YouTube: Where Content is King, Not the Corporate Label

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This last semester I presented an essay at my school’s scholar conference about YouTube as a cultural text. I’m actually still surprised that my professor let me write the paper on YouTube, and I think that essay will probably go down as one of my favorite written pieces thus far in my college career. I won’t bore you with the nearly 14 pages that this essay ended up being, but I will share with you a few important things that I covered.

First, I wanted to make sure that I looked at YouTube in a way that considered both the good and the bad. In the end, though, I argued that in spite of the potential dangers that come with the nature of posting videos for the world to view and interact with, YouTube is actually a rather positive online website that helps create and strengthen community, promotes creativity, and encourages both viewers and creators to think through difficult but relevant issues in our culture today. But before I even got into these elements of the site, I wanted to make sure I was clear about what YouTube was, and to do this I first explained what YouTube was not:

…it might be helpful to first discuss what YouTube is not, even though the company has often strived to attain an atmosphere similar to it: television…While some recognize that YouTube has the potential to surpass standard television programming in views per video, they seem to be reluctant to see the site moving towards a status of “the new TV.”

When I first wrote this essay, I found that I was on the side of the argument that was sure that YouTube would never sacrifice the loyalty of their users, the very foundation upon which the site was built, to try to compete in the more mainstream realm of media. I wanted to believe that YouTube was better than that. I wanted to believe that YouTube didn’t need to play by the rules of the entertainment industry, not because it was out of line, but because it was playing a completely different game. But then I read an article that made me just a little but queasy, titled “YouTube is About to Delete Independent Artist’s From Its Site.”

According to the article from Forbes.com, YouTube is getting ready to launch a new subscription service to keep up with the online music marketplaces such as iTunes Radio, Spotify, and Amazon Prime Music. This might not sound like an entirely bad move on the company’s end, until you hear the catch. In preparation for the launch of this new service, YouTube has begun the process of signing new licensing deals with major labels, but many independent artist’s are refusing to take part due to allegedly unfair deals being offered by Google to much smaller Indie labels and artists.

In response to those not wanting to sign, YouTube has declared that any label that does not sign a deal with them will not only be left off the new service, but they will have their original content taken down from the site itself. This might not be YouTube trying to be TV, but the same principles still apply. In the race to ad revenue and corporate dollars, YouTube is trying to prove that it’s more than just mainstream media’s little brother. But what if YouTube is missing something? What if it’s trying to be something that it is not and should not be? I think Benjamin Cook said it best in his YouTube series Becoming YouTube when he tried to describe why YouTube is at its best:

…when it does stuff that TV can’t. When it experiments with form and content. When it remembers that [mainstream media] is a monologue and YouTube is a conversation…in contrast, YouTube is at its weakest when working harder to appeal to advertisers than us, the viewers, by pretending to be something that it’s not. Quit trying to be [mainstream media], YouTube…Strive to be different.

It seems that this development will only affect musicians on the site, but what happens after that? YouTube was meant to be a place where anyone with a camera and something to say, sing, or display could upload content and share it with the world. It’s meant to be a place that encourages creativity and both large-scale and small-scale communities. But most importantly, it’s supposed to be a place where good content is king, not the corporate label and what it deems worthy.

Please, YouTube, don’t do this. Remember that this site was built around the user. Don’t shut them out just because they can not or will not sign a contract to create.

Question of the Day: Do you think that YouTube should remain a completely user-generated site, an entertainment hub supplied by big labels and talent agencies, or something in between? I’m really curious to hear what you guys might think, so leave a comment down below to start the conversation!

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