YouTube is in an interesting and precarious place at the moment. The platform has been incredibly successful, but is not under a lot of pressure to make money (at least directly in the here and now), belonging to Alphabet/Google with their bottomless pockets. This has led to some seemingly bizarre behaviour such as demonetizing “controversial” content, despite much of the affected content not being controversial at all (see The death of Internet advertising as we know it for more on this). Of course this could be put down to over zealous algorithms combined with poor management, however YouTube’s latest move is even weirder and cannot be an accident.
As you may have heard, YouTube/Google has allocated 25 million dollars to an initiative where they will be working with mainstream media organisations to, among other things, push “authoritative sources” to the top of search results. Especially for current events and topics which are apparently prone to misinformation.
This move seems to be an acknowledgement that many people are now going to YouTube for their news rather than turning on the TV or visiting a mainstream media site. They are probably thinking that because of this YouTube needs to be more “authoritative” and “professional”, filtering the more established sources to the top of search results. If Grandmas and Grandpas are going to be searching up news on YouTube these days then they need to be protected from conspiracy videos that could fool their senile minds. After all, these are the people who click sketchy banner ads and respond to Nigerian scanner emails. So that’s the lighter, more positive motivation for YouTube’s alliance with the MSM. We’ll get to the darker one later.
The mainstream media (hereafter referred to as the MSM) really does need help. That’s not to say they should get it. But they need it. The MSM is haemorrhaging young audiences to alternative media, and the old audiences are literally going to be dying off in the not-too-distant future. Broadcast television, where the MSM gets a lot of its revenue, has a median viewing age of 58 for CBS (the oldest) and 47 for Fox (the youngest). Adapting to the Internet is not easy for the MSM, as they have big studios and offices to maintain whereas the alternative media largely broadcasts from their basements and bedrooms. A tell-tale sign of this is talk of government assistance for declining MSM organisations, which was considered in Canada earlier this year.
But what does YouTube/Google have to gain by helping out the MSM? After all, people go to YouTube to not watch cable TV. The MSM is boring while YouTubers make things fun and interesting. One would think they’d be more successful by embracing the user-generated content which the audiences came for, rather than offering the mainstream corporate content they rejected. It doesn’t make sense. But it does.
In the 90s Microsoft had almost no presence in Washington. They didn’t spend much on lobbying (at one point they had only one lobbyist, the horror). They just minded their own business, developing and selling their products. However when a company becomes big and successful, they also become a big target. The political establishment wasn’t going to let Microsoft make lots of money without them getting their “fair share”. So when Microsoft dared to bundle their own web browser with their own operating system, they were dragged into court and raked over the coals, to teach them to “share” some of their success with Washington.
Google did not make the same mistake as Microsoft. These days they outspend all other tech giants on lobbying, to make sure things go their way. So circling back to YouTube’s alliance with the MSM, it could very well be that YouTube/Google are trying to curry favour with the political establishment so they can reap rewards later, or at least be left alone. Alternative media is a pain for the establishment, because unlike the MSM who rely on exclusive access to the government, the alt media is not beholden and thus cannot be controlled. It would therefore be quite convenient if videos with the “correct” establishment narrative were to appear at the top of YouTube search results, with anything dissenting from this pushed further down. The unfortunate reality is when there is a giant state at the centre of society, it will eventually compromise anything which becomes successful enough. YouTube/Google are likely just doing what they need to do in order to protect their business and not attract the wrath of the state.
Will these kind of changes damage YouTube? The platform already has a reputation problem with creators since Ad-pocalypse 1 and 2, and this is unlikely to help. However since there are no major alternatives for video sharing at the moment everyone who creates video content has not much choice but to publish on YouTube. The changes would therefore have to be quite aggressive to drive out significant numbers of creators and viewers. If a viewer has a hard time finding the kind of content they are looking for on YouTube because it has been almost totally buried, then they will stop using the site as much. On the other hand if they just have to scroll past the first few results from CNN and ABC in order to get to the “real” search results, much like the sponsored results in Google Search, then it’s unlikely to turn users away from YouTube in the near future.
Are there any alternatives to YouTube at all? The most prominent one used to be Vid.me, though they shut down recently. Nowadays the best platform seems to be BitChute. Unlike conventional video sharing site BitChute is a peer-to-peer network, in which a user simultaneously loads a video to watch from other users while uploading it to other users themselves. This means BitChute requires far fewer resources to operate than a conventional video sharing site, but also taxes the devices more that the video is being watched on. This is a problem for laptops and especially phones. Nonetheless it is a good idea to support BitChute as a backup, just in case YouTube eventually becomes unusable.