On December 1st, 2011, YouTube released a video, “Get More Into YouTube,” that previewed and promoted its redesigned interface. The major focus of the redesign was to “channelize” YouTube by asking users to subscribe to the video feeds of particular content creators. YouTube has long had a subscription function but the redesigned interface makes this the primary feature of the website, framing YouTube as an entertainment destination like HBO instead of a place to search for the clips everyone is talking about. For many users, “Getting More Into YouTube” would mean abandoning their current habits and joining a “monetizable” niche demographic.
As of today, the content recommended to me by YouTube reflects the random way I use the site. I primarily use it to search for clips for class and to check out videos sent to me by friends. If I were to begin using YouTube as an entertainment destination, and subscribe to multiple channels, it would be easier for Google advertisers to begin marketing to my tastes. I am not as unsettled by this prospect as many of my colleagues or the 15,000 people who “disliked” the video announcing the website redesign, I am more concerned with the way YouTube, a website that originally promoted itself with the motto “broadcast yourself,” is abandoning its digital ethics to become a better version of television.
Robert Kyncl, Vice President of Global Content Acquisition for YouTube, argues, “people prefer niches because ‘the experience is more immersive.’” Kyncl describes the history of mass media as a path from broad to narrow with YouTube as the culmination of narrowcasting. He has even claimed that television will soon be just one more app on our living room flat screens, as YouTube and other digital platforms deliver a more enjoyable entertainment experience.
In his book Niche Envy, Joe Turow makes the point that the cost of personalization is privacy, those willing to accept the intrusiveness of digital entertainment are rewarded with a more “immersive” experience while those who prefer privacy are discriminated against. People can still use YouTube as a video clip search engine (the computer programmers for the site have not redesigned the search feature), but we should realize that the interface is intended to lead us through the process of defining ourselves, finding our niches and submitting to the new business model.