January 30, 2008
YouTube: (De)Coding Culture Online (1 of 2)

Earlier this month, the C3 team took on the task of coding our sample of YouTube videos for our upcoming content analysis project. After recovering from spending many hours hunched over with my headphones plugged into my MacBook, with Excel spreadsheet and html archive files always open, I have had some time to reflect. This post is about my preliminary observations on what I have seen so far, that I thought I'd share here. Granted, the sample was small, but I'll be curious to see if any of these observations or conclusions are shown to be true across the group's sample.

1 - What's most popular is often taken from "traditional" media

The "Most Popular" pages I looked at contained much of the material that Viacom's lawyers are probably talking about: clips of late night talk shows, music videos, and longer excerpts from professional TV content produced outside the U.S. Most of it seemed to be uploaded by users, rather than media companies, and many of the videos had since been taken down due to copyright claims or by the user him- or herself. That said, it was not the majority of the content on the "Most Popular" page. The other pages we had archived and were coding ("Most Favorited," "Most Rated," and "Most Responded") seemed to have less professionally produced media content on them, even though the most popular videos tended to show up on the other pages.

2 - YouTube has its own celebrities - and soap operas - that spur user participation

Perhaps readers have heard of Chris Crocker and Perez Hilton and the "Leave Britney Alone" mini-feud, but what was going on among some of the webrity (my term) vloggers was actually more interesting. There were YouTube feuds where vloggers traded insults, challenged one another to debates, railed against hurtful comments left on their (and in some cases other vloggers') pages and apologized for contraveneing de facto YouTube community rules. In some cases the drama was viewed as many or more times as the professional media content, but it seemed to be much more present on the other pages we looked at - "Most Favorited," "Most Rated," and "Most Responded." In some cases, hundreds of users left comments or responded.

3 - Webrities and traditional don't always mix

One clip that struck me was one was posted, by multiple users, of Tay Zonday's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, in a segment called Internet Talent Showcase in August. Zonday gained prominence on YouTube when his recording of "Chocolate Rain", a song that became a meme and spread throughout the site earlier in the year and led to the creation of hundreds of covers and parodies. The original video was viewed over 4 million times - as of January 29th, the clip has been viewed nearly 14 million times. What struck me about the appearance on Jimmy Kimmel's show was that Zonday did basically what he had done in the YouTube video, but the reaction shots showed audience members who really just looked a bit confused. Not to say that online popularity means you can't be a "traditional" celebrity, but what works in video in one medium clearly doesn't automatically translate into another. After watching that, I'm even more interested to see how Chris Crocker's reality TV show does.