Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Is YouTube Too Big to Have a Really Big Show?

YouTube Music Awards 2013 - Show

FilmMagic for YouTube Music Awards

The best-case scenario for last night’s YouTube Music Awards was that they would do something really cool with live music and live video that we haven’t seen before.

And that’s what they did, for the show’s first six minutes. This is actress Greta Gerwig, performing with Arcade Fire, directed by Spike Jonze, and it’s pretty great:*

Update: Hah! Just kidding! That clip used to work. Now it contains the best DMCA takedown notice ever. Here’s the official clip:

I’m not sure about the rest of the show. Then again, I was watching it live from a soundstage in lower Manhattan, which is probably a bad place to evaluate a streaming video show. Presumably, the best place to watch it would have been your laptop — or, just as likely, your phone.

The Twitter and Web commentary I did see had a negative cast to it, but I take that with big chunks of salt, because that’s what Twitter and Web commentary usually looks like.

And, if you’re in business with the Grammys or MTV’s Video Music Awards, you’re probably pretty pleased with yourself this morning. YouTube’s view-counters showed a peak audience of about 220,000 concurrent viewers during the show’s livestream — a fraction of what the established shows get.

A bit more surprising was the lack of a Miley moment last night — something shocking, or fake-shocking, designed to reverberate outside of the event. YouTube had at least four potential provocateurs up onstage, but Eminem, Lady Gaga, MIA and Tyler the Creator were all very well behaved.**

But, regardless of how YouTube tweaks and/or overhauls future shows — and I hope they keep experimenting — I wonder how they’re going to grapple with a fundamental problem: They won’t ever be able to please their audience, because their audience is permanently atomized.

YouTube’s core audience does have some stuff in common — it’s young, and it likes music — but after that, things get pretty specific. Line up YouTube’s biggest acts, and you’ll find lots of crossover between fans — and lots of blind spots, too. That’s going to happen when everyone watches you on their own screen, on their own time.

Big Media award shows have to cater to broad and diverse audiences, too. But nothing close to this big and, perhaps more problematically, this diverse. YouTube has more than a billion viewers, watching from all over the world, and some stuff just doesn’t translate.

Example of the night: Girls’ Generation, which won the “video of the year” award, which was supposed to go to the most “watched, shared, liked, and subscribed-to artists.”

Since Girls’ Generation is a “K-pop” act that performs primarily in Korean, the crowd at YouTube’s warehouse last night didn’t seem to have any idea who they were, which made for some uncomfortable silence at the time. I gather that you could hear that on the Webcast, too.

I give YouTube credit for creating an awards show where that scene could happen.*** But I wonder if they’ll be tempted to sand off the edges for future shows, to make sure there’s nothing remotely marginal in them. That wouldn’t feel like YouTube, but it might be tempting for YouTube to try.

* You’ll have to put up with a slightly grainy version, because YouTube has yet to get the blessings for an official clip. Go figure. (a)

** Or at least they behaved in ways that won’t be considered shocking, because it’s on YouTube. If Tyler the Creator performed the same act on broadcast or even cable TV, heads would explode.

*** Unless you want to posit a conspiracy theory involving Kia, the Korean car company that was the award show’s primary sponsor. That would be good!

(a) See above!

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