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Is YouTube destroying the music and film industry — or putting new artists and film makers in the spotlight?

Is YouTube harming the music and film industry, or putting new artists and filmmakers in the spotlight? Olivia Walker explores the effects of YouTube upon the creative industries.

BY Olivia Walker

In today’s digital world, it is inevitable that social media plays a vital role in shaping both culture and economy. Social media is a forum that brings people together through the exchanging of ideas; allowing us to connect with others across the globe. It fosters creativity and collaboration with a wide range of commentators on many issues such as education, the economy, health, politics and relationships. Digital utopians have heralded the dawns of an era in which Web 2.0 — websites that emphasize user-generated content, social networking and interactive sharing – enables us to access more information, more perspectives and more opinions.

“Almost anyone can upload nearly anything to YouTube, for free... whether they’re activists, terrorists, politicians or pop stars.”

The Telegraph

Since its development, YouTube, one of the most popular online streaming platforms, has transformed from a video sharing site into a job opportunity for content creators. It was initially created to make it easy to upload videos and post them on blogs, a medium that was then pushing past the fringes of the internet and into the mainstream use of the everyday. Today, 300 hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute. It has become the world’s third most visited site after Google and Facebook. YouTube is credited with the promotion of a healthy democracy and the re-engineering of education. Legacy news outlet The Telegraph acknowledges that “Almost anyone can upload nearly anything to YouTube, for free… whether they’re activists, terrorists, politicians or pop stars.”.

While countless industries have been affected by YouTube’s universal presence, few have felt the influence more so than the music industry regarding the fans, the artists and the record labels. YouTube has been a blessing for fans. Anyone with internet access can search up millions of songs within mere seconds, 24/7, through their computers, tablets, mobile phones and the TV; all content is completely free. However, while fans can agree that YouTube has made their lives more comfortable, it has become a source of frustration for many artists. Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney and Kings of Leon have all recently signed an open letter to Congress calling for reform on the law that allows YouTube to host millions of unauthorised videos. According to Paul Resnikoff, while YouTube is responsible for a staggering 52 percent of all songs streamed compared to its rivals, music hosts such as Spotify and Deezeretc, YouTube only contributes to 13.5 percent revenue. The music industry has less economic power than ever, as album sales have fallen about 60 percent in the last decade. On the other hand, independent artists can benefit from YouTube’s vast global audience, a fruitful opportunity evidently less exclusive than the mainstream music paradigms.

Today, a person can upload a video of themselves singing to YouTube, and if it gets seen by the right person, can receive millions of views and get a record deal overnight. The household name, Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube. YouTube has provided stars with an avenue, their official channel, to interact with fans directly. Before the arrival of YouTube, this level of interaction was next to impossible. While the music industry used to be sceptical of YouTube talent, record labels now fight over musicians that can effortlessly shift records to their online fanbases. The platform is increasingly acceptable and established in the music landscape. 

According to those who oppose the service, YouTube is slowly killing the music industry. Though, every major artist has a channel and would not release a new record without YouTube involved in its launch; YouTube evidently can collaborate rather than confront the established music industry.

With the rise of YouTube, Hollywood is experiencing its own financial troubles. Domestic box office sales now represent less than 20 percent of Hollywood’s revenue. The industry is perilously searching for a new business model that will enable it to distribute movies on the internet profitable. Illegal copies of films are continually finding their way onto YouTube, stripping the content creators of revenue and putting their business models at risk. According to the New Yorker film critic David Denby, many studio executives in Hollywood are now in a “panic” over declining revenue, and many content creators think YouTube is not doing enough to support the established models of business. However, it used to be that if you wanted to have a career in film, there was a narrow path to take to get there. Most people could not make independent films and stream them straight to a global audience without the support of a company. Though I do not deny that the movie business is still elitist, the internet has provided new ways for more us to be involved in the creative industries. Millions of aspiring filmmakers, who otherwise would not have the resources to get seen, can now go ‘public’ on their own. It has also enabled filmmakers to build and interact with their audience more efficiently.

“Whether one judges the impact of YouTube positively or negatively, the reality is that the video-sharing website has become an influential force and has forever transformed our options for broadcasting our voices and our personalities to the world.”

Many argue that the more we use the contemporary digital network, the less economic value it is bringing to us. Whether one judges the impact of YouTube positively or negatively, the reality is that the video-sharing website has become an influential force and has forever transformed our options for broadcasting our voices and our personalities to the world. It is the world’s third most popular online destination because viewers, especially those of the digital native demographic, can relate to the authenticity of the user-generated content.