Spanish television channel Cuatro is launching a portal on Google's YouTube, showing clips of the broadcaster's most popular programs to try and build a young audience in and outside Spain. The move by Cuatro, a free-to-air channel launched by Spanish TV group Sogecable in November 2005, follows a similar move by the BBC earlier this month. "With a community of millions of young users on line, YouTube is a perfect platform to reach new viewers," Cuatro's director of content Elena Sanchez said in a statement on Thursday.
YouTube, bought by Google last November, first gained popularity for short, comic sketches that were created and posted on the site by users. It has also faced increasing legal threats from big media companies, including a $1 billion lawsuit from media conglomerate Viacom Inc, angry that the site has become a popular means of pirating their television shows. Cuatro is Spain's sixth most popular free-to-air channel, with an audience share of 6.4 percent in 2006. [source]
Well, it is no secret that a website designed to allow users to post their favorite video content will result in the posting of popular television and other visual media programming. Of course, much of the content on YouTube is user-generated and personalized video, but many people also supplement their online viewing with commercial programming. In many ways, Internet, and computers in general, have become analogous to the television revolution. The difference, of course, is the Internet is faster to respond to the demands of users who want to choose - and, importantly, contribute to - their own content.
It is, therefore, about time that more European television stations realize the possibilities - and financial dangers - inherent in Internet video sharing supplementing existing programming. To what extent the spread of Internet programming is bound to be the death of television reminds me of the debate surrounding VCR being the death of the movie industry or cassette tapes being the end of the music industry.
It is true, as Cuatro argue, that YouTube is an excellent source of young viewers - or viewers of any age - for their programming. The tactic of putting television programmes online for later or continued viewing (including archives of past episodes, previews of newer episodes, discussion groups, photos, blogs, etc.) is no longer 'new'. Most networks do it in some respect. Is there, then, a qualitative distinction between this practice, and using an already popular platform (YouTube) to cash in on an already expansive user base?
As an anthropologist, I am not entirely interested in the corporate economic outcome of these activities per se, but more how they relate to the actuality of human society on the ground (in the home, that is). Are people moving away from collective television viewing and towards more isolated, individualized viewing online? I would venture that there is more convergence. People are more likely to combine various types of technologies (including viewing content on mobile phones or video iPods) than to abandon one for the other. Even if Cuatro and other companies offered full-length episodes of programmes online for free, would viewers abandon their TV sets?
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