WALL OF TEXT ABOUT ONLINE VIDEO!
Everything about online video is different from television (aside from the fact that lots of images are displayed in sequence in order to create the illusion of movement.)
The way the content is made is different, the mindset of the audience is different, the way social structures and fandoms are built is different, the kind of engagement is different, the barrier to entry is non-existent, the rate of change is at least doubled.
But humans are not good at thinking about things differently. Something new exists and, unless we are very young, we attempt to put it in an existing box…or some combination of existing boxes. Online video looks like television, so let’s create “Networks.” Let’s call the page of each creator a “Channel.” Let’s call the thing they do a “Show.” And the people themselves are “Stars.”
Of course this is what we do…creating new words is a hassle, especially when you’re trying to convince existing structures (like your mom, Hollywood executives, and Madison Avenue) that this thing is legitimate and interesting. So you use those old boxes.
The problem is, the more we use those old boxes, the more everything starts to look like the thing that came before it.
If we call collections of YouTube channels “Networks” everyone thinks about them like they’re Networks (especially in legacy media.) Then eventually creators start thinking about them as “online TV networks” when really, the needs of online video creators are completely different from the needs of TV creators.
Suddenly, online video starts looking more like TV not because it should or anyone wants it to, but just because we lack the collective imagination to think of it differently.
This is an old problem…and not one that can be completely avoided. People aren’t very adaptable. It’s like complaining that it snows in Montana…it’s so expensive to plow the streets, and there are more car accidents, it’s a drain on the economy! But, like, you can’t make it SNOW LESS, that’s ridiculous.
But to some extent (and maybe not a huge extent) you can change social structures and you can change people. Not to match precisely what online video would be in it’s purest state, but to let some of its unique properties shine through. This will happen no matter what, but I think it will happen /more/ if we’re conscious about it…AND if we put people who actually understand it in charge of some of its more influential structures (YouTube, MCNs, Awards Shows.)
But that’s not what we’re doing. For a few years, YouTube has been led by a guy from Hollywood…so has Maker Studios…so has AwesomenessTV. YouTube is now in the hands of a stronger CEO who is at least from the tech world, which has much less in common with online video than TV does.
That might seem like a bad thing, but I don’t think it is. I think coming at new media with fresh eyes is much better than coming at it with pre-defined boxes. Thinking, “Oh, I see, so this is kinda like a channel…but different in a few ways,” gives you a much less accurate picture than thinking, “This is like nothing I’ve ever seen before…what exactly is it?”
I (and probably you) came at online video with entirely fresh eyes. I knew nothing about hollywood structures or the roles that networks or agents or awards or channels played in the creation of media. I knew media existed, but the structures that surrounded them were entirely unknown and opaque to me.
But most people in the online video business did not enter with that innocence, and I think that’s too bad. There are very few people who understand online video solely within the framework of online video in this industry, especially people who have differentiated themselves and gained enough experience to not only /be/ experts, but to be recognized as experts (which are two very different things.)
We’re headed into a world where the people who really get it are getting old enough to differentiate themselves and bring both authenticity and expertise into this industry, but it’s a bit of a battle at the moment…especially because a lot of the bigger companies have already got it into their heads that TV and online video really are very similar.
And if they think that for long enough, my fear is that eventually, it will become true. Not because it is, but simply because we lacked imagination.
So if you’re into this…figure out ways to differentiate yourself as an expert who should be recognized as such…then please, send me your resume.