They're getting more attention, the current issue of The New Yorker
has an article on this topic.
Basically, it looks like YouTube's pro channels are going to slot in between premium cable content - pricey content for niche audiences that advertisers want - and YouTube's standard un-premium content - free (to YouTube) content for niche audiences that advertisers don't want or know what to do with.
So that gives YouTube a way to attract advertisers, but at the expense of simply imitating the TV business, and that's a business that has plenty of ills. Does YouTube really want to reinvent a wheel that's covered with patches and almost flat?
I guess it makes sense that someone should fill in the vast space between Boardwalk Empire
and Annoying Orange
, but I certainly hope that isn't the end of YouTube's ambitions. It's something they should do, since they can do it, and there's some money to be made, but the real future of their business lies elsewhere.
The problem with their pro content is that it ignores the biggest strengths YouTube has: 1) being able to get free content from their users (making money of the unpaid efforts of others, pretty sweet); 2) having the ability to feed virtually unlimited content* to every user; and 3) the fact that they are on an interactive medium.
*Meaning, YouTube can give any individual person more content that they find personally interesting than they can ever hope to consume in one lifetime - that's in effect, unlimited content.
The pro content will be cheap to YouTube but not free. Going to pro's means that you drastically limit the number of people producing the content, so that firehose stream is being ratcheted down to a garden hose. But the worst thing is that as far as I can tell, the content will be the old non-interactive TV model, just pushed to viewers.
The pro content could just as easily be made for a channel on regular cable TV - why does it need to be on the internet? It's not taking advantage of what the internet can do.
YouTube needs to start thinking of its whole site as its business, including the users and their comments and ratings. They have integrated channels into their business, but the comments section is still embarrassing across the board and inhibits community.
If YouTube could lock in a true community of millions of users - people who have elements of their online habits and identity invested in the site - that's the best possible guarantee against competitors. Another company could imitate YouTube's structure, but it's hard to build a community, especially if there's a big, jazzy, attractive one they're already invested in.
In addition to keeping community
at the forefront of their mind when they think about their business, they need to focus on interactivity
. That goes hand in hand with community, since giving people stuff to do beyond passive viewing is what will lock in that community.
They should think of videos as just the start to what their business will grow into, and think in terms of contests and games. For instance, they could put up challenges in various niche categories, such as what we see here on a regular basis, people making their own sci fi shows.
That would tap into something they're in danger of forgetting, that their business runs on economics of abundance, as opposed to the economics of scarcity that Hollywood runs on (there's some discussion of that in the article).
But by going to just Hollywood professionals for content, they're right back to the economics of scarcity - they are tapping into a much smaller talent pool than they could. For every pro video maker in Hollywood, how many dozens or hundreds or thousands have the same talent but just don't happen to know the right people? There's your economics of abundance, right under your nose!
I've read comments sections about the YouTube announcement that boil down to the same thing: what a load of crap. I don't want to watch any of that. That may not be as bad a sign as it appears, since it's the nature of narrowcasting to appeal to only a small number of people, so any given person should look at that list and find most of it is not for them. But looking at the list, I can't help but think there are a lot of narrow niches that are simply not present at all, and way too much celebrity and comedy stuff that TV and YouTube already has covered.