Finding Your Niche on the New YouTube

Curator's Note

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.


While the new design makes visual YouTube and Google's understanding of the site as an entertainment destination that distibutes commercials, this has always been their business model. Sure, many of us did and will use it for other things: teaching, self-expression. Interestingly, this use is what I call <a href=" in my video-book, <a href=""> Leearning from YouTube</a> (free on-line from the MIT Press, 2011): the experiences of crazy underliers who fall outside the logic of popularity (and capital) and are underserved by YouTube, even as we try to serve ourselves.


You are of course right that educators are the niche users of YouTube and that YouTube has always had commercial goals. My concern is that my "recommended" feed will start sending me to "channels" as opposed to other videos that will be helpful for teaching. Do you think the decision to redesign the interface may also be a decision to redesign the search and discovery algorithms? I mention they haven't changed the search function but I guess I should have said, "they haven't changed it, yet"

The role of search is the big question, I think. Right now, there's still too much money in search to abandon it, but if Google is successful in reaching these niches and selling them to advertisers, I wonder if the money from that will offset losses for shifting the search experience as well. I'm sure there's some profit-loss calculations going on in HQ, but ultimately it seems there are just two different paradigms at play: randomness (which the web does best) and curation/marketing (what TV excels at). 

The new layout on youtube is one that has changed the entire world of online promoting. Ads are taking the top third of the homepage and though it is specified to the user's desires (based on subscriptions and previous views) it no longer rewards popular youtube videos with "front page" glory. This is a huge change for anyone who has been on the site since its launch. They can make money from ad revenue, sure, but the money comes at the cost of relinquishing creative control and gaining constant surveillance.

People claim it is more like television in structure, but it is more monitored than TV and it is edited to make sure TV still has relevance. Shows post clips but never full series and not everything is available. You'll have to go to Hulu plus or Netflix for that. Credit cards only.  


Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.