Don’t Crash the Party: Advertisement in the Digital Age

In the movie The Social NetworkJustin Timberlake’s Sean Parker explains to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, that they shouldn’t insert ads onto the platform yet. His rationale? That having ads “is not cool” and will send potential and current users away because they don’t want sales pitches clogging up their online experience. People were using the site to interact with (and virtually stalk) their friends and peers, not be sold shoes or make-up. He basically believed that in allowing businesses to advertise on the platform, the party would be crashed prematurely, long before it reached its true, spectacular peak.

Such is the mindset of many businesses and corporations in the modern age, each trying to navigate the new digital landscape. Less than ten years ago, YouTube was ad-free and users never even had to worry about a commercial for the new Ford Focus interrupting their viewing. Digital culture, as we have only begun to discover in this course, is multifaceted and its denizens are multimodal in their ideas and actions. What may have worked for TV ads in the 1970s will not always be directly applicable to the YouTube user in 2014. Explaining why this is true would be too verbose for a blog post, but the how can be explained more concisely.

Simply put, we don’t care about the same things. We are less receptive to video advertisements because we are more obsessed with the concept of instant gratification. American values are surely different now than they were 50 years ago and we digest our information in large quantities with lower emphasis on quality. We watch our videos on Hulu, Netflix and YouTube because of the lack of disruptive and often annoying ads. We want what we want exactly when we want it. But businesses need to make money and we, the consumers, must patronize and fund them.

This basic need within the grand scheme of capitalism is how YouTube became what it is. And how, like the original Facebook, both its users and owners initially wanted it to remain “cool” and free of restrictions like copyrights. It was a niche market with a fairly small demographic. However, much like open-source media and programs and their antipodes, many see wealth to be had in these “cool” spaces.

Author Jin Kim explains that YouTube, as an imperative aspect of new media, is combatting the standards set by what we consider old media. Just in his intro paragraph, he manages to outline the ramifications of the popular platform as well as its astonishing transition. Kim states the following:

“YouTube has influenced television, but at the same time this new medium imitates the rules of the old media, including legalized distribution of broadcasting content and smooth links between content and commercials”. Furthermore, the conflicts between old and new media are based on more than economic interest: they are hegemonic tensions resulting from the formation of a new mediascape.”

With new media comes new methods. The question is can services as pervasive and influential as YouTube be acquired by head honchos like Google and maintain a balance between new world freedoms and old world regulations? As one of the pioneering platforms in user-generated content, YouTube is now partially user-generated and professionally-generated content; it is effectively an amalgam of old and new media. This combination is not without conflict, however. Several users make it known that they hate having to watch ads at the beginning of their videos or seeing promotional content as soon as they land on the homepage. Because of the commodity and money-driven society that we are both actively and passively a part of, this systemic conformity that new technologies are faced with will likely continue for decades to come. The pattern is clear just between the old Facebook and YouTube and then new ones. Now in the “big leagues” and with millions and millions of users daily, these former start-ups can afford to profit off of users and companies alike. Thus, ironically, it seems that what is often cool is not considered popular until its eventually and totally monetized.

Sources:

Kim, Jin. “The Institutionalization of YouTube: From User-generated Content to Professionally Generated Content.” Media, Culture & Society 34, no. 1 (2012): 53–67. doi:10.1177/0163443711427199

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