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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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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