PRELUDE: So I have an article out on Flow TV on the economic and ideological debate between web series producers and YouTubers. I wrote the piece in September after this debate, which sometimes comes back: YouTubers get views, but web series get quality, so which is better? In some ways, the debate is still relevant, but it’s changing, as advertisers and Hollywood start to create more web video, sites like Hulu increase in value, YouTubers start alternative channels and create longer form video, and YouTube itself considers a deal with a web series network (though web series that are more viral in nature). But hopefully the piece still reveals interesting dynamics in the web video market.
ORIGINAL: Few people have heard of Strike TV. The web video network, started in 2008 by Hollywood professionals protesting during the writer’s strike, was an act of revolt against the industry. But it was also a protest against the industry’s antithesis: YouTube. Caught in the middle, between an industry trying to control the web and the user-generated Internet, filmmakers, writers and directors decided to strike out on their own. “There wasn’t an outlet online for us,” founder and CEO Peter Hyoguchi told me. “There’s not a lot of incentive for a Hollywood professional to put something on YouTube when it’s going to be shoulder to shoulder with a cat jumping on a piano.” Strike TV started its own website, while still cross-distributing on YouTube, to showcase independent films and web series made by professionals working outside the industry system: content intended to have crisper writing and cinematography than YouTube’s most popular videos.
After five years of domination, YouTube is synonymous with web video. Yet almost since its early years, the site has had strong detractors and competitors, mostly from corporations seeking more control over content and more advertiser-friendly spaces. The problem of YouTube has always been about control over the growing market for web video. Over the last few years a new group of YouTube detractors has emerged: independent and professional filmmakers and entrepreneurs like those who populate Strike TV. The complaint is about control, again, but also highlights broader qualms about the digital economy. Plainly, YouTube has come to represent the chaos of the web itself, the chaotic home to amateurs churning out low quality content to rack up views from low ad rates.1 What YouTube’s critics seek is a more sustainable and less “viral” way to fund non-corporate content: a sustainable industry for independent web video.
A late-summer imbroglio reveals the tension. In what has become its own genre of reporting, The Business Insider published a list of “the richest independent YouTube stars,” all of which earned more than six figures.