Yahoo!-acquisition, let users put their thoughts on the web before Blogger was a connection of neurons in Evan Williams’ head. The presentation wasn’t very pretty though, and there wasn’t a standard way of going about it, and the tools for doing so were fairly primitive. But it was free hosting, and lots of people used it. YouTube is in the same state today: lots of content, lots of users, lots of room for more, but with only a fraction of people using serious tools(an editor other than webcam software or Windows Movie Maker) to create that content.
Here’s the big idea: a YouTube partnership with Adobe Systems. Specifically, a downloadable limited version(much like Adobe’s student-edition software) of Adobe Premiere that lets users edit their videos and add effects before uploading them to YouTube. This would do for video what tools like Movable Type and LiveJournal did for blogging. Existing YouTube users will be able to make their content higher-quality more easily. And with the proper publicity, YouTube will increasingly be the destination of choice for students and other young film-makers who want to have access to higher quality tools, free hosting, and an already existing audience.
As YouTube has stated its intent to share revenues with content creators(if it can find a way to make those revenues), then surely it must take steps to provide more revenue than can be generated by advertising alone, and also to stay an integral part of users’ revenue generation. Attempting to lock-in users permanently isn’t a business model I’d suggest for any company, but it’s reasonable in the short-term for content creators using Adobe software provided by YouTube to only be able to upload that content to YouTube(or Google Video?). In the long-term, content creators who have made enough to buy professional video editing software are likely to buy the full version of the tool they’re already familiar with, Adobe Premiere. And if they’ve made enough to buy that full version from profits they’ve made using YouTube, they’re likely to continue using YouTube until they’re developing projects too large for free 3rd-party hosting to be professional.
There are also more benefits to YouTube than just higher-quality content. As more of its users produce their content through the same tool, it promotes more of a dialogue between users due to the added common interest. In addition to discussions(more page views), tutorials(more content), and groups(more community incentive) relating to a common tool, creators using the same tool become more aware of being able to accomplish the same kinds of effects. This is one of the causes of community memes, which are excellent for increasing community participation and gaining attention from users outside your community. Looking at a related media and community content site, Flickr, users of that site are aware of popular memes such as ‘transparent screen’, in which photos of a computer screen are manipulated to make it seem as if that screen is transparent. Memes that are effect-based as well as memes that are content-based(e.g. Numa Numa imitations) will spread through the YouTube community, and while some will be profoundly annoying(like the <blink>-tag spreading across Geocities pages), others will be challenging and interesting.
For Google, there’s value in more than just a more active community and increased revenues. There’s also relevance to improving its core product, search. With video search growing in importance as more video content becomes available, Google will need to compete with search competitors for a more thorough knowledge of not only the semantic web, but the multimedia web as well. There’s already an advantage in owning the site with the most user-created video content available, and another advantage in the social features of that site that lets uploaders apply tags to that content. That advantage could be further extended by being involved in the creation/editing of the content, which is surely much more enlightening when attempting an algorithmic approach to categorizing video.
The Long View
A partnership between YouTube’s free hosting, Google’s ad revenue, and Adobe’s powerful software will bring video publishing to the next level. Hundred of thousands of viewers followed YouTube ‘user’ lonelygirl15, even after the videos were revealed as scripted acting. Critics and creators have spoken of lonelygirl15-like videos as a new kind of narrative. Google can have the best of both worlds of new media and old by making YouTube and Google Video the home of increasingly high-quality amateur entertainment. What happens when content creators have the ability to provide daily ‘webisodes’ that are entertaining, interactive, and of the same quality(if not length) as weekly TV series? What happens when full-length independent films are no longer limited to festivals and local theatres a limited number of people have access to, but instead a global audience that can view them anytime?
I look forward to finding out.