The New Yorker has a pretty interesting article this week about the history and future of YouTube. In summation, it talks about how millions of people all over the world watch incredible numbers of videos (here is a crazy fact: “Forty-eight hours of new video are uploaded to the site every minute”) but they haven’t managed to translate that into the same kind of media and revenue powerhouse of old media. Yet. Over the course of the next year, YouTube is going to be launching all these channels that will more closely resemble the TV model except that they will be programmed specifically for the Internet in the hopes that people will stay on YouTube for longer, which will thus make YouTube more promising to advertisers. So? Is this it? Is this the future?

One thing the article talks about is a transition from the “model of scarcity versus the model of abundance.” The idea is that television (and just Hollywood in general) is structured in limitation. They control the means of production and distribution, so we get what they give us, whereas the novelty of the Internet is that it is based on putting incredible amounts of content out into the world and allowing users to select what they want to watch/consume. One of the Hollywood people they talk to says this is a better model than relying on an executive’s gut feeling and the tremendous resources of time, energy, talent, and money that go into developing a movie or TV show with little to no regard for the demands of the market. Another Hollywood person presents the opposing view: “I can tell you what YouTube is not going to do—generate shows like ‘Friends,’ ‘24,’ and ‘C.S.I.’ The world of TV I grew up with, where hit shows threw off hundreds of millions for the creators and networks—that’s not going to happen.” Well, OK, so which is it? Is it a better system or a worse system? (This is, of course, operating on the assumption that we all agree that Friends, 24, and CSI are “good.”)

The whole thing actually reminds me of a drunken argument I had at a wedding last fall.

I think I may have written about this before, but basically what happened is that a friend who also works on the Internet asked me when we were going to have a web series or what have you that was as culturally meaningful as a TV show, to which I answered “never*,” at which point a third Internet person, who we’ll just call Kevin, because his name is Kevin, was brought in to argue with me when clearly this was a subject into which he had put a lot of THOUGHT and on which he had many OPINIONS. It was kind of like a scene in a movie where the hero (I’m the hero here, obviously) thinks he is entering into a fight with someone his size only to learn that someone altogether larger will be fighting him instead and then he GULPS. Not that I entirely agreed with what Kevin was drunkenly yelling at me, but it was certainly more intelligent than what I was drunkenly yelling back. The point is we were drunk. And congratulations once again to Mark and Meaghan.

What Kevin was yelling at me was basically what the New Yorker article is all about: the Internet’s looming importance/dominance in visual media. OK. But while I understand the idea of the Internet as a means of distribution, what neither he nor this article has been able to articulate for me is how the aesthetic transition will effectively take place. That doesn’t mean it won’t, it probably will, the world has changed you can feel it in the water, etc. But there are a few very big problems that no one is really addressing in their rush to talk about distribution channels and niche marketing opportunities. Yes, YouTube can provide a Horse Riding Channel for all of the horse riding enthusiasts out there, but that feels like pretty small potatoes. (Also small potatoes are these upcoming YouTube channels. Tony Hawk is doing a skateboarding thing? Snooze Alert. Shaquile O’Neal is doing a COMEDY CHANNEL? Haha. The time is now.)

First of all, let’s talk about how things look. Movies look good! TV looks pretty good, too, although it doesn’t look as good as movies. (Game of Thrones didn’t even look as good as a movie would have, and yet it was applauded for how good it looked, which was due in large part because it had an out-sized movie-level budget.) And do we even need to describe the production values of the Internet. The whole thing looks like it was filmed on a graphing calculator. That will change insofar as everything looks better and better as we move into an era of HD Everything. But the truth is, low-rent on the Internet is often preferable to high-grade. Quality production values are the first signs of something being fake and gay. This is one of the Internet’s charms, its insistence on authenticity and transparency, but it is also what keeps it–in its current state–from being a welcome home to broadcast-quality original content.


Watch the throne, indeed.

Then there’s the whole FREE thing. Producing good things requires lots of money, which is the exact opposite of the Internet’s ethos of getting everything for nothing because you want it and you want it now. By and large, at least in the world of television, that money comes from advertisers, which is the thinking here. If YouTube can get a larger slice of the advertising budget pie, then theoretically they could end up putting real money into producing quality content. I guess. But the road that got us from the Burma-Shave Sponsors Bela Lugosi’s Variety Hour: 1954 Christmas Special to Breaking Bad was long and littered with crap. Hell, it’s still littered with crap. The idea that “Madonna and her longtime manager, Guy Oseary, are developing a dance channel called Dance On” is going to get us to the next level of entertainment seems specious and depressing. Netflix just released the trailer for their first original series and it looks like a joke. The problem with running with the big dogs isn’t just that the big dogs won’t let you, but that they run so FAST.

Let me make something clear: I’m not complaining about the evolution of TV and movies towards some Internet Future. Or, at the very least, I’m certainly not strong enough to stand in its way. We definitely are watching things differently than we used to, or something, and computers are a big part of that, I’m sure, and blah blah blah IF I WANTED TO GO TO COLLEGE I WOULD PAY TO GO TO COLLEGE. Maybe the old models don’t make sense anymore. But you can’t just say that the new model is Tony Hawk On-Line. The reason that Hulu works is because people still want to see the things they used to watch on TV, they just want to watch them on their machines sometimes. People go to jail for illegally downloading movies because PEOPLE WANT THEM MOVIES SO BAD. The Internet takes itself very seriously, and fair enough, but as a person who likes to put these things in his eyeballs, I don’t see this:

As a viable replacement for this**:

This post isn’t any kind of declaration or anything. I’m not taking a position because if my work at Videogum and my life in general has proven anything, it is that I am not allowed to control anything of real value, I rarely even know what I’m talking about, and the future of business and/or entertainment is not visible through my crystal ball, which is actually a marble, which I had to pry from my dog’s mouth when she pulled it out of some trash. I’m not arguing against the New Yorker article. How could I? It was a good article and YouTube has some big plans, so what’s the argument? And I already conceded some kind of victory to Kevin at the hotel bar after the wedding. No, I am literally asking IS this the future of movies and television? SOMEONE TELL ME! I FEEL SO OLD AND STUPID!

In closing, that was a lot of words.

* Although I basically lost this argument, I actually stand by my answer to the question as it was posed. The Internet’s whole THING is audience fragmentation. People watch more television than ever before, but they have more options than ever before. No one is watching the same thing the way they used to (a pattern that the New Yorker article covers in more detail) and the Internet only magnifies that trend. So, the idea of a web series, or what have you, that is as culturally important as the must-see-TV of the moment actually goes against the whole POINT of a web series and GOOD GOD WHY AM I STILL HAVING THIS ARGUMENT?!
** It does seem worth pointing out that that fucking Fred video has 55 million views, while episodes of Mad Men only get, like, 1.4 million viewers. So maybe we SHOULD just all crawl into our coffins and give it a rest.
Comments (27)
  1. Each minute 48 hours of video is uploaded but 47 of those hours are just Aaron Paul tribute videos so… yay!

  2. So wait, is it like two episode of “24″ being uploaded every hour? I’m confused.

  3. as long as the cats don’t go away I don’t care what video content they put on the Internets

  4. Just to show how fragmented the Internet is, I hastily threw together a predictive pie chart of how the comments to this post will break down.

  5. Ok, so I had just set out to type a long comment, but then I realized that it was going to essentially be the longest ditto in the history of the world. So, yeah. There will still be room for the Sopranos in a world of Freds because it will never be realistic to make things of that quality cheaply. What Gabe said.

    • Ditto 2 tha Ditto. Just think of a movie like Gangs of New York. They had a historian on set the whole time (I met him at a party once. yay me.) who was just there to make sure the costumes and props were all accurate. And the sets? Hard to imagine anyone doing that work, investing that money, without being sure there were going to be bus posters and full page ads in newspapers, etc. to promote the hell out of it. I wouldn’t. When we see subway ads for Youtube channels, with merchandise tie-ins, and the stars (more sand girl) doing the morning talkshow circuit, then the future will be not the future. any more!

      • We all know Gangs of New York was the most historically accurate movie of all time, more accurate than what actually happened in the first place although to be honest all I remember about it is that it was funny when Butcher Bill cried about the rabbit.

    • Until the means to measure ratings is altered to reflect emerging technology, Gabe is right. As it stands there is no real incentive to create amazing content for the Internet using traditional means unless it is to get established and/or to get your foot in the door for more traditional mediums like film and television. (Or to build up heat with a Funny or Die-type video if you’re already established.)

      And as much as we would like to pretend it’s an art form created to entertain us, all of this film and TV is really there to sell products. And the money just isn’t in the web like it is in American Idol or whatever crap is still getting high Neilsen ratings (as shows that appeal to audiences with DVRs and streaming technology aren’t properly reflected).

      The reigning unions (WGA/PGA/DGA/SAG) are just now beginning to give points for creative works that exist solely on the Internet, and even then it’s not even close to the same work done that is aired on TV or in a theater.

      For example, Gabe and Kelly create a remarkable amount of original or semi-original content on a daily or hourly basis. But, because this is considered a blog, they would not be allowed into the WGA. If Videogum was bought out by Disney or Warner Brothers and run as a stand-alone site (I forget how this is legally defined), they *may* be allowed to join the PGA… but on a trial basis and only with certain kinds of sponsorship and their work would be reviewed many times. However, if they used their writing here to get a job writing news for certain network stations, they could join the WGA even if their job is basically rewriting AP wire copy. One of the main reasons for this (or my understanding of it when I was working on entertainment and news sites and had the option to join unions) is to keep vanity bloggers and Perez Hilton-types out of the mix. However, as more sites of quality show up, the definitions will become more flexible. So… EVENTUALLY… Gabe will be wrong. (But this is only once the powers that be draw a line that absolutely defines what is produced entertainment deserving of merit and what is a home movie uploaded to YouTube among all other issues.)

      Right now there is one Emmy for all web projects across the board — whether it’s a show or a site. And even then, the ones getting nominated are all sponsored by studios.

      So, basically, when all this stuff finally catches up and the ultimate value of doing a big project goes up and revenue goes up, the number of projects will go up. There are some great streaming shows (look for H+), but they’re usually born out of projects that people did for little to no credit because they were bored or got sponsored.

      Sorry TL; DR. But my point is… eventually Gabe will be wrong, but right now he is not.

      Eventually it will happen… but not for a long, LONG time

  6. a lot of kevin being talked about on here today. gabe takes demands from tilda swinton pretty seriously.

  7. The red letter media dude’s evisceration of the Star war prequels on youtube is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. You win this round, internet.

    • But would it be as entertaining to see him ripping on other internet videos. Some of the best Internet content still relies upon Old Media as something to riff on.

  8. I think the Internet is a lot more like radio. At least blogs like these. I remember back when i was a tiny puppet and my older sister and I used to sit around listening to the local radio station waiting to discover new things. Regular callers would become part of the show giving the entertainment a more personal feel. Sometimes stuff would get dull, but when something happened it would feel more special. Except back then you’d have to imagine the grease stain in Frank Lloyd Wrong’s notepad.

  9. i posted this in the people’s choice awards thread and i believe that it can also be implemented here as well: people are stupid

  10. wait I thought the children were our future

  11. So, Gabe doesn’t think that web content can match the cultural and artistic weight of traditional television shows? Allow me to present Exhibit A – little monkey doing pushups:

  12. I look forward to programming execs with names like biebergirl95.

  13. I hate the future so much.

  14. ok but is this what the future will look like?

  15. I think the biggest problem Youtube faces as a highly profitable and culturally dominant media force is the fact that none of the videos are actually very good. I don’t know about everyone else, but I can really only watch a Youtube video once or twice before I’m done with it – as opposed to a scripted drama like the West Wing that I can appreciate over and over again. The internet and broadcast television are operating on two completely different planes of intelligence.

    • There are arguably tons of TV shows that can only be watched once and never build up a great desire to be watched again. True, there are some TV that rises above the mediocre … but I would argue that there are some on the Internet as well. Now, with the ‘Net, there is a lower barrier of entry, and tons more content available, so there is a lot more mediocre crap … but to compare good TV to average ‘net content is obviously going to reflect well on TV content, but the ratio of good to bad on the ‘net is more forgiving, since it’s pull, not push, and thus you have greater ability to seek out the good and not get stuck with the bad.

  16. The interesting part about this debate is that, actually, many within the industry itself are on your side. It’s the entitled viewership, those still complaining about Firefly and Sarah Connor Chronicles, who view the web as their savior of content they deem “worthy” and “the future of television.”

    The web is not growing into the future of television. It’s growing into the web.

    I hosted a panel at VidCon 2011 in Los Angeles with a group that ranged from a writer/director, all the way to someone high up in a YouTube subsidiary. Point blank I asked them (paraphrasing): “We were told in 2006 that web would take over TV in five years. How’d that shake out?”

    The point, ultimately, is that entertainment as a whole is, indeed, fragmenting. There are pros and cons to it, of course. But it was fragmenting long before web started being seen as a viable outlet for programming.

    Now, what web CAN bring is cost-effective filmmaking. Not “cheap” — you need only look at Corridor Digital to see what can be done — but comparing where we were in 2006/2007, the line of quality between TV/Film and Web is beginning to blur, at least from a production value standpoint.

    But showcasing Fred as “the future of TV” and putting it up next to Sopranos is disingenuous. Fred should’ve been up against Two And A Half Men.

    As far as quality goes — you have RCVR, Pioneer One, Anyone But Me, a little known show called Stalker Chronicles, and you’re starting to see where we can go in this space. Then you have the more experimental elements — for example, check out the Year Zero ARG on Nine Inch Nails’ Wiki (ninwiki.com) and there’s something amazing and story-based that you’ll never get on TV (and yes, I know about the HBO Miniseries; that’s a completely different delivery system of the same universe).

    I just wish that when those who are looking into the web series industry from the outside in, they wouldn’t simply pick the most popular ones. That would be the equivalent of touting your Two And A Half Men / Big Bang Theories / 2 Broke Girls and completely ignoring that TV has Breaking Bad, Justified, Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, etc.

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