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5 October 2012

By going pro, YouTube risks alienating its amateur core

YouTube has bigger fish to fry.

By Alex Ward

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.

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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.