Is someone like Jenna Marbles the future of the content medium?

I was looking around for some info to write a post about YouTube trends in 2013 — I honestly think YouTube is one of the coolest things that has ever graced the collective thing we call society — and came across a couple of different articles; I think I’ve embedded the YouTube Rewind for 2013 in a previous post, but I’ll also go ahead and embed it at the bottom of this post. If you just want to check out some trends, watch the video at the bottom or read this article. (There’s also a post over at the official Google blog.) One of the most interesting things I came across in my search was this article from The Guardianwhich covers a fairly common theme: that the music industry is turned on its ass (we’ve been hearing that since Napster, if not before) and the method and models of competing are different. It approaches it through the context of Jenna Marbles, who I believe currently has the sixth-most-subscribed YouTube channel (and the highest for one run by a woman). Here’s a couple of choice nuggets via that article and Scott Cohen, a music industry veteran:

“What are these kids teaching us that we’re missing? Because they’re doing things very differently to the way the music industry’s doing it,” said Cohen, who claimed that Marbles (real name: Jenna Mourey) is on track for $10m of earnings from a mixture of advertising and endorsements in 2013, driven by her YouTube channel’s 11.4m subscribers.

And then:

“YouTube is their social media platform. It is how they’re getting their message out. That is how they’re engaging with their audience. And it’s their revenue platform. When was the last time you saw an artist that had a really popular tweet that went viral: how much were they paid? On YouTube, you’re making money.”

And a third:

“The idea is attention equals money. No longer are we in a world where we’re selling products in units of things,” he said. “We now have to get our heads around that we’re not actually in the attention economy, and those YouTubers totally get it: they build their audience, feed them all week long, and that’s how they get their money.”

Admittedly, it is hard to make money on YouTube, although some (i.e. Marbles) are doing it. YouTube is basically trying to eventually compete with mainstream TV (which doesn’t really seem that far off, when you consider that Netflix might be producing one of the best shows out there right now in House of Cards and Amazon’s first foray into it with Alpha House is actually funny as hell). If YouTube gets the right content producers on board — which it is doing in some respects — it can easily be a place that people regularly turn to for original content. If Apple TV and Google TV (Chromecast) keep blowing up and people keep cutting the cable cord (I did that in August), it’ll be even easier to watch YouTube in your living room. So if there’s a cool show on there and it has the buzz of Google behind it, why wouldn’t you watch? For example, last night I was fucking around in my living room and I ended up watching this on my TV, via YouTube:

That video was about six minutes and it was essentially a psych experiment. If you’re going to add nine ads to a 30-minute show in clusters of three ads per (like Roku does) and you’re basically asking me for 22 minutes of my time to watch something via YouTube, hell yes. That’s only 16 minutes more than I just invested in a kid being confused by colors and shapes. The medium doesn’t matter so much as the content. The revenue-sharing program does need to be there, though.

Because YouTube has a strong “how-to” aspect to it, channels around beauty and makeup are becoming more popular. There’s no reason that channels around education (a big opportunity, I’d reckon), quick sports highlights, cooking, auto repair, etc. couldn’t gather the same type of steam. If YouTube threw some production value money at a low-level writer’s assistant from Breaking Bad with a dream who can’t get in front of “taste-makers,” they could shift the entire paradigm even further.

Personally I think Jenna Marbles is kinda meh, but I’m not a girl and I’m probably more bitter than most people I know, so take all that shit with a grain of salt. She can periodically definitely be funny.

In terms of YouTube sensations being the “future” of the content medium, maybe … but that seems like a long play more than an immediate one. There are so many places to go for content these days, and while YouTube does have two powerful brands connected to it (YouTube and Google, which are ostensibly the same thing), TV still has the money and the focus and the eyeballs. Stuff like the Katie Couric shift is good for the Internet, but it’s never going to compete with the money someone can rack up from selling a pilot to ABC or whatever. Content ultimately ties back to money (as do most things) and ads that can be generated with the content, and there’s going to be more money in TV for the short to intermediate future. You’re asking for a living room shift in culture to assume that will change; that honestly may require two full generations to shuffle off this mortal coil before the majority of people connected are viewing things through ChromeCast instead of a standard cable provider.

The biggest advantage YouTube might have, conceptually? On television, airtime is an extremely finite resource. On YouTube, it’s almost literally infinite. The biggest disadvantage? The amount of time people spend with TV vs. YouTube isn’t even a contest. People have been breathlessly waiting for it to be ‘the future of TV’ for a while. We’ll probably be waiting a while longer — but it has definitely changed how we access and contextualize the entertainment that’s all around us. (I fervently believe every single media provider should use YouTube for their embeds; it’s just cleaner, faster, and more recognizable to people. I also fervently believe that The Simpsons should take every clip off YouTube for free, scrub ’em all, and then make a special site that you need to pay $1.99 a month for to be able to embed and send Simpsons clips. I think they’d clean up. That’s not my idea; I saw it somewhere else. But … it’s good.)

So while you’re waiting for the revolution to, quite literally, be televised — start with this, because at base, we’re all just looking to be entertained:

Ted Bauer