Yielding YouTubers: The Buy Out of Multichannel Networks and the Decline of Independent User-Generated Content

user-generated-contentMany would claim that the internet serves as the final frontier for various reasons, such as freedom of usage without restrictive marketing implications or content-based regulations by government implementation. Though we currently live in an age where we live in fear of losing these freedoms due to corporate lobbying, we can slightly still hold a hand over what we choose to partake in and intake on the internet, for the internet can provide us with media that is user-generated and created outside of the realms of its marketability and profit. But, gradually, user-generated content, or UGC, is slipping through our fingers as corporations are finding ways to swoop up and make a profit from these once-independent creators and unregulated markets.

For user-generated content, audiences look more towards platforms in which anybody and everybody can upload and exhibit content, both for free, and viewed for free, such as through YouTube. But these days may slowly be ending as content on these platforms are becoming tailored and advertised specifically to viewer’s calculated interests. The media interface of the websites themselves are attempting to eradicate the idea of these platforms serving once as libraries and archives of user-uploaded content, and more into television networks in which content is tailored for max profitability and to reach grander audiences. Tessa Stuart, in her article “Rage Against the Machinima”, discusses the current environment of YouTube as “evolving from a chaotic showcase for amateur video into an increasingly cutthroat ecosystem where everyone—stars, networks, and advertisers—is competing for views, viewers, and view time.” The purpose that YouTube used to serve to users, both who upload and view content, is beginning to take on the wave of corporate restructuring.

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Popular Multichannel Networks.

John T. Caldwell discusses in his essay “Worker Blowback: User-Generated, Worker-Generated and Producer-Generated Content within Collapsing Production Workflows” ways in which corporations continually try to control and organize “unruly user-generated content” that finds its roots in the internet frontier. He brings light to how UGC has thwarted and dismantled media studio producers since, as Caldwell states, “audiences and fans may increasingly act as producers, but producers are always audiences and fans as well” (Bennett and Strange 265). Now producers must evaluate consistently on the content being chosen by consumers of UGC in order to take advantage of that piece of market. With YouTube, this involves the use of multichannel networks, or MCNs, in buying out the creators of UGC, and marketing it for more profitability. Eric Blattberg, in his article “WTF is an MCN?”, describes MCNs as sharing qualities to how “United Artists led talent to wrest control of their livelihood from a rigid studio system.” He finds that MCNs can serve as pathfinders for young YouTubers who lack the business knowledge of creating a career from their craft. Although MCNs have served as such from the beginning, more and more MCNs are beginning to sell their network to bigger parent companies. AT&T, Disney, and Dreamworks are some of the major media companies that have begun swooping in on MCNs like Fullscreen, Maker Studios, and AwesomenessTV. And a most notable con to this growing epidemic of user-generated media conglomeration is the loss of rights to the business-inexperienced creator.

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YouTuber Ben Vacas/Braindeadly

One notable occurrence of creator mishandling involved the avid UGC creator, YouTuber Braindeadly, or Ben Vacas. Vacas had signed with the MCN, Machinima, which is a network based around content involving real-time video game interfaces, such as for storytelling reasons. Ben Vacas found, after naively signing the contract with Machinima, that all his video content is forever owned by Machinima, as stating in the contract “in perpetuity, throughout the universe, in all forms of media now known or hereafter devised.” Vacas responded by uploading a video stating his loss of freedom and outcry to future YouTuber to read before you sign. Although some can blame his blatant neglect to read a contract as fault under his own jurisdiction, many should also be made aware of cyclical and historical indications in which the naïve creator is taken advantage of by the profiting company.

Without regulation and unionization in favor of the creator and labor force of this content, then companies will continue to overthrow the rights of the creator. But if government and union action is to be created for internet-based creators, would that call for more government regulation of the internet, which would begin to unravel the internet as the final frontier? Is government action the only way to ensure creators can remain independent and find a market outside of joining with an MCN for YouTubers? Will MCNs remain fairly beneficial to upcoming YouTubers, or will they begin to emulate the style of money-accumulating tactics that movie studios and media companies have been using?

Resources:
Bennett, James, and Niki Strange. Television as Digital Media. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. Print.

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