YouTube recently announced the first annual YouTube Music Awards, as part of a play to further expand its influence as a member of the mainstream media. The site has been very instrumental in both breaking new stars like Macklemore and making available the existing work of established artists through Vevo partnerships.
The list of nominees largely focuses on larger artists such as Eminem, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga, which leads me to wonder how this awards show is different from others. Many of the acts being honored by YouTube already dominate top 40 stations.
Of course, the nominations were based on views, shares and likes, so the odds are already fairly stacked against the smaller independent producers who make up the majority of YouTube’s overall users.
YouTube has worked hard to eliminate copyright infringement, and as a result has attracted a lot of formerly cagey music studios. Through Vevo, studios get distribution, visibility and ad revenue, while YouTube gets prestige and more people spending more time on the site. Meanwhile, independent creators have seen decreases in views, buggy infrastructure and the subscriptions feed buried below two layers of suggested content.
As YouTube has grown it has struggled to maintain balance between the two audiences. One audience wants music and cat videos; the other wants long form programming, thoughtful content and high engagement.
Power users like Vlogbrother’s Hank Green are already winning awards — an Emmy for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries — and hosting conventions like Vidcon, which YouTube wasn’t directly involved in until 2013. In fact, much of the innovation that takes place within YouTube is not directly fostered by YouTube. It happens naturally as communities form around things they truly love.
It seems between the YouTube Music Awards, the independent programming, the user generated content and viral videos, YouTube may find it difficult to have its cake and eat it too.