A Scenic Tour of the Online World

The Race to The Bottom is Over

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

The race to the bottom is over. We can only hope.

I’ve written before about the democratization of media and content has a negative side. The fact that a ballpoint is easier to use than a quill doesn’t make it any easier to be a great – or even good – writer. Same is true for starting a blog being easier than starting a newspaper. Or for starting a YouTube channel as opposed to a television network.

But as much as easier tools have made it possible to find a whole new world of perspectives on the Web, quality has suffered. Tremendously. Not only  because not everyone is as clever as they think they are, but because the general lowering of expectations has allowed marketers to go cheap on production values. So keyword-focused clips are created for $40 with the expectation that they’ll recoup their costs via advertising within the first month, and then from there it’s all gravy. Multiply by thousands or tens of thousands of clips and you have a business. The long-tail of keyword search means evergreen content that attracts a small but motivated audience can be very profitable.

But there’s evidence that perhaps the tide is turning and some level of production value will be rewarded. The most popular YouTube videos are no longer consistently toddlers biting their siblings or bulldogs skateboarding. (though clips like those have hardly disappeared) The most popular clips are now just as likely to be music videos for established stars or “webisodes” with professional backing.

I expect there will be a backlash soon about how YouTube has sold out and isn’t the great democratic forum it used to be, but this is a natural progression. Ebay began as the world’s biggest garage sale, and now individuals selling their cast-offs and white elephants are in the minority.

All of this is good new s for production professionals, but what does it mean for business owners? First, creativity and an effective message trump all. BlendTec’s Will It Blend series will succeed regardless of how well or poorly the video is produced. A fantastic, impassioned personality like Gary Vaynerchuk and Wine Library will always break through the clutter.

But others will have to work to improve their production standards to compete. Clips don’t need to be fancy any more than good copy needs to be the great American novel, but some basic level of professionalism must be met.

And not a moment too soon. Some of what’s been out there for the past few years has been painful to watch and read.

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