October 26, 2014

Battle Of The URLS: YouTubers vs Mainstream media

Screen shot 2014-10-26 at 22.40.25Everyone is confused, but excited. The Sunday Times newspaper, founded in 1821 (and my personal favourite of them all) features a 21-year-old YouTuber in high resolution on it’s glossy Sunday magazine cover this weekend, called Alfie Deyes. The words underneath the image of his face are slightly sarcastic: “silly, pointless, selfie-obsessed“. It’s quite clear to the reader that he has already been palmed into the same camp as shiny-haired Justin Bieber, or tragicomedy Jedward. Yes, he is partial to wearing jewellery and has a pop-star haircut, but to snigger at his success is to make the same mistake as judging a book way too early by its cover. The reality is that Alfie Deyes has a brand that has turned him into a Sunday Times bestselling author, even though his book doesn’t consist of many words. They sort of had to put him on the cover. I bet they didn’t really want to. But that, in itself, is interesting.

Suddenly we have a group of individuals who are potentially as powerful as an old media-house.

Divided opinions to one-side, YouTubers like Alfie deserve to be treated as a hallmark for this bizarre shift in the media landscape. Right now is a strange no-mans land of Internet freedom vs newspapers freaking out about their commercial objectives. Men in grey suits are getting annoyed. These YouTubers mark this massive shift in the industry, whether they like it or not. Why are the newspapers and advertising networks suddenly all over the YouTubers like a rash? Because Alfie and the other YouTuber crew can sell things.

They properly sell things because they’re not asking for much. It’s the result of a snowball effect, and this is the beauty of the shift in eyeballs. It’s totally based on a voluntary audience – people type these names into Google. They subscribe because they want to. They are not being interrupted, except for an advert that lasts a few seconds; this beats the boring-as-shit ads on TV that drone on and on before XFactor or The Apprentice. YouTubers sell things base on customer demand. Write a book please. We want to see this type of video next. Can you film something with your sister? Come to Ireland. Sell some t-shirts with your face on. They respond to the requests of their massive and loyal community. Something a lot of companies could learn from. Because – are they really listening?

As a result, the YouTubers are scrutinised for not being perfect, or having shit videos. There’s always a small percentage of people who find chirpy young people irritating. In a sheer panic, one online publication ran a think-piece about one of my favourite YouTubers Zoella, criticising her for being a bad model to girls. Young audiences who grew up with the Internet are savvy. This didn’t wash with them. They know what click-bait is. And it certainly looked like click-bait.

We should also remember they didn’t actually ask for the fame in the first place. Of course serious authors are going to find them irritating. Of course anyone over the age of 25 will roll their eyes. But I don’t see this group as just video clowns, I totally respect them as entrepreneurs (that’s what they are; they are building empires) but I can openly admit I would never settle down to read Alfie’s book. But do you know what? That’s OK – I am not their target audience. I am objectively praising them for their success. Someone like Alfie, who hasn’t even been traditionally media trained can appear on This Morning or Saturday Kitchen and be flawless – funny, charismatic, inoffensive. To have these skills of being TV-friendly, filming your own content, editing it, having the energy to do it every day, interview well, go to meetings, create things, manage shitloads of different social media channels, travel, brainstorm ideas, multi-task, evolve, develop — that is the sort of person that I would want to employ.

The media world has changed and is changing and will change again. Vlogging is the new blogging, it’s an interesting format to consume when there is nothing on TV. We stream, we play, we pause, we listen, we watch three screens at once. We show a clip of YouTube to friend on our phone, whilst they’re on their laptop, whilst we’re both watching TV. This is life.

The point of all of this is: we all have our channels, our own waves of communication. You and me. Alfie and Zoella. These “silly videos” are no different from watching You’ve Been Framed on TV or watching some of the housemates on Big Brother plait each others hair, except it’s not being dedicated to by a bossy big cheese CEO has chosen people through a painful selection process. Goodbye middle man. These 20 somethings deliver their lives straight to our laptops, and it’s their choice. Mark Zuckerberg made a billion pounds all because he realised human beings are fucking nosy and built something that caters to our nosiness. We are all so nosy. We want to know what other people’s kitchens look like. We want to know if someone is happy or depressed, and the reasons for both. We want to know what people have in their fridge. The people who shout WHO CARES at YouTubers are just frustrated because they don’t want to watch it. The same reaction as me whenever the football is on.

Coincidentally Daily Mail’s You magazine features four “super bloggers” on its front page today, showing slightly more professionally shot familiar faces. These new type of media “celebrities” aren’t introduced by the size of their mansions, or Hollywood partners, or screaming fans, it’s ALL about the followers. Meet [insert name] who has 2.3 million followers, the interviewee announces. More than the prime minister, they explain. More than the population of Finland, they point out. Forget all other metrics, you guys.

It’s still slightly jarring and a bit off-kilter to see “internet celebs” in the mainstream media. I guess it’s always interesting when national newspaper suddenly “cottons on” to things. (It’s always a bit late, too). Things continue to evolve slowly and grow in popularity, but when “a new thing” reaches that point of being mainstream, the papers jump all over it. “Vlogging” isn’t new, it’s just become better quality. Technology has evolved, meaning the type of content people can make at home has improved and can be a true competitor of traditional sources. The YouTube and blogging crew have been in this game for years and now it’s all paying off. And to anyone who has a voice and WIFI connection, that’s fucking exciting.

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