YouTube Music Awards Unfolded Exactly as YouTube Wanted

/ Nov 4, 2013


If you watched or attended the first annual YouTube Music Awards last night, you saw a major media company attempt to do something radical in front of what it hoped would be a major audience (with live viewership hovering mostly around 175,000-185,000, and peaking at roughly 220,000 during Lady Gaga’s performance, there’s still room for debate on this front).

The problem is, a lot of People Who Care About YouTube seem to have not enjoyed the creative decisions that led to what was admittedly a raw, weird, slightly unhinged, and sometimes-flat show. Why? Largely, the critics fall into two camps — those who wished the show was more like what you see on TV, and those who felt YouTube didn’t do enough to promote and market its “homegrown” talent.

This is YouTube’s “identity crisis”: Should the site do things like host the YouTube Music Awards and invite mainstream artists and media to “legitimize” its business against the gold standard of television? Or should it try and do its own thing?

Frankly, this line of argument feels more like a crisis that others have with YouTube’s current identity versus what they wish it would be.

For those in Camp One, who wished for a more polished show than what YouTube put out, would that have really helped much? In fact, let’s say YouTube did an awards show that was closer to what you see on TV, and it still only reached roughly 180,000 live viewers. Then what’s the next-day coverage like? YouTube tries to be like TV, and fails. So why shouldn’t the company try and do something different to get people talking — and yes, people are talking.

Admittedly, the live stream had technical issues, and those are on YouTube to figure out if it wants to continue doing tentpole events such as this. But if the metric for YouTube to be taken seriously is that it has to be like TV, it’s almost always going to come up short. It’s not TV, regardless of how many times it’s attempted to be so in the past. Last night was YouTube tacitly acknowledging that.

Meanwhile, Camp Two, which felt that YouTube ostracized the growing creator community during the show: This community is a very large part of YouTube, but it’s not the only part of YouTube. Traditional media, here in the form of official music videos and Billboard-topping artists, is also a big business on YouTube. Want an example? The live viewership peaked during Lady Gaga’s performance. So it makes sense that the company would try to cater to both sides of the aisle during its first big music event.

I get the frustration. No, the YouTube Music Awards weren’t as important to hosts Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts, creative director Spike Jonze, and performers like Lady Gaga and Eminem as they were to YouTube talent performing, in attendance, or simply watching on the internet. A big event by YouTube should feature more people who are actually doing things on YouTube.

But then again, don’t forget 2008’s “YouTube Live,” an award-style event that was hosted by YouTube creators, including Smosh, Michael Buckley, and Tom Dickson of “Will It Blend.” From what I’ve been told, that show was a failure.

Granted, YouTube and its creative class has probably learned a lot in the five years since “YouTube Live.” But I doubt an awards show hosted by and featuring mostly YouTube stars would have generated the same media hype as Gaga and Eminem — YouTube creators aren’t there yet. Perception is everything, and for an event of this magnitude, YouTube needed the “mainstream” talent.

We’ll see how YouTube refines its model for next year’s show — maybe it goes for more polish, maybe it does more for its creator community. Hopefully there are less technical glitches. Whatever the case, YouTube will do what it believes will make the most sense for YouTube.

And if that’s not enough of a consolation, remember, no one likes awards shows — unless they’re hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

I have a three-minute video of Schwartzman and Watts’ presser following the show. Will upload and embed as soon as the technology behind iPhones and YouTube allow me to. Don’t worry, I’m well aware of the irony.

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