YouTube poised to upend old film models

Shaping how auds watch invariably changes what they watch

Since watching YouTube’s Entertainment Matters keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, I’ve spent more and more time pondering YouTube. And YouTube has been giving me more and more to ponder, as the site is moving away from Nora the Piano Cat and distraught Britney Spears fans to more ambitious content.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that YouTube is getting ready to burn down the filmed entertainment business as we know it. In fact, the match has already been struck. We just haven’t felt the heat yet.

There’s been a lot of talk about targeted advertising and how that builds revenue streams from YouTube, which reassures content producers and owners that there will be a way to make money off Web video even as audiences splinter to infinitessimal shards. That’s fine, but I think that talk assumes we’ll be watching the same things, just watching them through YouTube instead of cable or broadcast.

But how people watch shapes what they watch. As people shift to watching YouTube and other Web video services, longform video could become a niche product, just as opera and classical music became niche products in a market dominated by pop songs.

YouTube as we’ve known it epitomized two trends of the Internet era. First, it became the ocean into which most user-generated video eventually flowed. It already comprises a universe of videos more vast than any cable service. And while YouTube may not be the only video site, it has been able to get to “lock-in” — it’s the site almost everyone uses. Once a technology locks in, it’s very difficult to dislodge it. Apple is locked in with digital music and tablets. Facebook is locked in with social media. YouTube is well positioned for similar domination.

Second, there were no charts or established routes on that ocean; each viewer had to find her own way to the videos she wanted, and there wasn’t a lot of help. That limited its potential. But that’s changing.

The trends are similar to what happened to recorded music. Before the invention of the phonograph, popular songs tended to be long, with lots of verses. But the 78 rpm record could hold just three to five minutes on a side. That gave birth to the three-minute pop song.

For listeners, though, it proved onerous to change records every three minutes. That led to lots of innovations: Record changers that let you stack up disks, then eat dinner or dance with your sweetheart; radio stations that played records and hired music aficionados who chose what disks to play and in what order — “disk jockeys.”

These things let the three-minute pop song thrive, in part because they relieved the listener of the burden of finding and queueing up music. You could just decide what station or DJ to listen to, or put on your records, and stop thinking about it for a while.

YouTube has been quietly introducing its equivalents of the radio station and the record changer. It has introduced and encouraged channels, a group of videos delivered by a single person or company, which from the audience’s point of view work like a cable channel or a radio station. They have also been encouraging viewers to create playlists. With social media, you can pick up your friends’ playlists. Or you can take playlists from experts, who become the equivalent of DJs.

The analogy YouTube’s people use is the DVR, which you program to record stuff you care about, and the remote control, which you use to choose what you want to watch right this minute. They’re working on providing both.

YouTube apps now appear on Smart TVs, smartphones and tablets, just as radio stations are in the living room, the car and transistor radios. Today it’s laborious to find and choose videos on TVs, which lack a keyboard. But that’s going to change, and fast. As tablets and smartphones gain the capability to control TVs, it’ll be easy to find a video on the second screen, then send it to the TV. As TV voice interfaces come in, you won’t need a keyboard to search for what you want.

These innovations aren’t a big deal for watching “Downton Abbey” or “Avatar.” But they make it easier to watch a lot of shortform content. That’s likely to change mass viewing habits.

I see auds shifting from half-hour, hourlong and longform to shortform videos, selected and queued in advance, then streamed like your own personal TV channel. After all, we’re still listening to three-minute pop songs decades after 78 rpm records vanished.

As someone who likes longform storytelling, that makes me a little sad.

But I’m sure I can find something on YouTube to cheer me up.

Bits & Bytes

Special effects company 32Ten Studios in San Rafael is having its Reel Bash open house & mixer 6:30 – 9:00 tonight. 32Ten is in the former ILM facilities at 3210 Kerner Blvd.

USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab will hold its first Innovation Summit on March 30. Among sponsors for the event are Apple, Warner Bros. Digital Distribution and DirecTV. … The Entertainment Technology Center at USC has appointed three new board members: Bryan Ellenburg of Paramount, Don Eklund of Sony and David Wertheimer of Fox. Wertheimer is a former CEO and executive director of the ETC. … USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, Icon Imaging Studio, Lightstage LLC and House of Moves worked together on a new pipeline to create digital doubles for “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.” … Digital Domain Institute, a collaboration between the visual effects studio Digital Domain and Florida State U., began classes on Monday. DDI is still in temporary digs in West Palm Beach.

Framestore has tapped Jonathan Shipman has head of integrated production for its New York branch. He will report to Framestore prexy Jon Collins. Shipman comes from McCann Erickson, where he was also head of integrated production. … Dilated Pixels of Hollywood produced 60 vfx shots for the special “End of All Things” episode of “Fringe” in two and a half weeks.

LipSync has made an equity investment in feature film “Blood.” LipSync will also provide full post services for the pic, which is helmed by Nick Murphy and stars Paul Bettany, Mark Strong and Brian Cox. … LipSync is also providing post services on Rowan Athale-helmed pic Wasteland, starring Luke Treadaway and Timothy Spall.

Moscow-based iPi Soft is getting ready to release version 2.0 of its iPi Motion Capture system for markerless capture … Testronic Labs, Kuju Entertainment and Doublesix Digital Publishing have released FullCycle, a package for the development, digital publishing and testing of videogames. … Assimilate has added support for REDgamma3 and REDcolor3 in Scratch and Scratch Lab.

ESPN has launched the ESPN Developer Center website, which allows software engineers to join the sports net’s API Program. Once in the program, software engineers and developers can access ESPN and content to create new web and mobile apps. … Autodesk is offering 0% financing on purchases of its software through April 13.

Hollywood Center Studios has added two cyc stages. Stage 1 now has a permanent three-wall white cyc. Stage 2a, the visual effects stage, has a smaller, permanent green cyc. Six HCS stages now have permanent cycs. … .. Autostereo screen maker Alioscopy has struck a strategic partnership with Provision Interactive, which makes interactive holographic kiosk technology.

NAB 2012 announcements: Matthews Studio Equipment will introduce its “Tinker Tools” gear. Tinker Tools are a system of clamps designed to attach small devices such as phones and tablets to cameras and other gear. … XenData will launch a new range of SX-500 Archive Servers for archiving video assets … Cintel is to launch a new 6K imaging sensor for diTTo evolution film scanner. The sensor provides oversampling for 4K data. The diTTo evolution scans 16mm and 35mm film at up to 11 frames/second at 2K.

World notes: China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, has ordered $1.2 million in gear from Vitec Videocom as it develops its new channel dedicated to news and magazine programming. … Searle Street Post in Cape Town, South Africa, has adopted Flexxity Dailies for its digital workflow. Searle Street provides services for features, television and commercials. … Siano, maker of mobile and portable digital TV products, has opened an office in Tokyo to provide marketing, sales and tech support to its customers in the region. Aki Awata will lead Siano’s Japanese operations. … Oktobor Animation of Auckland, New Zealand, has adopted Shotgun Software for production management and shot tracking. Oktobor makes weekly 11-minute episodes of “The Penguins of Madagascar” and “Kung Fu Panda” for Nickelodeon, which is Oktobor’s primary client. … S3D Campus in Paris will hold a training program on producing and selling a 3D feature or documentary. June 13-14 Program includes a chance to pitch projects to the Dimension 3 marketplace aud. The program is free; applications are due by April 15. … In a restructuring, London-based 3D Visual Enterprises has acquired 100% of Meduza Systems of Irvine, Calif. Meduza is a maker of modular 3D cameras. 3D Visual Enterprises had been Meduza’s financial, marketing and distribution arm. The combined company will take on the Meduza moniker and continue to have offices in London and Irvine. Chris Cary is CEO of the new Meduza and the executive team includes consultants Matt Whalen (imaging and color scientist) and Al Mayer (chief mechanical engineer and program manager).

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