YouTube vs. Main Stream Media:
Kissing Cousins or Feuding Siblings?

by: Sonja Baumer / University of California-Berkeley


Kevin Federline

Kevin Federline

In my daily observations of activities on YouTube I noticed a rather strong presence of texts produced by the main stream media (MSM), mainly TV. This feature seems to be quite prominent especially on “the most viewed” page and contradicts some predictions that were made during the big YouTube ascend (i.e., Summer/Fall 2006.). During that period both MSM journalists and some bloggers have suggested that YouTube would displace or even replace MSM. That was the time when CNN and BBC started to show user-generated videos during their regular news broadcasts. For example in July 2006, as part of its coverage of the war in Lebanon, CNN showed some YouTube videos that were taken by Lebanese citizens. Furthermore, a very influential blog on social networking, Mashable has recently supported the “displacement” theory by reporting that 32% of frequent YouTube users say they watch less TV due to their youtubing activity.

However, just from looking the list of the most popular videos, TV watching even among heavy users seems to be still “alive and well.” The most viewed video today [January 31, 2007] is the video that features Kevin Federline's rapping for a commercial. Federline is some kind of versatile celebrity, a musician, a model, a dancer and a wrestler (!) and also (or even better) known as the former husband of the pop superstar Britney Spears.

Next to Federline on the most viewed list are two videos, both “grabs” from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The first video features Stewart's interview with Bill Gates promoting his new product “Windows Vista.”1 The second video is taken from the sequel that follows Bill Gates' interview.2 The sequel features Stewart's comment on how and why (!) B. Gates had left the show on the other day so abruptly. In addition to those two I found more Bill Gates videos that are also grabs from various news broadcasts and talk shows.

Finally, on the most viewed list I also notice two videos featuring Tyra Banks, an ex model whose “not flattering at all” bathing suit photo has been recently published in a certain magazine. The two videos were uploaded by TyraBanksShow, apparently an entity created by Tyra and/or her agents. The videos are in fact trailers for her upcoming TV show in which she allegedly wears the same bathing suit and confronts “haters” of all kinds.

Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks

In the continuation of my essay I am going further my argument against the “displacement” theory and explore the dialogic relationship between texts created on MSM and YouTube. I will rely on my analyses of YouTube videos, comments, and interviews with some YouTubers. My data collection is still in progress and below are just my preliminary thoughts.

It seems to me that however trivial the above discussed pieces of information may sound (especially to readers who are used to more academic contents), they might prove relevant for facilitating youth's participation in public discourses. YouTube serves as a massive public space, populated by people of many ages and diverse cultural, ethnic and educational backgrounds. By uploading certain content (even if it is just a “grab” from a TV broadcast), a user creates a statement of what is relevant, interesting or funny for him/her, and invites others to comment and respond to that. In that way, what used to be a solitary activity of TV viewing, confined within private spaces of one's apartment, becomes on YouTube a collective activity of reading and interpretation.

I would also like to argue that the above examples of “grabs” from TV broadcasts are to be considered as a version of a cultural practice of “clipping” described by Marshall and Bly (2004). Marshall & Bly have looked closer into the practice of extraction, preservation and sharing of information, which they termed “clipping.” A classic example of “clipping” is cutting out an article from a newspaper, copying it and sending it to a friend or family member. More recent version of this practice is emailing interesting URL's, or downloaded materials. YouTube version of clipping entails distribution of information broadcast to a massive and unspecified audience. Clipping practice allows for inclusion of knowledge and competencies of others, as featured in the following excerpt from one of my interviews:

I am surprised to see sometimes what people put there…. I watched that same game, but I did not see the hand touching the ball, I mean really, I don't think anybody saw it, but that guy saw it and post it on youtube…. The guy is unbelievable, that level of detail, I think he must be a professional or something…. I mean a soccer player. He made me watch the game again.
-M, 20, unemployed designer

And, yes, knowing about celebrities and their lives is important for gaining access to participation and membership in youth peer culture(s). The following quote from another interviewee well illustrates this point:

I go to the most viewed page…. Mostly I want to know whatz up whatz cool, like what was funny on the Colbert Report yesterday, and it is just there, you can browse and look for stuff. Awesome!
-M, 18, sales associate

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert

Through practices of collective consumption and production of media, YouTubers are engaged in a constant dialogue with others. The same is true from the lenses of text analysis. No video on YouTube can stand by itself, since it has been motivated and framed by other texts produced on YouTube or elsewhere. Each video is a response to another text that the viewer has seen/read/heard on YouTube or elsewhere, and its interpretation thus requires the viewers to seek additional texts related to the particular video.

Bakhtin's concept of addressivity is useful in capturing this dialogic nature of YouTube. According to Bakhtin, addressivity is the idea that an utterance “is always oriented toward an addressee, toward who that addressee might be … each person's inner world and thought has its stabilized social audience that comprises the environment in which reasons, motives, values, and so on” (Bakhtin and Emerson, 1999).

Below are some comments of YouTubers that illustrate the dialogicity of YouTube:

When I start watching YouTube, I cannot stop. Each video takes me to another video…. It takes me to the author's profile page…. I like to click on related videos that YouTube gives you on the side, you know what I mean…. There are always pointers to other videos.
-F, 19, student

I often see more videos than I wanted…. Let's say I saw that blasphemy video and then I looked the responses and then I looked those people … like their MySpace pages and subscriptions and their favorites … it takes a lot of time to understand what their true motives are…. Like I watched that video about a girl who is incredibly skinny and she worries she is fat, but she decides to take a shot of her body…. And [u] wonder what's going on there. And then I see the responses and all those girls who responded they all have some kind of eating disorder, I think it's called BDD … like there is one girl who films the stuff she eats, loads of food, of everything and then she takes a binge… I mean they are total sickos, but u really need to look around to understand what is going on there.
-F, 20, media arts student

These excerpts illustrate the viewer's strategy for gaining understanding of the context within which the particular video has been produced and for identifying the targeted audience. They also express the interviewees' ability to critically evaluate and reflect about information they gather.

Related to the practice of clipping is “remixing.” Remixing entails creative appropriation, reshaping, and evaluation of mass media texts (music, comic, animation, machinima, video clips) through their productive recombination and rearrangement (Davis, 1997; Manovich, 2001). Remix media are inherently dialogic and intertextual (Barthes, 1977; Kristeva, 1980). The most common form of intertextuality on YouTube is parody.

Below is a video produced and uploaded on YouTube by “fatalshade” (F, 19, college student) in 2006. Fatalshade remixed scenes from a “My Little Pony” DVD with the song “I am too sexy” by the British pop band “Right Said Fred” (1992). The text appears as a parody because of the contrasting elements of early childhood innocence and openly discussed sexuality in the song.


Henry Jenkins' idea of convergence (Jenkins, 2006; 2007) is very useful in understanding the relationship between YouTube and other media. YouTube is highly unlikely to displace other media including the main-stream-media. Through convergence of media formats, contents, and personas, YouTube changes the pattern of television viewing, enabling a higher degree of audience participation, multi-directional flow of information and collective sharing and knowledge building. As my notes also suggest navigating YouTube requires critical thinking, evaluation and intertextuality. I am not sure about the long term consequences of youth 's engagement with new media such as YouTube. There is a growing sense of unfinalizability of knowledge which seems to be a creative and motivating force. Yet it may also produce a sense of fragmentation and distrust. In many ways we are still at the beginning of fully understanding what YouTube and similar new media are and how they impact on our lives.

1 This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Viacom International, Inc.
2 This video is also no longer available due to a copyright claim by Viacom International, Inc.


Bakhtin, M. M., & Emerson, C. (1999). Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (Vol. 8). Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P.

Barthes, Roland (1977). Image-Music-Text. London: Fontana.

Davis, M.E. (1997). Garage Cinema and the Future of Media Technology. Communications of the ACM. 40 (2), 42-48.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture. New York: NYU Press.

Kristeva, Julia (1980). Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. New York: Columbia UP.

Manovich, L. (2001). The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Marshall, C. C. & Bly. S (2004). Sharing Encountered Information: Digital Library Get a Social Life. Proceedings of the 2004 Joint ACM/IEEE Conference on Digital Libraries.

Image Credits
Kevin Federline
Tyra Banks
Stephen Colbert

Please feel free to comment.


  • You tube is a phenonmenon. I know that college students are intriugued by its creation. If nothing is on tv, youtube is the next best thing. You can find exactly what you’re looking for on youtube. If you want to laugh at a random video clip, then youtube can help…all the videos have a purpose or intended audience. I think youtube will take over even more in the years to come because if you know what you want to watch, youtube has it. This creation is great and I go on at least once a day. This new type of broadcasting is great because you can be involved and make your own video for the world to see. Youtube is a great way to see what’s going on in the world of entertainment.

  • Robert Petersen

    As being a frequent visitor to YouTube I can understand why the main stream media would really like to have an influence in it. YouTube has arisen in recent years for being a place were people could express themselves through there actions and/or editing skills. Sonja Baumer, the writer of this extremely good article, points out early that the top three videos are from either TV shows (Tyra Banks and Daily Show) or a commercial (K-fed video). This says to me that people are attracted to YouTube by what they see on TV in the first place. Then when people are in, they end up finding more and more to watch and experience. This is what the main stream fears the most because it puts the control over what people can watch in their own hands. This in turn leads to an increase in people watching YouTube more than actually TV because they can get their favorite shows anytime they want. The other part is that people were able to express themselves through “clipping” and “remixing.” In this way people could create their own entertainment and share that with a community of people that are doing the same thing.

  • YouTube has created a new generation of communication and forms of discourse about topics ranging from clips of news reports to bored kids stretching their face in strange expressions. The public is able to view what they hear about at work while standing by the water cooler and then share their opinion with future viewers by commenting straight to page or uploading a counter video. I can go to a concert and a few days later find footage of that very performance at my fingertips. Helpful are the links of similar videos you find to the right of the video you are viewing. Just this week I created a video for my college course and was able to share it with all my friends and family and get their feedback through the magic of YouTube. Troublesome are notes like this: “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Viacom International, Inc. ” Hopefully YouTube will not become the next Napster case.

  • We learned yesterday that Viacom (the owner of some of the shows that were discussed in my paper) had filled a billion dollar law suit against YouTube. It is hard to predict what the judicial outcome will be, but we can think as Erin suggested about cultural outcomes. YouTube has definitely forced us to think about the concept of authorship and consumption in a new way. The concept of authorship that the law draws on is in fact a social and historical construction that is associated with print literacy and modernity. It may not be well suited for digital texts, which more any other form of text, have a life of their own. And that life seems to more like an eternal life, since once on Internet, a piece of information is difficult to remove and destroy — it is always cached or downloaded on some computer. YouTube can take down problematic videos (which they tried to do with derivative materials from Viacom especially). However, users would often find a way to upload it back on YouTube or somewhere else. In the paper I argued that such practices are new ways for creative consumption of main stream media, however illegal they may turn to be.

  • Vanessa Cervantes

    Coming to an agreement…

    It is evident that youtube has grown rapidly due to it’s viewers everyday. I myself go on youtube at least once a day because it is a form of entertainment for me. However, I don’t believe youtube will take over television because televison is a media that keeps emerging through new shows pretty often. I do believe however that youtube and television might come to some agreement where the audience can be please both in a way were they can still enjoy staring at a t.v and going on-line. Yes, it is true that youtube can show videos that are not permitted to be seen on television and that’s because television display’s many show’s at the same time nation wide and have to be careful of their content, while on youtube the audience can see a video whenever they want and be a member if it’s pornographic. It is not set to a specific time where you can only see it once. I believe that television and youtube balance each other out and if one of these two would to be cancelled then audience views will decline. So therefore, in order to keep bring in the audience whether on television or youtube they both win in the end.

  • I do not feel that YouTube alone will displace other media including the main-stream-media. However, the sphere of online digital distribution is a different story. A key point to examine is by enabling a higher degree of audience participation, with multi-directional flow of information, collective sharing and knowledge building; sites like YouTube change the pattern of television viewing through convergence of media formats, contents, and personas. Online video sites allow networks a greater depth of information in viewer opinion. Other Media outlets do not give the same results with regards to viewer studies. It would be foolish to ignore the wealth of information provided by viewer reactions, blogs etc. Mass-media-distributors should view the internet as an ally in reaching new markets and spreading programming around the world with instant feedback, instead of constantly threatening everyone with lawsuits. Two of my favorite programs to watch right now are from different countries and would not be available to me without internet mediums.

  • Some YouTube for your humor?

    YouTube cannot take over main stream media (MSM) in my opinion, but it can take over the internet as a popular site (It now reigns over on page views). It is a way of publicizing your thoughts, opinions, and ideas, but not as a takeover for MSM. It is television off television, but in no shape or form is it actually television. The quality of video clip is no where near to the visual and audio quality found on television. Similarly, however, YouTube does possess that biased quality that television also has, but now the possibly biased video clip taken from TV has new meaning. The uploader, or the person that submits the clip, has put their own meaning or interpretation to that same video clip by merely editing it or posting it. Does this mean the ideas of YouTube are more powerful than the original video clip’s meanings? Not entirely, but instead (possibly) a new opinion is brought to attention.

    I find YouTube as the fun after show or even a recap, meaning that after one has seen a particular scene or part of a show that they enjoy, it is sought out on YouTube. It is also an attention grabber. The famous lonely girl videos turned out to be a publicity stunt for an actress seeking to be known. Overall, YouTube is too immature to take over television. It is a website that is hard to take seriously when I think that YouTube is often used for either popularity-seeking individuals, or simply people looking for a quick laugh.

  • YouTube has become one of those sites that we all wonder what we did without it. As a student interested in making films, the site is a great recourse to both post my own projects, as well as get inspiration from people in similar situations as me. While YouTube has become extremely popular, I don’t think it will completely replace television. First, the experience of hunching over your computer to view a few minute clip is completely unique from sitting on the couch to watch your favorite hour-long TV show. TV programs only air at a specific time, so they are more like an event than watching YouTube clips, which is something that can be done at the viewer’s leisure. Also, a number of videos on the website are clips of actual TV shows. If TV disappeared, so would a percentage of YouTube’s footage. YouTube is a great resource for up-and-coming filmmakers to share their films. However, these artists need a medium to aspire towards working in, and If Television and Movies can not hold up against the impact of YouTube, what will these amateur film makers going to do after they have shaped their craft? With the way YouTube is growing, it will be around for a long time, continuing to make its mark on our culture, but there will always remain a spot for Television.

  • YouTube is a wonderful innovation that allows people to easily participate in the consumption and production of media. Common individuals have the power to determine which clips they feel should be shared with and enjoyed by others. YouTube allows all individuals the opportunity to shape human behavior by breaking down cultural controls that have previously been determined by a select group of individuals. In the past strict controls enforced by a culturally dominant group have been portrayed in media forms such as the News. News viewers tend to unquestionably believe and accept the News as a factual and objective form of media; the credibility of the News lies in the ways in which it is produced and operates. However, in actuality the News is full of biased opinions which shape cultural views and ideologies. YouTube acts as an important form of counter hegemony as it embraces diversity and allows for the possibility of obtaining valuable insight that differs from the status quo and thus, promotes social change. While the amount of power producers of YouTube clips uphold is arguable, I would like to suggest that being exposed to alternative perspectives is extremely powerful and will open minds to acknowledge the need for change.

  • Andrew Cichowski

    Contained by Controversy

    The concept that no one seems to have touched upon in the discussion here is this: Some people, regardless of how you may claim their subconscious plays a role, make videos for absolutely no reason whatsoever. These individuals have no deeper meaning they wish conveyed, no story or idea to be explained, and have no reason to post their video other than boredom. I have many friends that do exactly that. Some record themselves doing foolish or ridiculous things, and others splice random clips together remixed to random music; they make and share these movies because they have nothing better to do with their free time. If one were to assert that the meaningless videos were to be considered garbage, one could also assume that a good portion of the videos on YouTube and other forms of television off television are garbage. This garbage is then shared globally, waiting for someone to improperly analyze it.This illustrates the concept of “Web 2.0,” where individuals contribute as easily as they consume, even if what they contribute is fairly worthless to many. YouTube is structured in a way that is easy to operate with little user limitation; simply put, it is technology for the masses. Because users can contribute almost whatever they please, can selectively watch videos of their choice, and can comment or argue about clips, the overall viewing experience has shifted from a passive one to that of a dialogical one.On YouTube, the realms of public and private information collide, opening a very large space for counter hegemonic thought to occur. This is the main reason why television will not be overtaken by YouTube, at least not for a long time. Consider the internet to be a form of pull media, where the user is isolated and must personally extract information in order to analyze it. In this pull media medium, the user is in control of what and when he or she views. The target audiences of videos on YouTube can be extremely specific or extraordinarily broad. The audience also chooses when if at all the clip will be played. On television, specifically network television, the content of the shows are regulated, allow for little if any counter hegemonic thinking, and are meant for a broad audience. A television viewer has no control of when a show will be played on a channel they are viewing, and can only comment on the show in the realm of the private, by sending a letter to the producer. That letter will not be read by the general public, thus marking a clear separation from public and private realms. (Technologies such as TiVo, and OnDemand cable give the viewer more control, but still limit the viewer to the content that was originally broadcast) Network television stations will not broadcast highly controversial clips or shows, because they may negatively impact their viewership. Cable channels with a more specific audience may show counter hegemonic imagery, but have no fear in losing the audience they wish to target. Controversy is the reason YouTube and other forms of television off television will not replace real television.

  • It isn’t any real surprise that content from the mainstream media has dominated YouTube. The truth is, YouTube is just a channel for information flow. YouTube itself does not create any content, so they have to rely on users to provide it. The only problem is, the average user of YouTube does not have the same resources that a major media outlet does, which produces a huge gap in quality. So while any teenager with a camera can still put a video up on YouTube and be viewed by hundreds or thousands of people, the majority of the website’s userbase would rather watch clips of high-budget television shows like NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

    I don’t feel this is such a bad thing though. The purpose of media channels is to get people what they want. Before YouTube, there was simply no easy way of accessing that one clip that everyone was talking about. Maybe someone you knew recorded it, or it would be rerun eventually. If not, you were completely out of luck. Today, if something interesting happens on television, it will no doubt be up on YouTube the next day.

    In some ways the whole situation is similar to the birth of internet filesharing. Before Napster, if you wanted to hear one particular song, you either had to buy the entire album or just wait for the radio to play it. But after, people could simply download the song they wanted to hear. Of course, the RIAA stepped in and now we have legitimate online stores like iTunes providing that service for a fee. And now the same thing is happening with online television. If people want to watch a particular episode of a show, they can now go to iTunes and buy it. The user is happy because they don’t have to watch commercials, and the network is happy that they’re still making money. That’s why YouTube will never survive in its current state, because it can’t guarantee Viacom that those people downloading the shows will still watch them when they air, commercials and all. Unless YouTube figures out a way to prevent people from uploading protected content, or embeds commercials within every video to appease the corporations, they’re going to have a big problem on their hands.

  • Nicholas Rigopoulos

    YouTube will never replace Television for one important reason:
    Older folks, and/or those who are less than technologically inclined. Let’s face it, how many 40+ year olds come home from work each day, and sit in front of their computer (as opposed to the ones they’ve been sitting in front of all day at work) to watch 30 second, poor resolution clips on YouTube? Now compare that number to those who come home, cook dinner, and watch a little TV with the family before having the kids do their homework and spending a little quality time with their S.O.? I think the technology revolution, where the computer becomes the centerpiece of the home, is overhyped. My mother can barely use a computer to check her email, much less upload her cool new user-created video to YouTube. And my father? He doesn’t even know how to turn a computer on. He has an email address, that was created by me, and that I check for him. He doesn’t even know what YouTube is. I imagine there are many more 40 and 50 somethings out there that are just like my parents. In other words, the time when my parents give up their 50 inch HDTV that they watch news, sports games, and crime dramas on, for a 17 inch computer screen to watch poor quality, low-res clips of Kevin Federline further embarrassing himself, is a long long way off.

  • In regards to the claim that YouTube will overtake network television, it is hard to say what the future will hold. However, the internet has some advantages over other media. The internet allows users to retrieve other mediums. This is a huge advantage over television because they can acsess the television as well as email, dvds, music, among so many other things.

  • The Next Step?

    The idea of Youtube as a new and creative medium for media consumption is absolutely revolutionary. Not only does it surpass its predecessor, television, by allowing its audience to advance from the passive state of viewing preprogrammed shows, Youtube allows audience members to participate by contributing to the pubic sphere with their own personal videos. This type of interaction that Youtube offers its viewers grants them a certain sense of freedom, liberating them from the shackles of the already predetermined programming of television. Youtube is also groundbreaking on the aspect of networking its viewers and connecting them with new ways to find similar clips they can enjoy. The only problem that arises with Youtube is once it enters the legal world of copyright matters. Obviously the original intentions of its creators were not to broadcast shows and be subject to copyright infringement, but rather share personalized home videos in an underground realm where one could achieve cult glamour as a byproduct of boredom. With recent events Viacom has filed a billion dollar lawsuit against Youtube for its multiple cases of copyright infringement. It is in this facet of media consumption where Youtube is somewhat flawed. However, a new digital medium similar to the concept of Youtube is emerging and attempting to go about this in a legally correct way. The recent creation of Joost is similar to Youtube in that it allows its viewers to choose what programs to watch whenever the viewer pleases to do so. The quality of the videos on Joost are also at a much higher resolution than that of the very public and easily accessible (and easy to use interface) of Youtube, though Joost is only available to a select few for beta testing. Joost is negotiating with television networks to obtain permission to broadcast certain programs online and thus far only a small selection of underground videos ranging from independent films to music videos to documentaries. If Joost is able to continually expand its selection of videos, it may very well give television a run for its money and become the new form of mainstream mass media.

  • I love Tyra Banks. She’s so gorgeous! I absolutely admire her. Nevertheless I hope she has as cute younger sister I could date :P

  • You Tube would be a trill for Sonja to film her extramarital activities and relive them. In fact, her married lover(s) could do the same privately. You Tube and the Internet have a more explcit use than the pseud-intellectual Baumer discusses: pornography. Sonja, did you film your dates with my husband?

  • Ramadan Mubarak, Sonja

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *