Opinion: YouTube is now a TV platform, but when will it start acting like one?

 youtube launched

YouTube has come a long way from its humble start as a meme generator – the site that birthed the likes of the Numa Numa guy, MysteryGuitarMan, and Jenna Marbles. Today, it’s blossoming into a platform for the next generation of media and entertainment. But can YouTube really make the leap from online novelty to mainstream TV provider? Above and beyond the technological challenges, the site has an image problem it will need to address.

A quiet investment

Earlier this year, YouTube pledged $300 million to develop 100 carefully selected original content channels, some of which have yet to get off of the ground. Today, YouTube has one foot in its past as a clip factory, and another foot in its future as a TV platform. Unfortunately, YouTube’s current strategy makes it difficult for two brands co-exist on one platform.

YouTube has been shying away from publicly promoting the 100 channels it has been funneling money to. For instance, it takes three pages to find the list of YouTube Original Channels, which is buried within its “Advertising” link at the very bottom of the front page. Even on YouTube’s home page, it’s rather difficult to simply find an Original Channel. How many of you can identify a YouTube Original Channel or tell us the name of Felicia Day’s channel (no it’s not named “feliciaday” or “The Guild”)?

Not surprisingly, according to a source close to Digital Trends, the producers of the channels are for the most part left to their own devices for marketing and PR efforts. Behind the scenes, on the other hand, YouTube will support its Original Channels’ marketing efforts, but the extent of the help varies. This was more apparent when Machinima, which has been the top performing (engagement-wise) Original Channel, was publicly funded by Google.

It wouldn’t be too far off to presume that YouTube fears tainting users’ perception of the YouTube brand — the same platform we turn to for one-off videos of cats and memes. On the other hand, original Web series could potentially represent a more lucrative endeavor. At the end of the day, YouTube is a business driven by ad dollars, and not all advertisers want their messages running before clips of someone jumping into a ceiling fan.

Can Web TV ever really go mainstream?

The market for Web television remains in a fledgling state, but it seems like only a matter of time before a single Web show, like one featuring Justin Bieber or some other A-list celebrity, will open the floodgates and captivate the mainstream audience. Until that time comes, it will remain a kind of “underground” TV option.

In many ways, the rise of Web TV may parallel the rise of blogging. At one point, blogging was scorned as a second-rate authority on the news. Today we have public relations professionals jockeying to secure their clients coverage in technology blogs over even the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. And now we have Web writers crossing over into other parts of our culture, like prominent fashion blogger Bryan Boy, who is making the unprecedented jump from solo blogger to “America’s Next Top Model” judge.

YouTube is a platform, not the Web TV destination it wants to be

YouTube, too, has been driven by its community, growing thanks to the innovative thinkers that have embraced the platform. And it has capitalized on its content creator’s achievements. That said, it may need to do more than sprinkle money on channels to foster a real TV platform. The only thing keeping its YouTube personalities from making the jump to a new platform is the  competitive revenue share from earned advertising dollars. In fact YouTube is projected to earn $3.6 billion in gross revenue in 2012, according to Citi’s Mark Mahaney

To become the Web TV destination that it seeks to be, YouTube needs to accommodate the needs of its content creators. Until then, says YouTube filmmaker Freddie Wong, “It’s simply another video platform. YouTube has always been built with the masses in mind, and as such, simply can’t cater to the specific needs of content creators.”

Currently, the quality of YouTube’s Original Content and appeal isn’t sufficient to captivate mainstream audiences. According to a source who wished to remain unnamed, very few YouTube Original Channels have been performing to YouTube’s expectations. In fact, according to TubeFilter, panelists at the Digital LA NewFronts agreed that 90 percent of the funded YouTube channels will inevitably fail. But as YouTube begins to refine its strategy and experiments with its first 100 Original Channels, it may be losing its head start. Digital Broadcasting Group, Yahoo, AOL and other media properties are hot on its tail with its own Web TV shows. While YouTube is set to earn big this year, its long-term outlook is contingent on the execution and success of its channels, particularly in the coming year.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Opinion

As Amazon turns up the volume on streaming, Spotify should shudder

Multiple players are all looking to capitalize on the popularity of streaming, but it has thus far proved nearly impossible to make a profit. Could major tech companies like Amazon be primed for a streaming take-over?
Home Theater

Google’s Super Bowl surprise: YouTube TV is going nationwide

Just in time for the big game, Google has announced that it is expanding its YouTube TV live-streaming service from 100 of the biggest U.S. markets to cover 98 percent of American households.
Home Theater

Don't need sports or local channels? Philo can save you some dough

Philo is a super-affordable live TV streaming service, with an impressive channel list and feature set. With more hardware support and greatly improved TV Everywhere features, the service is now even easier to recommend.
Home Theater

Looking to cut cable? Here’s everything you need to know about Pluto TV

Pluto TV offers plenty of entertainment in a fashion similar to live internet TV services, only at no cost — you don’t even need to register. Too good to be true? Here’s everything you need to know.
Gaming

Goodbye, Machinima: YouTube gaming channel pulls the plug after 13 years

Machinima, a YouTube gaming channel that was launched in 2006, has suddenly shut down, with all of its videos set to private. The #RIPMachinima hashtag is now making the rounds in social media to reminisce about the channel's content.
Gaming

Throw out the sandbox. ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ is a fully realized western world

Despite featuring around 100 story missions, the real destination in Red Dead Redemption 2 is the journey you make for yourself in the Rockstar's open world, and the game is better for it.
Gaming

These are the best video games you shouldn't leave 2018 without

Developers showed up with a number of amazing games this year. Each capitalized on something unique but there's always one that outdoes them all. Here are our picks for the best video games of 2018 and game of the year.
Gaming

‘Diablo Immortal’ is just the beginning. Mobile games are the future

Diablo fans were furious about Diablo Immortal, but in truth, mobile games are the future. From Apple and Samsung to Bethesda and Blizzard, we’re seeing a new incentive for games that fit on your phone.
Movies & TV

He created comics, movies, and superheroes. But Stan Lee lived for joy

Stan Lee was a creator, a celebrity, an icon, and beneath it all, a real-life good guy with all the same human qualities that made his superheroes so relatable. And his greatest joy was sharing his creations with the world.
Music

Brian Eno sets out to change music (again) with Bloom: 10 World

We always felt that Bloom was a musical system that could be developed further -- it was as if we’d built a CD player and only ever released one CD. For this release, we’ve created ten new worlds, starting with a reimagined version of…
Computing

Can two operating systems coexist? The Pixel Slate thinks so

The Pixel Slate is a 2-in-1 device like no other. It’s not the most polished product we’ve ever used, but Google has laid the foundation for letting mobile and desktop software live side-by-side in peace.
Android

Why commercials in Android Auto could turn your dashboard into a dumpster fire

Google announced some tweaks to the Android Auto experience, focused on making messaging and media easier, but I worry about the future of the platform. For better or worse, there’s a real chance our dashboards could turn into dumpster…
Home Theater

Will Marvel’s shows lose their punch if they move from Netflix to Disney Plus?

Disney could pick up the Marvel shows being canceled by Netflix, but the idea raises all sorts of questions. Is continuing Daredevil, Punisher, or Jessica Jones on Disney's own streaming service a good move?
Gaming

‘Far Cry: New Dawn’ is a fresh, post-apocalyptic spin on a stale formula

Digital Trends visited Ubisoft's Montreal studio for an in-depth demo of 'Far Cry: New Dawn', the 'Far Cry 5' follow-up that's aiming to serve as both a sequel and standalone adventure in the sandbox series.