A lot has been made of the great TV vs Online TV debate in recent months, not least by the owners of Youtube (that would be Google, which should be no surprise!). It’s certainly true that Youtube, Netflix and Hulu are changing the way in which we view videos and TV. However, claims by Eric Shmidt that internet video has already replaced TV may be a little premature. In many Western countries, the US and the UK included, the facts suggest otherwise. TV viewing figures since the 1950s have been going in only one direction; upwards. Reports from Neilsen show that average household viewing in the US in 1949 – 50 was 4.35 hours and that had grown to 8.71 hours. These figures are per household and may mask some differences in age/viewing hour’s statistics but the reality is that TV remains dominant in terms of our viewing hours. Younger people, across the years, have watched less TV than adults and with age the viewing hours per person does increase. Children on average spend slightly over 27 hours per week in front of the TV while those over sixty spend at least double that. So does video streaming on sites like Youtube (and the attempt by providers like Netflix to break the stranglehold of terrestrial TV) look likely to make any progress any time soon?
Old media, in its many formats, has been on the defensive for some time now. The music industry, journalism, publishing and gaming (admittedly not that old a media, unless you count crosswords) have all battled with varying success against the massive changes that the internet has brought to their doorsteps. These changes have both transformed all of these industries and yet throughout this period of rapid developments TV has, as yet, stuck its ground. There have been changes; time-shifted viewing is becoming increasingly common and some of it is now online, via ‘On Demand’ services offered by broadcasters. While TV viewing figures have taken a small dip in recent years, this has been offset by the number of people watching TV online via traditional broadcaster’s own site. Google’s argument that the ‘war’ is over and that it has won seems somewhat misplaced by TVs considerably strong performance in the face of the competition.
Youtube, which is now part of the Google group of businesses, started life as nothing more than a place where small clips of video footage could be found. Since Google took over, however, there have been clear indications that the company intends to become a cheaper, more flexible alternative to cable TV. It has a lot in its favour; the scale of reach that the site has (global) and the fact that its stated aim is to be able to deliver video to any device – something that not all online TV channels and Youtube competitors can claim – means that Youtube is well placed to deliver an alternative option from traditional broadcasting. The take up rate in terms of viewing is pretty impressive too; 6 billion hours of Youtube videos per month shows that the site is well placed to corner the market.
Challenges For Youtube
There is a downside to the scale and reach that Youtube offers as well; the big difference between TV and Youtube has already been defined as ‘reach’ vs ‘engagement’. The two media have subtle differences in how they work. Youtube is seen as offering a more interactive option than TV, and this is certainly true. However the site’s accessibility for independent broadcasters means that finding the video, the content or the programme you want is not as easy as with traditional TV. The output of Youtube is as close as we can get to infinite and with quantity the pay-off is often quality. This issue has already begun to plague the struggling publishing industry; with self/independent publishing achievable with a couple of clicks the amount of e-books available is mind boggling. The pay-off here is the same that Youtube faces, finding a good book is now a considerable challenge. In publishing the trend has also been towards niche markets; for example, you can’t chuck a sharpened stake without hitting a teen vampire these days and if you want zombie free literature you’ll be lucky. This trend is already also clear on Youtube; there may be infinite (or potentially infinite) channels, but many do cater to niche audiences.
What’s in it for the Viewers?
From the viewer’s point of view this battle between the old and new media in the broadcast forum is probably, almost certainly, good news. The reality is that as well as being hooked to our TVs we are also increasingly hooked to various technologies that connect to the net. Youtube’s viewing figures (see the info-graphic provided by youtube downloader) are seriously impressive and with better speeds (less buffering time has been a priority of Google owned Youtube) the chances are that we’ll be watching more (and more diverse) broadcasting thanks to the site. Whether it will ever take over from TV remains to be seen, but it seems certain that the future will offer greater choices for us all.
Clint Hazard, a freelance writer and blogger takes a look at the future of TV and asks if Youtube will ever replace it.