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1 December 2012updated 03 Dec 2012 8:43am

How YouTube revolutionised television

Why internet TV is here to stay.

By Bim Adewunmi

When I went to university a decade ago, YouTube was but a glint in the eye of its founders. It’s true: look it up. It has now passed from independent ownership to become a subsidiary of our internet overlords, Benign Skynet aka Google (founded 1998, if we’re mining this date seam). And in the same way that I cannot imagine a Google-less world, a YouTube-free world is unthinkable. Where, for example, would I go to get my fix of the star-making and sadly almost over The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl?

YouTube, the baby of co-founders Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, is a beast. Its rise is almost mythical, but it has transcended myth and become the daily reality of a huge chunk of Earth’s population. Every minute, we upload 72 hours of video to the site, and in 2011, YouTube had more a trillion hits – around 140 views for every person on Earth. I took the time to note my YouTube use in the last week, and concluded that I probably did more than my fair share of 140 views; I’ve become something of a YouTube addict.

The number one use for YouTube in my unscientific poll was music-sharing; from the very latest to the very oldest to that-which-is-not-available-on-Spotify. Others used it as some sort of powerful nostalgia engine, whether for harking back to the television and movies of their youth (I myself watched episodes of SuperTed and Danger Mouse this week) or great goals of Premierships Past. Yet others used it for humorous cat videos (inevitably) and DIY. The DIY element is one that I am familiar with: almost two years ago, after more than a decade of chemically straightening my hair, I cut it off and “went natural”. In the parlance of the natural hair community of YouTube, I had done a “Big Chop” (BC). Without YouTube, I would not know what the hell to do with the hair growing out of my head, so it makes up a fair part of my viewing. The second biggest chunk belongs to programming made specifically for the web.

The aforementioned Awkward Black Girl has made its creator and star, Issa Rae, a bit of an internet celebrity, and a couple of months back, she signed a deal to write and executive produce I Hate LA Dudes, a new show for ABC. The noise around Rae and other black web series productions has been deafening, and with good reason – for most of us it is often the only way to see original, non-stereotypical scripted programmes created by and starring people of colour. I’ve certainly written about the rise of the black web sitcom before. But watching those shows became a gateway to all the other programmes made exclusively for web audiences. Which brings me to an interesting channel called WIGS.

I’ve been watching it for a few months now, after being sent a link to a series starring America Ferreira, née Ugly Betty. Launched earlier this summer, WIGS is the brainchild of Hollywood producer Jon Avnet (alumnus of several films from Risky Business to Black Swan) and writer and director Rodrigo Garcia. It’s remit is wide: “high-end, original, scripted dramatic series and short films about the lives of women”, according to a blurb under one of its episodes. All of the programmes are named for their lead character, and the themes vary, from a speed dating night to the current mini-series, Kendra, which is about a post-op nurse recently returned from Iraq, where she lost a colleague who may or may not have been her girlfriend. The channel also produces unscripted content in the form of documentaries. WIGS is doing what a lot of these other web series do; the biggest difference here is the established quality of its contributors.  Alongside unknown performers, Avnet and Garcia have raided their bulging Hollywood and Broadway contacts books, and brought big names to their project: Oscar-nominated actress Virginia Madsen starred in their first series, and others such as Allison Janney, Catherine O’Hara, Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Beals among others, followed. According to Deadline’s channel ranking chart, in the week November 15 to 21, WIGS reached more than 212,000 viewers.

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Television is still king for many of us, and it will continue to be our primary source for scripted entertainment for years to come. But like many forms of old media, it will probably adapt to the new, and modify its systems in order to keep viewers interested and satisfied. Meanwhile, YouTube is big and possibly getting bigger, but it’s still a way away from becoming television’s Big Reckoning. TV on the internet is here to stay, though. And in that scenario, every viewer wins.

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