The end of television as we know it?
Will traditional television soon become obsolete? Probably not. But it does seem that corporate giant Google is making yet another move towards achieving this goal. As of last Friday it has been announced that YouTube (video-sharing website owned by Google) will come out with 100 new online TV channels which will be produced by celebrities (such as Jay-Z, Madonna or Tony Hawk), media conglomerates (Hearst and Reuters), as well TV as production companies (Lionsgate and FremantleMedia). Some of you might raise an eyebrow in disbelief, quoting already existing YouTube channels meant to be television look-alikes, such CNN, NBC or FOX News. The problem is that those are TV channels that simply post online shows that were originally produced for television audiences without modifying them drastically or creating only-only material. However, with the new and improved YouTube TV channels, the content will be original one, specifically created for the website’s users, and posted for the first time on the allocated channels.
Google has had a previous attempt at “online-television” through their Smart TV platform, Google TV, which was launched in November 2010 and with which the company had hoped to be able to break into the tough world of television providers. However, the service was received with lukewarm opinions. The viewer needed additional tools for searching through the available options (keyboard and mouse) and the results were often unpredictable since the search would go digging through TV, Web and app contents, thus providing rather random results. And with channels such as MTV, Nikelodeon and Comedy Central blocking their content from the service, it seems that Google TV has been sinking lower and lower, without serious hopes of revival.
Here is where the YouTube TV channels come in. Since Google failed at taking over the traditional TV market, already heavily dominated by large media corporations, it has decided to create its own content, claiming to be the next generation of television. The selection seems to be quite varied, from comedy channels (American Hipster, The Comedy Shaq Network), to lifestyle (The Wall Street Journal, RIDE Channel) to educational ones (Reuters.com, TEDEducation), they seem to want to have a bit of every possible audience share (there are even channels for gardening!). And to be honest, it all sounds rather exciting. Google has managed to assemble quite an impressive team of personalities and producers, and now it remains to be seen how much content they will be able to produce weekly, and to what professional level.
On the plus side, YouTube will have the advantage constant online presence, a luxury which television channels lack, but which they have been trying to somehow obtain in recent years as a result of the increasing move towards the digital. As Niki Strange (2011) described in the book Television as Digital Media, TV channels and programs are struggling to find new and efficient ways to engage their viewers both during and after air-time through various web-based content, such as online voting, exclusive online information, or by posting the shows on their websites. However, they are facing problems when it comes to keeping the audiences engaged on both mediums, as well as informing them during the show on how to get to the online content without distracting or annoying them. Also, much of this online material has geographical and temporal restrictions, such as the one provided by iTV, which can only be viewed within the UK up to a month after the original show was aired. It is clear that at least in this race YouTube will have the upper hand since users can simply pause the videos when they want to explore additional content and return to it whenever they please, add them to watchlists and see them over and over again, as much as they desire. And while YouTube has some geographical restrictions, it will still reach a wider audience than iTV Player or Hulu (US only) could ever dream of.
With the first of the new channels being officially launched next moth (and more being programmed to start ‘airing’ over the next year), it seems that the excitement is steadily growing as the service is receiving plenty of online buzz. Whether or not they will actually be able to complete with traditional television shows remains to be seen, but it is definitely worth a click to check out what they will be able to come up with. And given the long list of channels they will be offering, you will also probably be able to find something to your liking, which is probably something Google is also trying to achieve. So the question is: will this be the beginning of what our children will know as the death of television?
 Strange, Niki. 2011. “Multiplatforming Public Service: The BBC’s ‘Bundled Project'”. In Television as Digital Media, Eds. James Bennett and Niki Strange. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Book.