It’s been in and out of the headlines for years now; when will Youtube (and other internet video providers) win the war with TV? According to Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, speaking in 2013, the question is a moot point; Schmidt pointed out that given Youtube’s viewing figures (see the Info-graphic from Youtube Downloader) the war was already won. The figures in terms of household viewing per platform, however, don’t entirely add up and TV remains clearly close to the heart of the average household. In both the UK and the US average viewing times per day for TV are around four and a half hours, while online figures are only a fraction of this. Yet with Youtube announcing hits of one billion per month and arguing that increasing numbers of site visitors watch videos of over twenty minutes (30 per cent of users according to Youtube) it seems there is some truth in Schmidt’s claims. However, could this be a Phoney War, and what does the attempt by Google (via Youtube) to take over TV mean for viewers?
Most of those who argue that Youtube’s domination of the broadcasting world is inevitable, if only thanks to a ‘biological solution’. The younger end of the TV viewing group watches far less TV today than older groups do. Unfortunately, for those arguing in Youtube’s favour, (against TV’s) this has always been the case and may not indicate a trend by which the youth of today remain loyal to online video sites as they grow older. TV viewing has traditionally (and continues to) increased in terms of average viewing hours as we age.
The biggest argument going for the future of TV and online broadcasters seems to be the move by some online providers towards original programming. Netflix produced ‘House of Cards’ last year and became the first online broadcaster to be nominated for (and win) awards at the Emmys. Certainly, compared to cable and satellite providers, the online variety of TV channel offers lower costs to consumers and this, if anything is likely to be a big factor in who wins control of our viewing habits. However, for Youtube, original broadcasting has always been their strength. Anybody can and a lot of people do become broadcasters thanks to Youtube. This has up and downsides for both those who are seeking a career in broadcasting and those who are seeking something worth watching. Notable broadcasters like Lewis Brindley and Simon Lane (see the info-graphic from Youtube downloader) make incredible amounts of money, but many, many, more don’t. In addition many broadcasters appeal very specifically to niches in a way that traditional TV doesn’t. Successful broadcasters on Youtube like Smosh (with 16 million subscribers) or Machinima (10 million plus subscribers) cater to comedy and gaming fans, in a way which would be (probably) impossible for them on traditional TV channels. The fact that this kind of programming can’t be found on traditional terrestrial TV is largely down to the way in which traditional broadcasters are unwilling to risk large budgets on new, untested talent, preferring to go with traditional formats and ‘known-quantities’. Without these constraints, Youtube can certainly offer a wider; many would argue better, form of broadcasting and far greater choice for us as viewers.
In fact, when it comes to originality, creativity and innovation Youtube beats TV hands down. It’s the perfect platform for young broadcasters to create (at low cost) programming which they themselves would watch. The low cost and simplicity of broadcasting that Youtube offers allows would-be talent to find an audience and, from Youtube’s perspective, leaves the choice up to viewers. This model means that there is limited investment for Youtube in untried talent, but the potential for ‘discovering’ the next big TV (or in this case) success, with minimal effort. For audiences, this means a far more diverse viewing schedule than TV is likely to be able to offer (now or in the future) and offers the chance to truly tailor their own schedule. The biggest downside to this model is that with the huge diversity of broadcasters on Youtube there’s no guarantee of quality; for viewers this means it can take effort to create that personalised ‘schedule’.
Perhaps it’s the viewers, then, who will win this war between Youtube and TV. The fact is that there will always be a demand for high quality productions and broadcasts and while these will become more available on Youtube, the site may be more likely to co-exist with TV. As a home for new talent, a place where viewers can tailor their viewing to their tastes, it will inevitably find a place in our viewing lives; but TV (often found on Youtube itself) will continue to provide a less broad, but more reliable stream of broadcasting.