*This column was co-authored and researched by William Barrie.
30 years ago, the only way you could watch anything was at a theatre, or on the television. This meant that the content you were consuming was always curated by someone else, a television executive or a movie studio deciding what it was their audiences wanted. There were of course focus groups and research that went into these decisions, but this sort of research can only ever result in broad strokes which generalise diverse audiences.
Nowadays, we don’t have these same restrictions. As consumers of video and other content, we can curate what it is we want to see, as well as how and when we want to see it. The freedom to consume and curate offered to people by the dawn of the internet, and the differing tastes of those people has allowed YouTube channels to flourish, and streaming services like Netflix to grow to unprecedented commercial heights. For a younger generation, consuming content via a platform such as YouTube has become the norm, whilst watching television or going to the movies has become an archaic and out-dated practice.
With YouTube, you’re able to skip and select parts of shows and videos you want. One can search as specifically or as generally as they desire, allowing a broad spread of content to be ingested. Another key part of the YouTube experience in comparison to television is the lower levels of advertising that users are exposed to. There are no where near as many ad breaks when watching a video or show, which allows the viewer to move through a lot of content with far less advertising than TV can offer. Binge watching has become something of an epidemic thanks to streaming platforms, and there are those who see this as detrimental both psychologically and physically.
There are undeniable downsides to watching hours upon hours of content on YouTube, and a user can get easily caught in a “YouTube Black Hole.” When going through recommended videos, YouTube can get a user hooked in a cycle of watching video after video that they may not have considered searching for. This process can suck users further and further in, exposing them to content they may not have been exposed to otherwise. This can be beneficial in terms of discovering or learning about new topics, whilst it can have negative effects on sociality and mental health as well.
The sheer number of channels, variety and versatility on YouTube gives users the ability to tailor what they consume entirely to their own unique set of interests. By adopting niche markets, many channels have found great success, by meeting individual tastes that major television networks or film studios couldn’t possibly do, due to fear of alienating their core, broad audiences. A channel like Buzz Feed Blue allow viewers to learn about jobs they may never heard of, and how those jobs are done, with a humours edge. Ink Masters challenges aspiring, wannabe tattoo artists to create unique and inspiring art that falls outside of the norm. Channels like WSL allows viewers to watch the highlights of surfing competitions, and there are dozens of channels which implement the same technique for other sports – this means that viewers don’t have to watch a full game, and can just experience the best moments. Channels like Boiler Room or KCRW give music lovers the opportunity to experience live band and DJ sets in their entirety, uninterrupted. Comedy and skit shows have surged on YouTube, often partaking in outrageous, gross out humour that would be one step too far for traditional media outlets.
With YouTube demonstrating longstanding dominance over the online video streaming world, social media platforms such as Facebook are throwing their hat in the ring and joining the fray. The soon to be revealed Facebook Watch is a more interactive version of YouTube that connects people via their TV interests, through streaming shows. Facebook Watch has the right base ideas to become stronger than YouTube in time, as it is more social and interactive, allowing people to connect through the content they enjoy. Currently YouTube remains superior, as it has a wide range of content that can be accessed – whether that’s movies, TV shows or community created content. In saying this, Facebook Watch looks to be an easy way to watch TV shows, and will allow people to find new TV shows they may have never known about due to the connection the community can make together via comments and recommended shows.
The dominance of online viewing is not going away, and is only growing in reach and popularity. Whether Facebook Watch surpasses YouTube, or a new player enters the field to take the crown, there will always be innovative video content online through which users can tailor their own experience. Perhaps this is the biggest paradigm shift in history in regards to how we consume media. For the first time in our existence, we can specifically choose what we want to watch and how we want to watch it, allowing us to be the masters of our entertainment domains.