Will Premium Content Kill the “You” in YouTube?

As we touched on this morning, YouTube is prepping a redesign of its site to separate premium content from UGC. YouTube needs to make money, but will its latest moves to embrace Hollywood kill the community that turned the site into the online video behemoth it is today?

ClickZ broke the redesign story and writes:

The new design will offer four tabs: Movies, Music, Shows, and Videos. The first three tabs will display premium shows, clips, and movies from Google’s network and studio partners, all of which will be monetized with in-stream advertising. Meanwhile the Videos channel will house amateur and semi-pro content of the sort major brand advertisers have shied away from.

If ClickZ is correct, this redesign looks like it will ghettoize the amateur community. On YouTube, promotion drives plays, and there are only so many videos it can feature. The first casualty will most likely be YouTube’s own homegrown stars. How will Fred, Michael Buckley and SXEPhil fit into a new ecosystem populated by the likes of Brad Pitt and Will Smith? YouTubers might be able to coast on their existing fame for a bit, but the next generation of web celeb hopefuls won’t be as lucky. Promotion drives plays on YouTube and the lack of it could mean people who make a living off YouTube will need to go back to their day job (or back to school).

YouTube has been inching toward becoming a premium content destination for a while now. It signed traditional media players such as CBS and MGM, it altered its rules to tame some of the naughtier content and design tweaks like ordered playlists have made the site more premium content friendly.

How will YouTube draw a distinction between premium and UGC content? Right now, the site has sidestepped drawing a line between them and happily mixed the UGC with the premium creating a mish-mash of content. But what becomes of someone like Nalts, who is a partner but infinitely more grassroots than anything Disney will put on the site? Creating lines in the sand like that could get messy.

That messiness could have implications on the very nature of YouTube. The site was built by a community of people who uploaded, shared and commented on one another’s videos. Will the “you” in YouTube move from center stage to understudy? Will YouTube become just another HuluTube to watch TV and movie clips?

We won’t know what role UGC’ers will have in the new YouTube until the redesign rolls out (supposedly on April 16). The shift to premium content could actually be a boon for the community as YouTube could finally turn into a profitable long-term venture. But will that community be on the outside, looking in, once again playing second fiddle to the traditional media companies?

What do you think will happen to YouTube’s community? Do you care? Are you a YouTuber who hates or embraces change? Tell us in the comments.

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