YouTube on the news: (main)streaming the margins?

In a previous post I talked about YouTube. About it becoming another branch of the mainstream media. About its promotion of certain videos over others. And about how this combination undermines the formation and nurture of online communities. Especially marginal ones.

But wait. There may still be hope yet. I’ve got some good news, from watching the news.

The mass media is realising the power and popularity of posting on YouTube, but it’s also working in reverse. YouTube videos are increasingly being shown on the mass media. It’s in this partnership that lies a glimmer of hope for some (definitely NOT mainstream) communities.

Chat show hosts like Ellen De Generes and David Letterman are inspiring video trawling copycats around the world. In Australia, Channel 7’s ‘The Morning Show’ has been at it for a while, and now the evening news programmes are getting on board.

Allow me to elaborate.

I first saw this clip on the Channel 10 news.

Amazed, I immediately started researching “parachute skiing”. Hardly the type of thing you can read about in the sport section of the local newspaper. Though maybe it should be.

**UPDATE: I recently found this little gem. Yeah, I’m hooked.**

Initially I was shocked, but delighted, to see something like this on the news. Though it’s not even a new trend. In fact, the mainstream media has long been a handy way to discover some of the more obscure, yet interesting (they have to be to get a gig during prime time) things in life. You just need to know where to look.

For instance, I saw this on 60 minutes a long time ago:

From which I discovered

And now I’m seriously considering booking tickets to Norway. Well, in my dreams at least.

Yet, wicked videos aside, this does show the power of mainstream and alternative media working together. As mainstream content moves onto YouTube, (arguably) alternative content is also moving onto mainstream media. And, if they are lucky enough, some of these more obscure communities will undoubtedly benefit from the widespread exposure in the mass media. Hopefully helping to promote and develop these communities on a scale that they probably never predicted.

It can be so simple, yet effective. I see one video, I show a friend, he shows someone else, they put it on Facebook and bam! Thousands of new wingsuit BASE jumping enthusiasts are born, just like that.

**UPDATE: One more recent example. Planking. The social media phenomenon that began with a bang. It popped up all over Facebook, jumped into the mass media spotlight (and the police’s for that matter) and is now a dinner table, or perhaps bar stool, topic of conversation around the world. Not bad for a sport that consists of lying down, well, anywhere.**

Whether parachuting avalanche-starting skiiers, or grown men lying on the floor, the line between the mainstream media and (what has typically been considered) alternative media continues to blur. Hopefully, this can breathe new life into the many marginal communities that are just waiting for some good news, and more views.

(On a brief, but slightly related tangent. YouTube recently announced a YouTube Live service; where, according to their blog, you will soon be able to watch “the most compelling live events happening on YouTube”. Could this be another way for marginal communities to get exposure? Here’s hoping that this is more than just computer TV, and we get to see some new, interesting stuff!)

Is YouTube ignoring You?

Week 3:

While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation of online ‘communities’?

YouTube is the online mecca for self-expression. It provides a platform for any and everybody to share their talents with the world. More importantly, however, is that this sharing promotes the development of user communities with a “communal preference” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45) for something, from extreme sports to funny animal videos.

Van Dijck, however, argues that this process is not nearly as democratic as it appears. In fact, he argues that the site’s interface plays a significant and much ignored role in “steering the agency of users and communities” (Van Dijck, 2009: 43) through the ranking and promotion of particular videos. Yet since “rankings and ratings are vulnerable to manipulation, both by users and by the site’s owners” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45)—see the man who watched his own video 60,000 times!—when users are “steered towards a particular video” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45), there are also significant implications for the online communities that YouTube supports.

YouTube’s diversity makes it an effective means for communities of all sizes to promote and develop themselves. Theoretically. Users are suggested related videos and through these links can discover new activities and tastes. Yet, the “promotion of popular favourites” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45) based on views, ratings and comments, unfairly diminishes opportunities for more obscure and marginal communities by narrowing the spectrum of choice readily available. Even within related videos, the higher ranked ones appear first. It creates a vicious cycle in which the more popular videos are: promoted, viewed more often, made more popular and are then in turn promoted even more. Other and newer videos have less chance of being discovered in the first place and often fall by the wayside. And since YouTube videos are often “famous for being notorious, obnoxious, or annoying” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24), the most popular videos are rarely those most worth watching.

What’s more important: You? Or Views?

[Image: Courtesy Blue Fountain Media]

**UPDATE: In April 2011 a YouTube techie revealed that a staggering 99% of YouTube hits come from a meagre 30% of videos! **

Perhaps most concerning, however, is not that the same videos are being watched, but rather that they are increasingly commercially made.

YouTube is fast becoming a prominent element “of the mainstream media landscape” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 15). Consequently, user-generated content is being overrun by commercial content with big budgets. In combination with ranking-based-promotion, marginal communities now have even less chance of being discovered because potential viewers are being bombarded with more professional, and arguably more popular content. At the moment, only one of the top 5 most viewed YouTube videos ever, is amateur made. The others, and the vast majority of that special 30%, are all commercial. They are music videos or television shows. A disturbing trend for a site based on User-Generated Content.

Viral marketing shows just how much the practice of ranking-based promotion can be exploited. According to a top marketing executive, “clandestine marketing campaigns” (TechCrunch, 2007) regularly fabricate controversial comments, pay blogs to embed videos and craft misleading titles all to maximise the popularity of a (commercially produced) video (TechCrunch, 2007).

Such promotion artificially influences user-agency, making it much harder for average users to stumble upon something that they may love but have never heard of. While anyone can still upload videos to YouTube, ranking-based promotion tactics and an influx of commercial content means that it is increasingly unlikely that more than a handful of procrastinating teenagers will ever watch them. Users are unknowingly being pushed towards mainstream content, undermining the development of innumerable user communities.

So, is YouTube ignoring you?

Yeah. It probably is.

Words: 553

References:

Burgess, J. & Green, J. (2009) ‘YouTube and the Mainstream Media’ pp. 15-37 in J. Burgess and J. Green (eds.) in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Van Dijck, J. (2009) ‘Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’, Media, Culture and Society 31 (1): 41-58.

TechCrunch (2007), The Secret Strategies Behind Many “Viral” Videos, http://techcrunch.com/2007/11/22/the-secret-strategies-behind-many-viral-videos/        22 November [accessed 31 March 2011]