Should YouTubers launch new platforms to compete with YouTube?

A week ago, a blog post by Jason Calacanis got the entire web video industry talking: The essay, subtly entitled “I ain’t gonna work on YouTube’s (s GOOG) farm no more”, laid out Calacanis’ reasons for declining a second round of financing for original content from YouTube.

But more importantly, Calacanis informed YouTube that it had better watch out, because he wasn’t the only person working on YouTube who felt this way, and:

Since YouTube doesn’t have to create any content, just aggregate it, they don’t need to worry about the individual profitability of any one brand. Things can be dying and soaring and going sideways throughout their ecosystem, but as long as they have a ton of traffic and control the relationships with advertisers, they win. (…)

Bottom line: someone needs to create a viable alternative to YouTube, even if it’s the top 100 channels on YouTube getting together and creating their own product that lets content creators *own* the *relationship* with their users and advertisers.

On the surface, these declarations felt seismic — but in the ensuing days, it turns out that to many within the industry, it wasn’t as big a surprise as you’d think. Calacanis, it turns out, was simply saying what a lot of other people were already thinking: That YouTube’s power over web creators was, for some, starting to chaff, and that alternatives might be the best approach, especially given that the needs of major YouTube stars don’t necessarily match with the needs of the casual YouTube user.

“Part of the beauty of YouTube is that ANYONE with access to nothing more than a video camera and an internet connection can either overnight or over time become a worldwide sensation and a household name. I think YouTube wants to always be a place where someone who currently has zero views and zero subscribes can become the next Jenna Marbles, Toby Turner, Phil DeFranco, Freddie Wong, or Justin Bieber,” Tubefilter co-founder Josh Cohen said in an email interview. “But in order to be that place, it can’t simply solely promote programming that’s already successful on the platform and already receiving hundreds of thousands or millions of views. It has to give up-and-comers the opportunity and marketing space to grow.”

Which is why those have already established their audiences on YouTube may be looking outside of the system for new solutions to the issues Calacanis raised.

A few days after his blog post, Calacanis dropped another surprise when he mentioned at the STREAM conference that one of the two rumored entities looking to creating a full-on YouTube competitor would be Maker Studios (originally known as The Station), which was founded by an all-star roster of YouTubers in 2009, but is now a 200-employee business.

In recent years, Maker has definitely grown from a conglomeration of YouTubers to a real company, especially this spring when, after some embarrassing internal conflicts went public, co-founder Danny Zappin stepped down as CEO, replaced by former Endemol CEO Ynon Kreiz. But given how core YouTube is to the company’s original DNA, if the rumors prove to be true it’ll still be a bit of a shock.

Maker is one of a number of so-called multi-channel networks on YouTube: These networks are essentially alliances of channels, many under the umbrella of companies created to help manage and develop YouTube talent.

Multi-channel networks range from the huge (Fullscreen currently boasts 10,000 channels as a part of its network) to the tiny (Geek and Sundry just launched a curated network which promises a cap of 20 vloggers), each providing a variety of services that ranges from company to company. But in general, they exist to provide creators with production resources, connect them with potential sponsorships — and in some cases, take a cut of the profits.

But those profits would be greater if the networks weren’t beholden to YouTube for distribution. Cohen suggested that Fullscreen might be the other company considering the launch of its own platform: “They currently have more monthly US unique visitors than any network outside of VEVO, could benefit from a network effect of having all their programming within one URL or player environment, and have made some recent hires (including Tim Mohn, who helped create HBO Go) that hint they’re planning something to do with online video viewing in the very near future.”

And personally, I think the recently acquired tween-friendly AwesomenessTV (which does have a network side) might also fit the profile. It has serious investment going for it thanks to DreamWorks Animation and it’s built a large audience in a relatively short period of time; plus, that audience is young enough to make a new platform into a regular habit.

That said, I remain a bit skeptical of how successful new platforms will be for creators, especially as past YouTube competitors are either near death or implementing a new strategy.

Also, speaking as a consumer of web video, I have a humble plea: Whichever companies are considering their own platform, please sink huge amounts of money into video player development. Huge amounts of money. Think Scrooge McDuck.


Because these new platforms won’t have the advantage that YouTube’s player has — years and years of development — and they will be courting audiences expecting a similar level of quality. I’m not saying YouTube’s player is perfect. But it’s a lot better than the majority of third-party options.

For a YouTube network or other company with a fanbase dedicated enough to follow their favorites to a new destination, a new platform could be the best decision ever made. But I suspect that the actual number of entities with the large and fervent audience required is very very small — and we’ll see a few crash and burn along the way.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user joi.