Amazon enters the cat video market5/25/2016
YouTube should not exist. With more than one billion users, trillions of hours of content, and more than 80 percent of users coming to the site from outside the United States, YouTube is a truly unimaginable thing. Billions of people owning iPhones makes sense; it is a tangible good that people pay for and use dozens of times every day. YouTube is a streaming site that requires no monthly fee to use and no login to access. With costs like server space for videos and bandwidth to deliver videos, it is a miracle it survived long enough for Google to acquire it, and yet it did. As startling as YouTube’s success is, Amazon is not impressed. In fact, Amazon just rolled out its own user-generated video platform it hopes will match — and eventually best — YouTube with its “Amazon Video Direct.”
Amazon is not a company that backs down from a challenge. First, it devoured the book buying and publishing industry. Shortly thereafter, it expanded to all goods. It entered the tablet market before Apple and has sneakily found success where most predicted failure. Amazon developed its own app store and smartphone where other firms have failed, and its home assistant, the Amazon Echo, was the first real success in the Internet marketplace. Finally, its late run at a streaming media rental service — Amazon Prime — has become a real competitor to Netflix.
It would seem Amazon Prime is the key to the riddle of YouTube. If Amazon can develop, market and operate a professional streaming outlet that rivals the biggest name in the home entertainment game, surely it can go toe-to-toe with the user-generated side of the streaming media coin. Plus, after acquiring the user-populated gameplay streaming service Twitch, Amazon is not exactly starting with a blank canvas. Twitch gives Amazon a trendy leg up on YouTube in a coveted corner of the user generated content game. On top of Twitch, the sundae under the cherry that Twitch represents is Amazon Web Services, the biggest online server space in the commercial market. Hoards of major web services and apps use AWS to house their web-based storage and bandwidth needs. So Amazon is not going to be hurting for storing cat videos and vain vlogs.
But YouTube has Alphabet (formerly Google) storage and has been the place for practically every type of user created media. From music videos, family videos, how-tos, short films, commercials, campaign videos, educational videos, organizational videos, PowerPoint uploads, the list of YouTube video dominance is nearly bottomless. Setting aside overcoming its corporate-sounding name of Amazon Video Direct, the real challenge is getting “YouTubers,” the content creators who create popular “amateur” streaming media, to jump ship and join the brand new platform.
Without a vast library, user base or social cache of YouTube, Amazon is using something more concrete to get content creators — cash. Each month, the 100 most popular videos on Amazon Video Direct will divide up a $1 million prize on top of ad revenue and Prime subscriber watch time. While YouTube vloggers love the platform, if Amazon waves enough bills in their face, it stands to reason they could jump ship if there are enough zeros involved.
Even with money as a nice enticement, Amazon is in for bumpy ride. After 10 years, creators have a great deal of content invested in YouTube, and users know the scope and quality of YouTube content. On top of that, Amazon also has Facebook to be concerned about. At the same time Amazon is making its user-generated push, Facebook is set to release its own YouTube rival. In the steel cage match of YouTube, Facebook and Amazon, I don’t know who will win, but something tells me it’s unlikely to be a content-poor, badly-named big box store. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.