Monday 27th March 2017,
Televisual

Will Google TV and YouTube Leanback Bind Filmmakers to YouTube?

Google TV has been a big presence in tech news all year, and it seems a consensus might be building that if any company is going to seamlessly merge the web and TV — which various companies have been doing and trying to do for at least 10 years — it’s Google. Reviews for the platform are mixed, but the coverage alone suggests it’s a game-changer.

My question: what would the success of Google TV, with its seamless integration of YouTube, do to the market for original web video?

NewTeeVee and the San Francisco Chronicle have done a great job covering the various ways Google is relying on YouTube for managing and finessing its TV platform. Right now, the networks are balking, though I highly doubt deep-pocketed Google will exist long without them.

The really interesting question for me is how much Google TV enhances YouTube. Making it onto television is still a goal for many web video producers. If they’re not going to make through one of the major networks, getting on through an elegant TV app seems the next best thing. If viewership goes up, will all filmmakers be forced to publish on YouTube, whether they want to or not?

NewTeeVee thinks YouTube Leanback, Google’s TV-friendly and easy-to-use platform, could be the “holy grail”:

The “lean back” experience could be the holy grail of web video viewing, if YouTube can get it right. Currently, most users watch just 15 minutes of YouTube a day on average, Hunter Walk told reporters at a press event in July. But they watch five hours of TV, most of which is spent passively viewing what’s on. YouTube’s challenge, then, is to recreate a viewing experience where users don’t have to flip through videos finding the next thing they want to watch, but to provide them a continuous stream of compelling content. If it succeeds, viewers will spend more time on the site, YouTube video creators will get more views, and advertisers will show more ads. Everyone wins.

Aren’t all filmmakers on YouTube anyway? No! In fact, a sizable number of content creators would rather stay as far away from YouTube as possible, preferring to publish on more targeted sites focusing on comedy, or curating web series or targeting ethnic audiences, where their content won’t get lost.

YouTube is awash in content and the most subscribed users are now a stable list of familiar names. New stars emerge all the time, but getting your content noticed when YouTube clocks billions of streams every week is a major challenge.

But the implications of a powerful YouTube-television connection could change the equation, especially for those investing a lot of time and money into web series with higher production values. In the end, this might not be a problem. Most web video distribution deals are non-exclusive these days, meaning producers would be free to publish on YouTube and any other more niche site.

Yet if that trend were ever to change — if, for instance, viewership for quality films shoots up with the rise of Google TV — there could be a tug of war between independent video networks and the YouTube powerhouse, with content creators stuck in the middle. If that ever happened, I honestly don’t know who would win.

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

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