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YouTube - The web at its best?
Micki Krimmel, 31 Mar 06 logoWe write a lot on Worldchanging about participatory media and I am especially interested in new distribution platforms that lower the barriers to entry for creative expression. The recent explosion in online video has become my current obsession. Working in Hollywood, it’s been really interesting to see the professionals around me taking notice. While I’m surprised it took him this long, I was thrilled to read that Dale Cripps (HDTV Magazine) recently discovered, and the many rising talents posting their work there.

YouTube is the most popular online destination for watching and sharing videos. They are currently serving up over 30 million videos a day and that number is steadily growing. In a matter of minutes, you can create an account, upload a video (up to 100MB), and make it easily searchable by adding tags and putting it in the appropriate channel. There couldn’t be an easier way to get your content out there in front of potentially millions of people. It’s the people coming together at YouTube that make it really interesting and give it worldchanging potential. YouTube has more of a sense of community than most other video sites (including Google Video and iFilm). Groups, public tags, and user interaction create a real feeling of collaboration. Like on most sites of its kind, it’s up to the users to decide which videos get the most attention as the highest rated and most viewed pieces rise to the top. Some videos have been viewed thousands, even millions, of times. The opportunity for such huge exposure is completely new to amateur filmmaking and could change everything about how filmmakers get noticed and get their work out to the masses.

Dale Cripps points out the huge potential for up and coming filmmakers to be discovered as their work gains recognition on YouTube. Smartly, he has began contacting some of the brightest talents and encouraging them to consider careers as HDTV programming producers. I can’t imagine other professionals in Hollywood aren’t also mining YouTube for emerging talent. Cripps imagines a global film contest ala “American Idol” where the winning filmmaker receives funds to produce a professional movie. While I think videobloggers making the crossover to “professional” movie-making is interesting, the bigger story here is the potential for YouTube (or another service like it) to become the new model for distribution.

As bandwidth increases, the quality of online video will improve and sharing longer format content will become easier and easier. And you won’t have to sit at your computer to watch it. You’ll be able to have content delivered to your television via IPTV or take it with you on your iPod. Sites like YouTube are connecting content creators directly with consumers and giving viewers more options for what they watch and how they watch it. As the technology for online distribution improves, the power shifts from the old Hollywood distributors and cable companies into the hands of the producers and consumers. Our viewing habits will become more personalized as we move toward a model where we pull content into our homes rather than have it pushed at us.

Does this mean the end of the blockbuster? I don’t think so. People are always looking for something to connect them. Did everyone you know go see The Lord of the Rings because they’re huge fantasy adventure fans or because they felt they had to be a part of the cultural movement? Once marketing and word of mouth drives interest in a movie to the tipping point, it will reach critical mass – regardless of the distribution platform. It’s the same for books, music, and what we now call “viral videos.”

This unruly and decentralized dissemination of content has Hollywood in a panic. The MPAA is doing all it can to convince viewers to go to the theater and to (I think) spread propaganda that movies on the internet = piracy. In two short sentences of his article, Cripps outlines what might possibly be the business model of the next entertainment powerhouse.

If you embed advertising in your product and make the right contractual agreements it will make no difference whether your product is stolen and redistributed to a million other web sites or stays secure on one. Advertisers will pay on the number of views (information relayed by every means from Nielson or the likes back to the mother ship) and not by which site has served up the movie. ( is a new video-sharing start-up with a similar business model – adding ads to user-submitted videos and tracking views as they disseminate throughout the web. Ad revenues are split 50/50 with the content creator.)

If I were a Hollywood studio, I would be spending less time criminalizing internet users and more time sealing deals with advertisers and big brand companies. The new power jobs in Hollywood will be for programmers and product placement professionals. A studio could continue to monetize their product through the new distribution model and could also create a new source of income by connecting advertisers with the masses of citizen content creators.

We’ve examined the role of the content creator, the consumer, and the distributor under this new model of video sharing. But what about the rest of the world? What impact could a site like YouTube have on global culture? Cripps points out the obvious world-flattening effects of bringing millions of young people together to share their passions and their lives through personal movies and videoblogs.

How can they not find both their commonality as well as their uniqueness? ... When adulthood overtakes these young artists and communicators they will inevitably lead a cultural vision forward that will abandon the divisive barbs and snares used to protect despots of the past and become fixed on leading a society of open minds to a common point where all people may mutually discover the keys to peace.

How could YouTube take an even more active role in fostering this global understanding? What if the tools allowed you to take the sharing of content one step further and encouraged real interaction and collaboration? I was talking about this with my videoblogger friend, Kris Krug, and he explained to me that when you upload a video to YouTube, the file is converted into their flash player and the data is locked down forever. You can use YouTube’s embeddable player to show the video wherever you want but you can’t download the data or retrieve it from most RSS aggregators. I’m sure YouTube’s reasons for this model are a combination of copyright issues (YouTube is not in the file-sharing business), bandwidth issues, and a whole host of other business concerns I couldn’t even imagine. But if YouTube would allow users to take that next step and really engage with the content as a community – to download it, remix it, and move it around the web at will – they would go from being merely a distribution platform to a real hub for content creation and collaboration. Then young people across the planet wouldn’t just be watching each others’ videos, they’d be creating them together. Clearly, not every user is going to want to allow such free use of their content but they should be given the opportunity to select their level of copyright protection. See

YouTube users can already create groups based on a particular issue and some activists are beginning to organize there. Think about the potential if members could use these groups more collaboratively. Citizen journalists could join forces and combine their footage into a compelling documentary. The community’s rating system could help them decide which scenes make the final cut. Hundreds of 30 second natural disaster clips could be put together, transforming them from gratuitous shock videos into a more accurate historical account of an event or a call for help for a particular region.

For a site that's only been around for about a year, YouTube is clearly making a big splash. As they move forward as a company, they will surely have to tread tricky waters to remain profitable and to avoid the wrath of the MPAA. Perhaps YouTube's popularity will put the company in a position to challenge the current copyright system and help turn the web into the free and open place it should be. Take us out, Cripps:

The writing is on the wall. Big, BIG change is coming as bandwidth increases to the home. A rich new universe of artistic expression is destined to come from the kids growing up with their incomparable tools for collaboration, production, and distribution... Anything holding too firmly to the past will suffer when the new inevitably begins to supplant it. These young producers will be making marketable content and attracting audiences at an earlier age than ever before. They will have both time and perspective on their side to gather powerful teams of collaborators, to refine the arts of production, and will have gained distribution skills that simply don't exist today. Their produce will be distributed to any and all displays--huge in electronic theaters, big in HDTV homes, small in handhelds. The consumer/beneficiary of this phenomenal era will have something well-worth seeing, hearing, and writing home about.
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We're currently involved in several sustainability-related projects in which the work of young media producers, from interviews, to docs, to news packages, are fed into the creative commons to be seen and/or incorporated by other producers into their work, following the sampling/open source model. We use our media, which in turn is part of the internet archive.

Posted by: Will on 1 Apr 06

internet archive is awesome. and while lotsa people say they really like youtube, I find the 100Mb limit very um, limiting.

See i made some climate change documentaries (1st one is finally up but a better version is up by next weekend) an dthey can't fit onto the 20 or so utubes.. videoGoogle can handle the size, and that to me is very imprortant. Are we going to democratize the media but only for short clips?

Posted by: lee on 1 Apr 06

An article like this would not be complete without mention of the Democracy Player:

"Democracy Player is a new kind of browser for watching videos-- grab webpages with video and video RSS feeds (including podcasts, video blogs, and BitTorrent feeds), and watch them full screen, one after the other. It's free and open source."

"I'm pleased to support the Democracy platform, because it will enable, for the first time, a large-scale Internet video creation and distribution platform which, because it is based on open standards and open source software, will be available to everyone."
-Mitch Kapor, Chair, Open Source Applications Foundation

Posted by: John Humphrey on 1 Apr 06

YouTube is cool, but is not the real exciting application. Veoh is!

Veoh is YouTube on Super Steroids. While YouTube is a simple video sharing site, Veoh is a real broadcasting system. If you are a filmmaker, an aspiring TV producer, or just a guy/girl in your home wanting to broadcast real television, Veoh is amazing.

YouTube is a fad, Veoh is the future.

Posted by: Simon Brandor on 2 Apr 06

Here is an example

Posted by: Simon Brandor on 2 Apr 06

There was an article on TechCrunch recently about an upcoming service called MotionBox that looks to have the potential to surpass many of the current services on features and radness:

To get what Motionbox is doing, take a YouTube and add a ton of really great editing, mashup and deep tagging features. Like YouTube, Motionbox transcodes files to flash to reduce file size and standardize viewing. But they also store the original files and allow you or those you authorize to download those files and/or purchase DVDs with the files.
Motionbox - Best Online Video Sharing So Far

I'm most excited by the deep tagging, but who wouldn't be, really?

Posted by: thedaniel on 3 Apr 06

Thanks, Daniel! I can't wait to see Motionbox in action. TechCrunch also did a really helpful comparison chart of the video sharing services out there: While YouTube clearly has the majority of mindshare at the moment, this space is still up for grabs and there are lots of worthy competitors out there. I'd love to hear more from readers if you have other preferences.

Posted by: Micki Krimmel on 3 Apr 06

Your timing of this piece great. The ability of alternative culture, especially the environmental movement, to improve their outreach with is amazing. The global warming ads are really exciting and have gotten some neat traction
I uploaded a few of the Chevy Tahoe culture jamming videos to my account last week and over 1,000 people have watched them.

Posted by: Eric on 3 Apr 06

You didn't mention anything about Youtube's user agreement.

Posted by: Steve Garfield on 6 Apr 06



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