Innovation is stifled under poor management and an unbreakable monopoly
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
It’s no secret that YouTube is terrible. Their comment section has been the cesspit of the internet for more than a decade, every redesign brings more bugs, and ads have become increasingly invasive. Despite all this, it has managed to be a cultural powerhouse. Now it’s impossible to say it even has that. In fact, I’d happily argue that YouTube is more than simply unwelcoming for its own new content creators—it’s actively stifling innovation across the internet, and it’s only going to get worse in the coming years.
YouTube, and Google at large, is a case study in why monopolies are terrible. The complete lack of competition (despite brave efforts from Vimeo and Vine, God rest their souls) means that they have absolutely no reason to improve anything for the benefit of the users or content creators, and can focus entirely on pleasing advertising companies and Google suits. Because the audience is established and their video player—which is somehow the best video player on the internet despite everything else on the website—works so well, the public is simply not motivated to start the kind of mass migration that has killed so many websites throughout the history of the internet.
In most cases, a better site would come along and snatch away the audience, and Google would be forced to compete and improve—or risk losing money. The invisible hand of the market and all that nonsense. Here’s where it falls apart: YouTube has been colossally unprofitable for years. Like Twitter, it loses money like there’s a hole in it. Google doesn’t use it to generate advertising money; Google uses it to generate advertising data. YouTube won’t—maybe even can’t—collapse any time soon, no matter how terrible and bankrupt it gets, because Google has control over advertising and can simply choose not to support any smaller site that could be a competitor.
This means that not only will YouTube never significantly improve, but that other, better video websites will never find a large audience. Those websites are left to try to fill a niche that YouTube misses. Vine and VidMe were direct YouTube competitors, were responsible for a ton of creative content, and collapsed within a few years because Google has both the advertisers and the audience. Vimeo must restrict itself solely to artistic non-profit videos, and has been running basically as a charity for years. The monopoly YouTube has on video entertainment has created a situation where they can’t lose, no matter how badly their site runs or how poorly they treat creators.
Over the coming years, we’re going to see a lot more stories like the Logan Paul incident, or controversies where advertisers refuse to monetize pro-LGBTQ videos. Content on YouTube will become exactly like what cable television turned into: Sterile, protecting the status quo, and a safe place for terrible people to make a profit on being terrible. I’m not sure what a solution could possibly be, but it’s a sad path for what should be an outlet for bold, collective self-expression.