About 2 years ago, I made a blog post based around the rather recently-discovered Youtube show ‘Equals Three’. At the time I had only just started university, and so I decided to keep my eye on this show as time elapsed, watching intently as this paved the way for several TV shows to be broadcast for free on the internet, to an audience so vast that even television stations would have difficulty competing. A few weeks ago, Equals Three became the number one most subscribed and most viewed channel, now making it statistically the most popular show on Youtube. But how far has this phenomenon come, and how much further can it go?
Throughout my time at university, this show has single-handedly lead me to believe that the threat posed by the internet to traditional forms of broadcast media can be condensed into one notion – that production values for official, traditional media are going down, whilst the production values of user generated content are going up. This is a notion I plan to investigate further within my final year on my Media Production course.
By just going onto Ray William Johnson‘s channel, you can see how far the show has advanced, from humble beginnings (where he’s promising to read every e-mail that’s sent to him) to the shows of today, which get well over a million views each every week. You can see that on many of his websites, including ones outside of Youtube, have all been well-constructed and financed. RWJ is an internet celebrity, but not because of a viral video or doing something stupid. Quite the contrary, he’s done something really clever. He’s done something that, as I predicted two years ago, is starting to pave the way for other user-generated content, which is now starting to amass and make the first serious challenge to standard broadcasters.
Two other Youtube shows that I often site in essays and blog posts are Shane Dawson and The Annoying Orange, both of which have a relatively large chunk of the ‘Youtube Comedy Show’ market. I looked at what all these shows had in common – one of them is that all the shows appeared to be somewhat topical towards any major events that had recently happened. This dates the episodes quickly, yet effectively captures the entire duration of the show’s existence in relation to the passing of time. One of the most obvious challenges they pose are that they are easily accessible from the internet anywhere in the world. The market open to them far exceeds any audience that can be broadcast to through networks outside of the internet. Of course, in recent years in Britain, the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and others have all gone online. However, they seem to have gone online against their best will – TV licenses are still supposed to be purchased to use these services. Youtube has, and always will be, a free service with no strings attached.
This is not to mention that another big event that happened a few weeks ago was the shutting down of The News Of The World, and the phone hacking scandal. The downfall of newspapers has long been foreseen, and the fall of such a colossal newspaper to some signifies the beginning of the end for so-called ‘regulated media’. Newspapers would have failed long ago if it wasn’t for the advertisements that companies pay to have inside them (the newspaper Metro is almost entirely based upon this business, hence why it’s a free paper, and probably the one with the safest future at present). You wont have to go far to find advertisements on Equals Three, or any semi-famous Youtube show. If there’s a viewing demand, big corporations appears and immediately start trying to make money of a service that was originally free.
Equals Three have also have previous clashes ‘behind closed doors’ about the regulation of ‘viral videos’. Could Ray really be allowed to use viral videos that rightfully belonged to Youtube to further his own fame and his show ratings? Youtube didn’t seem too bothered about it until the show took off, and then all of a sudden there was a problem with censorship and copyright. Whatever the outcome of the argument was, he evidently managed to overcome the problems and keep his show going, which is still strong today. I’m sure the companies advertising on his site would jump to his defense, as there adverts are being watched by millions of people every week.
It’s a lot of profit that RWJ will get a chunk out of. A relatively low-budget production involving a man talking in front of a camera about ready-supplied and constantly-produced funny videos is a sure-fire hit, and sure to make a high profit turnover. What’s more is that it is short and to the point, it’s interactive for free (as oppose to ‘texting in’, such as on The X Factor), and it’s consistently humourous and funny. I also always thought that short episodes were definitely the way forward and everything is geared up to speed nowadays – less time spent watching Equals Three means more time to do something else, and the shows always finish before the jokes become repetitive.
But Shane Dawson TV is where things really start to take off. His humble beginnings were styled like vlogs, much in the same way as RWJ. Shane Dawson TV then became a channel for a variety of shows – not to mention episodes that had multiple outcomes depending on what you, the viewer, wanted to happen. ‘Interactive television’ is something I’ve only ever seen done once before, on a Final Destination 3 DVD many years ago – you could choose who died and who survived. This idea was revisited in a Shane Dawson Halloween special, where you had to unmask the serial killer by subsequently killing off all the other suspects. Again, the show follows a comedic route, proving that comedy really is the best way to go with short free online entertainment shows (another trait that all popular shows seem to have). And again, advertisements are the way big corporations have decided to cash in on the fun, and bring the hassle of television to free media consumption (but again, Shane Dawson would get a cut of this, which I’m sure he wouldn’t mind for a thirty second advertisement being placed before his newest videos).
The really amazing thing that happened was when the most viewed Youtube shows started to merge together. The Annoying Orange appeared on an episode of Fred (another Youtube sensation), the video of which can be found below. Much like ‘Justin Beiber Haters’, Fred has his fare share of hatred from amongst the older generations – something that Shane Dawson was perfectly willing to express in one of his videos. Meanwhile, RWJ got together with The Annoying Orange to make a hybrid of Equals Three entitled ‘Equals Annoying Orange’ (an episode that also parodied some of the most infamous viral videos ever recorded). What made this so brilliant was that is what comedy within comedy shows. You had to know about the internet, and viral videos, and internet celebrities, just to understand what was going on. Youtube was almost a fully fledged TV channel in it’s own right – it’s most viewed shows watched by so many people, the media producers decided to collaborate, confident that together they could boost each other’s ratings up, and at the same time make some of their most well-revised episodes. If you think you know your internet, the episodes can be found below:
As for Equals Three, it’s hard to know where it will go now, as it has become the overlord of every successful show on Youtube. Evidently it is the funniest, the easiest to access, and the most appealing to the widest audience. Youtube didn’t decide this – we did. Where can RWJ go from here? I believe that the time will come when Youtube will be recognised as a fully-fledged rival to the official broadcasters, who will get into fights over how Youtube can be regulated and the mass audiences controlled. If they are even half successful, all that will happen is that another Youtube equivalent will appear, and all the shows will just leave one site and re-appear on another. This is following the notion that the internet cannot be regulated – particularly with the current economic downturn, fast, free shows are definitely the way forward, and as long as there is a demand for free shows, people like Ray, Shane, and… err, ‘Orange’, don’t have anything to worry about.