By going pro, YouTube risks alienating its amateur core

YouTube has bigger fish to fry.

No longer is YouTube just about viral memes and videos of people hurting themselves. The business model of online video is evolving and so too are the site’s priorities.

In October 2011, YouTube embarked on a campaign to attract more professional-grade content to the site, dolling out over $150million in cash advances to professional video creators offering slicker material with higher production value.

With this has come an influx of celebrity. Global superstars Madonna, Ashton Kutcher and Jaz-Z have all been drafted in to host YouTube channels, whilst Hollywood stalwart Tom Hanks is currently working on his own YouTube project.

However, such sweeping changes have left one group out in the cold: the legions of amateur video producers who helped transform the site into the entertainment colossus it is today.

YouTube has made several changes throughout the year that have pulled the rug from underneath the feet of its amateur core. One such change involved forcing users into adopting a more streamlined layout on their channels by slashing the number of customisation options available to them.

Tensions climaxed earlier this year when YouTube made significant changes to the algorithm used to decide how clips were recommended to viewers. Thousands of amateur producers protested that the move favoured longer, more professionally-produced material uploaded by high-profile channels, relegating their own content to the YouTube wilderness. 

Unfortunately for these users, these moves are symptomatic of a site maturing in line with digital entertainment’s changing ecosystem. In the US market, the projected revenue from digital advertising is expected to balloon from $2.4 billion this year to a whopping $7.1 billion in 2015, when 40% of the US are predicted to regularly watch TV online, according to e-marketer.

Such game-changing statistics demand an improvement in the service YouTube offers. With the rise of digital streaming services such as Netflix and an increasing number of users opening Vimeo accounts, YouTube needs to remain competitive. Ultimately, the sweeping transformation from user-generated content to professional programming could even aid the site in its quest to become the next-generation TV provider.

“Our big advertisers like the path that YouTube has taken”, says Andy Chapman, head of digital investment at Mindshare, a prominent American advertising agency.

“A number of clients say this looks and feels like the direction the market is going”

But in adapting to the evolving landscape of the video entertainment industry, YouTube runs the risk of alienating the creative, entrepreneurial lifeblood that fostered its rise. The site is seemingly forgetting its roots, but that’s business I guess.

Photo: Reuters

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.