On the point of things like YouTube

Ricky Gervais was recently quoted as saying:
“You can’t knock up an episode of The Sopranos or 24 on a little handheld digital camera. I don’t think you’ll ever be able to sidestep TV or DVD. But TV companies will embrace it.”

I’m not sure that TV companies will ever be able to embrace things like YouTube that easily, not unless they give up on the Hit Culture Needs Heavy Investment Lie. Even the CBS approach is to use YouTube as a delivery mechanism, a “channel”, for their “hit content”.

I think this is a variant of the infrastructure lie that seeks to suppress social software. Why do people think that good robust production of digital things needs heavy infrastructure investment? Maybe it’s because nobody got fired for buying .

I need to think about it. There is something disturbing about that lie. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy YouTube, as long as they let me see clips like this one and this one and this one.

8 thoughts on “On the point of things like YouTube”

  1. JP

    I don’t think I agree with you. RDF media is embracing this now with one of the fastest growing social networks to specifically support the “Shipwrecked” television show.


    One could argue that this is an example of “even more online promotional investment to guarantee a hit culture” or you could read it as “innovative media comapany starts trying to work out how to successfully combine online and offline culture”

    Paul Fisher

  2. You’re right Paul, I didn’t make the point I was trying to make. Using viral and social and “live’ ways of promoting Hit Culture stuff is fine, it works; using the same ways to increase interaction with the customer is even finer.

    Those are not the lies. The lies are to do with infrastructure investment. And the sense that nothing good comes out unless the heavy lifting gear is present. Same lie for social software. Same lie for anything low-cost. Same lie for small team sizes.

    That’s the point I was trying to make.

  3. I certainly get you JP, and contrary to my normal laughter induced snorts of “That’s so true” to Gervais utterances, on this topic I think he’s got it wrong and for a man with a minimalist “Lo concept” approach I think he is definitely missing a trick or two.

    Amazingly (or not possibly) the good old BBC are really making inroads to agile production and stripping that great lumbering mass inertia that comes with BIG infrastructure. An open source project from within “aunty” called Ingex (http://ingex.sourceforge.net/). Along with an infrastructure ethos “The creative desktop” is promising to deliver faster, smaller, cheaper production along with fewer steps in the translation of the creative germ into pictures which can’t be a bad thing. At best it can put telling stories and communicating back in the hands of story tellers and communicators, at worst more can be churned out quicker and the iterative influences of the market place can come to bare.

    I can certainly see the day when the BBC (or someone else with a brain) for instance can turn out great productions at a cost that makes putting it out on YouTube look like a transmission strategy in itself, not some marketing hook.

    I’d point Ricky Gervais at Apple and Sony myself, Apple with a Macbook or Powermac loaded with “Final Cut Studio” and Sony for one of their HVR-Z1E high-def camcorders and then ask if BIG infrastructure is needed?

  4. I think the quality and popularity of UGC (disgusting term) has surprised many in the mainstream media industry but I think there are other lies that us new-media types perpetuate, namely that Nothing Good Ever Comes Out Of Old Media and Old Media Doesn’t Get It.

    Gervais is actually a big proponent of low-cost media production — witness his very successful but very low budget Guardian podcast series. The point he’s making is that it’s impossible for low-budget independents to produce superb high-budget entertainment like The Sopranos or 24, with ensemble casts, cutting edge cinematography, special effects and so on.

    Both types of entertainment, hi and low budget have their place, and there are good and bad examples of both. Let’s not forget that for each UGC hit on youtube there are a million user-generated turkeys…

    On the other point — that Old Media Doesn’t Get It — I think there are some notable examples of programming that came out of networks like the BBC, Channel4 and the US cable networks which presaged the current flood of online UGC and which are rarely acknowledged by the new media revolutionaries.

    The BBC had (and still has) ‘Video Nation’ — equipping viewers with camcorders and allowing them to make their own self-documenting TV shows. Admittedly not entirely democratised television, but nonetheless this started in the early 90s, long before video blogs had been conceived.

    Likewise before that there was Manhattan Cable, and other ‘public access’ channels in the US which allowed ordinary folk to ‘broadcast themselves’. Remember Wayne’s World?

    And come to think of it the whole Reality TV genre — a massive proportion of broadcast content and ratings these days — is a manifestation of the appeal of low-budget production values (and the implicit appeal of higher margins of course).

    While they may seem far apart at the moment, over time I think youtube will move closer to the TV networks and they will move closer to it. After all they are both means to charge advertisers for connecting eyeballs with talent, and that age-old model will endure I’m sure.

  5. Instead of convergence with broadcast hegemony, romantic that I am I’m hoping youtube or something like it will multiply and preserve the experimental… its particularly well suited to early films, avant-guarde, mad obscure stuff that TV or cinema just does not have time for – not because its old media but because its mostly big media. Some of us do have time to find TV and Cinema that’s, well, let’s say obscure (or maybe I mean great…) but youtube has made it much easier to source and redistribute some of my favourite stuff. Even if it is sometimes only hagiographic archives of old Bill Burroughs, for example:

    Links here



  6. I think Gervais *is* half-right. If we are talking simply on the level of production values, then youtube-style productions don’t have the mass of things liek the Sopranos, which is more like a sustained film series.

    But of course, he is wrong that the whole thing *has* to be tied to TV or DVD, or that those production values are essential. DVD will go the way of CD within 5 years. Youtube may not give us the next Sopranos, but it will give us the next Twin Peaks, or Curb Your Enthusiam, or even The Office.

  7. Hi JP As someone who feels comfortable straddling both broadcast and social media worlds my concern is that there an awful lot people on the both sides who feel they need to justify their existence and their own preferences (predjudices) by attacking both the traditional and the new. The people seem perfectly able to cope with the diversity of content being delivered by the riptide of media revolution. They consume You Tube content and the X Factor, they can blog on My Space and still catch the latest Bond movie, they consult wikipedia and still wait every Sunday to watch the extraordinary Planet Earth all without giving a passing thought about the nature of convergence. I think Henry Jenkins at MIT is ahead of a curve on this. He sees states, markets and communities co-existing with tensions but not in open conflict. I think he is right. I am as excited by the potential of social media as anyone but am glad that I live in a nation which also has a vibrant commercial media (eg. Channel 4) and a socialised media (BBC). It is the pluralism of the outcomes of this mix that most excite me…

Let me know what you think

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