This is a feature article that was published in Farrago Edition Six on 1 September 2015. Farrago has been the student magazine of the University of Melbourne since 1925
When future generations look back at the media revolution of the 21st century in the future, what will be looked upon as the most important catalyst? Will it be the rise of Netflix? The development of the iProducts? The futile fight against online piracy? If you guessed any of the above, you would be wrong. The correct answer is: Janet Jackson’s right breast.
YouTube is a platform that is used by people to share their treasured moments with distant relatives, to share funny, heartwarming videos and promote awareness of important social and political issues to the rest of the world. But these ideas are not what prompted the development of YouTube — it was in fact because co-founder Jawed Karim was frustrated that it was so hard to find videos online of Jackson’s titillating (sorry) wardrobe malfunction live on the Super Bowl XXXVIII back in 2005. People like these, ladies and gentlemen, are the Henry Fords of the 21st century.
From its humble beginnings as a site for amateurs to share videos, YouTube has grown into the Internet’s biggest online video channel, replete with channels hosted by major media companies. With approximately 300 hours of new videos uploaded per minute, it is the third most visited site in the world. Clearly, the Internet has changed the way we consume conventional television — the capacity to watch episodes at your leisure (read: bingeing) provided by Netflix is a game changer, as are the treasure troves of (PUBLIC DOMAIN AND NON COPYRIGHTED) content that can be found at The Pirate Bay.
Because of the ‘budget crisis’ apparently plaguing the economy, the government has been pointing their fiscal scissorhands at the arts. Public broadcasters, like our ABC or the United Kingdom’s BBC, have long been the bane of the libertarian’s existence, who argue that it’s unfair and uncompetitive to force taxpayers to finance services that are also provided privately, at significant cost. In modern times they have an additional argument: with the increasing transition of traditional media formats into the digital space, from television and radio to Netflix and podcasts, why should the government continue to fund television channels in the face of dwindling audience numbers? After all, commercial networks are not immune to this, so why should public ones be?
Media organisations are folding left, right and centre: the iconic ABC shop, numerous magazines — you get the picture. A government-funded medium that the Liberals have been particularly keen to scrap is Channel 31, a community television channel that airs programmes created by young people. The content on it can be best described as not quite professional but definitely way above amateur. Understandably, it does not attract anywhere near the audience that commercial networks or the ABC do – yet it’s a fantastic platform for the next generation of Aussie talent to be picked up. It’s where the legendary Rove McManus and Hamish & Andy duo began their careers, to name a few. Turnbull’s argument for axing Channel 31 is that everything is moving online anyway, making television a relic of the past as we increasingly turn to the Internet for media consumption. Besides, self-generated content is more likely to go viral online anyway. But the argument for axing is also precisely the argument against it. Anyone can make a video and upload it to YouTube, but to have your production selected to be broadcast? That is a sense of validation that simply clicking ‘upload’ on your browser could never achieve. Dealing with production schedules, funding, censorship — these are invaluable experiences for future producers gained only from working on TV. On YouTube, no matter how good the production, there will always be a sense that it’s just another Internet video. There is nothing to separate the serious producer from the amateur one. With the aforementioned 300 hours of video uploaded every minute, quality productions will still be buried in the avalanche of lip sync battles and insane Russian automobile collision videos that, while entertaining to watch, are not quality productions in their own right. As someone who’s helped produce both shows for Channel 31 and videos on YouTube, I can say from experience that there is a sense of validation and achievement that comes from seeing your hard work on television that will never be garnered from a YouTube upload.
The Internet is transformative, but not that transformative. Live and let live, I say. Youtube, Netflix, commercial television, community television — each has its place and function. Let’s keep each medium where it belongs.