Just read an interesting article about YouTube in the New Yorker and it makes be comes back to one my favorite subject: Distribution.
According to that paper, YouTube is in the process to launch what they call “YouTube Original Channels” and what strikes me is that it is basically the same model that has been used in cable television for the last 30 years. Basically, people are pitching their channels to the distributors to get carriage and corresponding carriage fee to finance those channel.
In the case of YouTube, the carriage fee will be less than what Comcast or DirecTV would pay for a typical channel, but the cost involved in building a “channel” for YouTube is also much less. On a linear cable channel you need to fill a 24/7 grid providing enough new content to not seem too repetitive. On YouTube, the channel are all on-demand so you only need to keep enough content to keep your specific audience engaged regularly.
My feeling is that it is a very smart model, much more than Yahoo or Netflix trying to commissioned shows. In doing the “channel” model, YouTube stay out of content development and rely on a tested model where professional programmers do the content development while YouTube (and their parent Google) bet on those programmers. Some of them will fail, but I am sure that some are smart enough that they will succeed.
I also think that this is smart to start with new channel and professional content created for the web. The contracts and economics of getting content produced for theatre or television to the web makes it much harder. People can use talented people in much simpler environment (while still being very professional) and reduced the production cost considerably.
I don’t think you will see hit channels overnight (it took 10 years and the first Gulf War for CNN to become a hit and it took 6 years and South Park for Comedy Central) but I think it will come if YouTube hold on to it strategy long enough and picks the right channel partner.
I believe that this is yet another example on how the distributors (access providers and aggregators) with their considerable financial means are able to steer and control the content that we consume.