Lately there’s been a lot of buzz about the influence that YouTube has on the rest of mainstream media. As everything is changing so rapidly networks are fighting for viewers right next to cable networks. Premium cable networks are fighting with new online content put out by other subscription services. Somewhere in there, YouTube is holding it’s own. In fact, it could easily be argued that YouTube is winning.
In order to better understand where YouTube stands, I want to give a brief outline of house these other companies make money. As much as I am interested more in the creative aspect, having an understanding of the financial makes me more aware of the industry as a future creator and helps viewers to have a better understanding of why these corporations makes choices in the way they do.
Network television includes the “big 4” networks, CBS, ABC, Fox, and NBC. If you include The CW it’s 5. If you have the right kind of TV, these stations are free to pluck out of the airwaves. Legally they must provide news coverage along with entertainment. They make their money from advertising revenue, AKA commercials.
The next step up is basic cable. These are networks like TNT, TBS, and USA that create original content to run next to syndicated repeats of network shows, as well as 24-hour news channels like CNN and MSNBC. Whatever your niche is, you can probably find it on basic cable. These channels are scrambled in the airwaves and you have to pay a cable company a subscription fee to give you a box to unscramble it. These companies make money two ways, through the subscription fee as well as through advertising revenue.
Beyond that are premium cable channels and subscription services. These are considered separate entities by some, but they turn a profit in the same way. They include HBO and AMC, and Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime. These services run solely on subscription fees and are broadcast through scrambled airwaves, digital boxes like a Roku or Apple TV, or through online streaming.
Then comes YouTube. While there are a few other video hosting sites, Vimeo and Yahoo! Screen come to mind, YouTube holds the market share. YouTube is viable only through advertising revenue which include sidebar ads (that run along the bottom and sides of web pages), lower third ads (that pop up along the bottom of a video), and pre-rolls (commercials that run before a video will play). The difference here is in the content.
While TV networks and subscription services create their own content or pay syndication fees to run older shows made by other studios or networks, YouTube content is made by individuals and uploaded to the site directly. This leads to lots of videos of cats and stupid human tricks, but also has allowed for a new type of content to emerge.
Web content falls under a handful of categories and, in a similar style to basic cable, anything you want, you can find it online. What I’d guess to be the most regular and consistent content is vlogs (video blogs), how to videos, and web shows.
In the case of any of these you can easily subscribe to a channel (the term used for a YouTube creator). Once you’ve subscribed, their videos will show up in your subscriptions list and you can follow their comments and likes on other videos.
To me, and clearly to thousands of others, what makes web content great is the community it creates. By following a how to channel I have a group of people I can go to if I have questions. By following a vlogger and commenting on their videos I start to become a part of their online community. By following web shows and interacting with other fans in the comments we create a whole new experience of fandom. Down the line this leads to things like VidCon and other meet ups where fans can meet the creators.
Creators of web content are more accessible to what’s starting to be called Generation C (“C” stands for community). While sometimes described by year, Generation C is defined more by their way of interacting with each other online. Generation C is made possible by YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. The platforms they use to stay connect to each other across city, state, country, continents, and oceans have shaped their existence and these habits are being cemented into popular culture. Get ready, because it’s not going away.
Are you a member of Generation C? What type of media gets your eyeballs?