One month ago, during the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Kevin Spacey spoke about the changing face of television. He argued that TV was recognized as a legitimate art form essentially only fifteen years ago. However with shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men and House of Cards, we are now witnessing what is being called the Golden Age of Television. TV has surpassed film both in quality and demand. And with services like Netflix the audience is being given exactly what they want. Quality content, whenever they want, wherever they want it. This has been a journey that has taken over 50 years.
So what about online video? Is it still just a place for cat videos and funny pranks? Is it perhaps time to ask the question: When will we see the Golden Age of YouTube? When will we see the The Sopranos of online video? YouTube has only been around for 8 years. And only in the past few years has it really begun to take form. General consumers and advertisers are slowly but surely starting to take it seriously. Compared to television, online video is still in it’s infancy and we are, most likely, only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
Another important observation is that the distinctions between television content and online content aren’t as clear anymore. We can watch our favourite TV-shows and films online and watch online videos on our TV. Why should we need to make a distinction? The quality of the content is not dependent on the medium.
So if we look at the TV shows that changed the medium, what do they all have in common? They are almost all slow starters. Their stories need time to build and so they require patience from the audience. They rarely give the viewer any quick satisfaction. Instead they challenge and question us every chance they get. And in the end they never revolve around any simple life lessons or punchlines, instead they give the audience a kind of workout of the mind where they raise as many questions as they answer.
If we look at YouTube and the tools that it offers, like channels, playlists and subscriptions, we can see that the possibilities for creating something similar to these successful TV-shows are already there. With channels you can create your content, with subscriptions you can build your audience and with playlists you can build continuity in your content. But just as the shows themselves, creating quality content take time. We just need the patience.