Web Video is So Last Year…or So Say Forbes and Time

2007 was a down year for the online video revolution. Nope, we don’t believe it either, but look at the year-end assessments released today by two influential publications, and you’ll find two compelling attempts to devalue our nascent little industry.

Time Magazine, attempting to explain why it went from picking “You” as its person of the year in 2006 to Vladimir Putin in 2007, offers up an essay about how 2007 was really more about “Them,” a.k.a. establishment media instead of UGC. It’s good; read it. Meanwhile, the video personalities that topped Forbes’ Web Celeb list last year dropped off this year’s version.

Times’ James Poniewozik writes of 2007,

So if 2006 was the year of You, 2007 was the year of Them. Big media companies (like this one) stuffed their sites with blogs, podcasts and video.

Celebrities became Web entrepreneurs. Hillary Clinton made a Sopranos-parody viral video. In 2006 the Web was a proving ground where new musicians could take their art directly to the public. And maybe it still is, but what band struck it big selling its new album online this year? A little undiscovered combo called Radiohead. Meanwhile, Will Ferrell launched funnyordie.com, where he posted comedy videos starring himself and celebrities like Bill Murray. Because, You know, Ferrell’s comic vision is just too avant-garde for mainstream Hollywood.

We’re not immune to the attraction of declaring UGC to be dead. And it’s true that the trails blazed by indies in online video are attractive to old-tree and network-tubed media.

To some extent, it goes both ways. The easiest way to prove you’ve succeeded in new media is to score an old media gig. But these TV deals have a habit of petering out — web-made stars LisaNova, Little Loca and the Acceptable.tv folks, for example, have all been there and back again. So if it’s any comfort, it seems that web video is the planet whose gravitational pull drew in the conventional headliners, rather than the other way around.

Poniewozik admits: “Maybe what really happened in 2007 was not that They took over from You but that the boundaries between You and Them blurred.”

Agreed. And writers striking and voicing their dissent online and forming VC-funded web studios will only further that trend. Still, I would say Time should take at least a tiny bit of responsibility for its role in anointing user-generated content and in doing so drawing out a buried treasure map for big media to use to strategize, invade and monetize. Anything that hyped is bound to fail.

But early web video stars are also losing interest, or appeal, or both. As for those who’ve dropped off the Forbes Web Celeb list, some — like Jessica Lee Rose and Ze Frank — did so because they took themselves out of the game. Many on the list — Kevin Rose, Xeni Jardin, our boss, Om, Perez Hilton (when he’s not getting yanked from YouTube), and Robert Scoble — make web TV, but that’s not what they’re known for. No new web video-native stars have emerged (at least not yet) to fill the void. In the crowded world of online video, it’s just gotten that much harder for new web personalities to break out in a way that makes any sort of impact.

Still, reality’s not decided by a magazine editorial committee. Success isn’t just about what creators make and do, it’s decided by what viewers want and watch. To that end, poll results released by Harris Interactive today showed U.S. online video viewers want more pro content. When asked what they’d like to see more of online, 30 percent of respondents said they’d be likely to watch “a lot more” TV episodes, and 28 percent said they’d be likely to watch a lot more full-length movies. Meanwhile, only eight percent said they’d be likely to watch a lot more user-generated video, were it available.

With help from Chris Albrecht.

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