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Making an Idiot Box out of YouTube

For itself, YouTube has taken the steps of streaming live broadcasts and of providing many of its videos in high definition. The TV industry, on its part, has introduced record-and-playback technologies, reports Amitava Sanyal.

business Updated: Aug 02, 2008 00:56 IST
Amitava Sanyal

Was it really inevitable that YouTube would be treated like that black box sitting in your living/dining/sleeping space? Well, the threat was always there. Both the tubes promise to broadcast moving pictures on a screen not far from your nose. The two are, in fact, like distant cousins thrice removed. The innate differences between the mediums were in the picture quality, playback options, and feedback mechanisms. But over the years, the two have introduced changes that have made one look more like the other.

For itself, YouTube has taken the steps of streaming live broadcasts and of providing many of its videos in high definition. The television industry, on its part, has introduced record-and-playback technologies and is increasingly desperate for any form of feedback. The other essential limitation faced by YouTube — that of the length of its videos — has been taken care of by other services such as Google Video where you can see videos running into hours.

Then there were extraneous differences too, the most obstructive among them being censorship and advertising. Now, these two differences are also sinking between the pulls of aggressive marketers who want their share of the spoils, and the pushes of politicians who want to build on their conservative constituencies, not to speak of autocratic rulers of nations who want none of their citizens to be ‘corrupted’ by YouTube.

First the censorship. YouTube has already faced shutout — temporary or otherwise — in at least nine countries. But the greater worry is probably in those places that play the censorship game in a tactical manner, as and when it suits the fancy of the legislators.

The calls for censorship have been growing louder in different parts of the world. This week, a powerful panel of British MPs put up the recommendation of ‘watershed viewing hours’ and a cinema-style age rating system. While the latter seems a healthy warning system, the former is a ludicrous proposition.

Yes, like all mediums, there is a dark side to the digital world too. But it’s one thing to warn all Tubeheads of the dangers ahead, and quite another to time the access. Imagine an Internet video that cannot be viewed after 9 pm, local time. Not only does it go against the very nature of the medium, it also necessitates a group of people to view all videos and decide which ones should be proscribed for a whole territory.

And then there’s the inevitable innovative incursion made by the marketer. Possibly not rich enough with the targeted ads that used to be positioned unobtrusively, YouTube has now placed strip ads at the bottom of some of the videos. How so very familiarly disgusting. True, you still have the option of clicking them off, but it’s seeming like a battle being lost one horseshow-nail at a time.

Another TestTube on the way

Here’s one more proof that Google is not treating YouTube in the step-motherly fashion that some bloggers seem to suggest. The charge is that while the parent has been adding features — such as search suggestions, advanced searches, longer uninterrupted views — to Google Video, it has done precious little in recent times to bring useful tools from the lab to the YouTube screen. The parent has now acquired Omnisio, a start-up with “tremendous expertise” in advanced video tools. The new partner would be used for better editing, mixing videos and adding comments, the company said in a press release. But most Tubeheads on the blogosphere have only sniggers for the move. It’s possibly way past time for a new killer application on the Tube.