By Liz Shannon Miller
This week, there were two big bits of news for those who enjoy talking directly into a camera: First, the Felicia Day-fronted network Geek and Sundry unveiled its Vlogs channel, which will mentor and offer financial support to up to 20 vloggers, including Guild star Jeff Lewis.
In addition, YouTube revealed the winners of the Next Vlogger competition, which awarded 15 up-and-comers cash and workshop opportunities, showcasing a wide range of personalities and points-of-view.
Why double down on a format of web video that hasn’t changed much at all since the early days of YouTube? Aside from the basic fact that of all the formats to originate in web video, it’s the least expensive, in 2013 vlogging is still one of the best ways for YouTubers and the like to connect with their audiences.
This additional investment comes about in the aftermath of one of the most-discussed articles about online video I’ve ever seen — “The Jenna Marbles Paradox: Why Are YouTube Videos So Terrible?,” by Ryan Holiday. In it, Holiday expresses frustration with the current state of what’s being watched, as “the quality of content on YouTube has stagnated somewhere between ‘awful’ and ‘downright terrible.’”
Holiday names the cause for this lack of quality as both the audience, which isn’t motivated to care about videos not sucking because they’re not paying for them, and the creators who focus on gaming the system instead of making good content.
However, as more than one person pointed out in the comments of the article, though, the point behind the videos Holiday slams isn’t to be broadcast quality, but instead to forge something authentic — create the sense of a connection between viewer and audience. And the opportunity to do so is what makes web video different from everything else.
For just one example of this, look at the breakout hit of Holiday’s punching bag, Jenna Marbles — How to trick people into thinking you’re good looking is the very definition of authenticity, showcasing how Marbles transforms herself into her on-camera persona, eyelashes and all.
I used to avoid the term “vlog,” for the same reason I shunned “webisode” — for a few years, it was a buzzword that felt like it lacked meaning. But the term’s made a comeback, largely because vlogging is inherent in the DNA of web video — even scripted series like lonelygirl15 and The Guild rely on it.
It’s time to accept just how vital the format is to web video, and focus on what makes them special instead of what they’re not. Because vlogs are going to stick around — if only because of the boom in mobile viewing.
Rich production design and cinematography looks great on a television or a laptop screen, but the human face translates across all platforms. These new investments in the format are just the beginning especially as YouTube pumps their new focus on “native” vs “original.”