TV is from Mars, Youtubers are from Capricorn

Hello Guys! Welcome back!

One hears that people are giving up watching Television in favour of watching Youtube.  Admittedly one hears this most often from people who actually work for Google/Youtube, or from parents of teenage children, but the audience figures for some of the most successful vloggers (dubbed Youtubers) are impressive, and young people may be watching an inch or two less TV these days.

When you look at the output from Youtubers, you can imagine how many TV executives must feel.  An easy on the eye 21 year-old and a camera can apparently rack up a million views by talking about their day for a budget of zero, while a lovingly crafted and expensive TV programme using the finest talents can get half as many.

It’s worth spending half an hour looking at some of the Youtube output, to get a sense of what we are talking about:

Try these for starters:

Alfie Deyes talks about things for 6 minutes.  More than ‘900,000 views’

Piediepie comments as he plays a computer game. ‘8 million views’

California teenager Bethany Mota talks about things she loves. More than 2 million ‘views’.

Jim Chapman makes a cheesecake. Around half a million ‘plays’.

These are less ‘programmes’, than just hanging out, and trying to apply television standards simply doesn’t work.  Comparing a television programme to these clips would be akin to comparing astronomy to astrology or scientifically proven medication to homeopathy.

Which sounds more snobbish than is intended, but the analogy fits.

Because while we know that homeopathy has the appearance of science but ignores all of its precepts (and doesn’t work), and that astrology involves the stars but has nothing to do with astronomy, they both provide something.  Homeopathy is effective at one level (like placebos) because the human contact between practitioner and patient is real.  An hour of being careful listened to and taken seriously is genuinely pleasurable, and pleasure can help us cope with pain.

Astrology provides none of the clairvoyance or personality determinism it claims, but provides a daily laugh or a sense of a higher guiding power for its adherents.

Youtubers create an illusion of a relationship with their audience – they are your mates (‘Hello best friends‘ as Jim likes to say), or gently aspirational (the person at school you wish you were).

There’s nothing wrong with this – we all have affiliations with celebrities or politicians.  Second, their success rests on the self-confidence of the participants. Creative people and scientists often lack self-confidence (sample error..statistical insignificance...) in a way that Youtubers do not or keep to themselves.

Since television versus Youtube isn’t as clear as science versus charlatanism because we’re not saving lives, we wouldn’t want to push it too far, besides they can learn from each other.

Bridging the gap between TV and Youtube

Scientists and astronomers might be appalled by the popularity of their untrained competitors, and should avoid, at all costs, trying to copy their conclusions.  But they might all learn from their relationship with their audience.

So, how can the medical profession provide the human warmth of homeopaths.  Can rocket scientists turn their knowledge into stories that helps us make sense of our lives?

And when you look at the Youtubers’ output, and compare it with TV, it’s worth remembering three things:

First, the point that Will Self makes about humour:

Humour, to be worthy of the ascription should be spontaneous, playful and inventive. Some of the funniest times in my life have occurred when a small group of friends, over an evening or even a few days, have generated a dialect of comedic and satiric references known only to us. Such in-jokes are often derided – but the truth is that jokes are usually funny in inverse proportion to their universality, because the more widely understood humour is, the more likely it is to have been previously disseminated.

These videos may lack something, but they don’t lack spontaneity or the in-jokes that work at the time with people you like.

Second, we have learned recently about how lonely people are.  Teenagers, the elderly, the unexpectedly or persistently single… all isolated.  It’s a miserable way to live.  We know that a desire to Connect is a core human need state.  Youtube is all about connection.  It’s what Indians like to call a timepass too, but connection covers our innate desire to feel part of a group.

I love television because it is universal and appeals to me in a hundred ways, but if I was feeling rootless and wanted to hang out with like-minded people, I’d watch any old nonsense that cheered me up.  Where are the versions of the above performers for adults?

Third, while these clips can gather views on The Great Monopoly website, that doesn’t mean that they are intrinsically high quality, in the sense we understand from the dramatic or journalistic tradition. They may not speak to our soul, or deeper emotional or intellectual needs.   And it remains unclear whether the effectiveness of television as an advertising medium (based the in-room social dynamic, emotional potency, wide palette of needstate satisfaction and low attention mental processing), applies as well to the more individualised small-screen viewing typical of Youtube consumption.

More next time…