Everyday, YouTube is growing closer to becoming a full-fledged media giant like television or syndicated radio. Already, networks specializing in signing YouTube talent exclusively are dealing in six-figure contracts and advanced network-level distribution deals. As YouTube burgeons into a massive media corporation, the trials and tribulations of the talent within this fledgling community seem to be mirroring those of film actors during the birth of popular cinema.
In 1933, responding to movie studios manipulating actors through unjust multi-picture contracts, the Screen Actors Guild was formed to protect the working conditions of performers. During the early 1900’s, cinema was quickly turning into a lucrative business with thousands of eager hands looking to get a piece of the silver screen pie. It was clear that prior to the formation of SAG, studios were taking advantage of talent simply because actors had no other choice. If you wanted to be an actor you had to rely on a studio’s access to million-dollar equipment and set space. Early studios were an evil most certainly, but they were a necessary evil.
In this alternate universe of digital video on YouTube, studios can provide similar necessities to creators. But, with the advancement of technology both on YouTube and in filming equipment, do creators really need networks right now?
As a YouTube creator, a network is going to provide you with a number of perks including distribution options, setting you up with advertisers, and higher production values. While all of these can be helpful when setting up a successful YouTube career, it doesn’t mean that they are entirely necessary.
YouTube networks are a new invention of corporate thinking; during the early years of the partner program, creators were doing things on their own. Inexpensive high-quality cameras and the generally accepted bedroom production values on YouTube have made it relatively easy to produce original content independently.
As the success of self-created production studios likes Philip DeFranco’s SourceFed and independent channels like The Young Turks prove, a lucrative YouTube career isn’t solely dependent on belonging to a corporate studio.
Similar to studios of the early 1900’s (and to this day) executives will be looking out for that solid-gold bottom line. As much as we would love to believe that studios are just looking out for nothing but our best interests, that might not always be the case. Without a type of SAG for YouTube creators, studios could (and have) been accused of taking advantage of partners. Signing your name on that dotted line always comes with a price.
Luckily, YouTube has not grown to a level in which actors and creators will need the help of studios to perform. The video-sharing site is still grounded in the spirit of the independent artist. However, those days may be coming to an end soon, whether it will be controlled by major studios is in the hands of the YouTube community.