To best define “internet content,” the term internet needs to be redefined.
Or, at the very least, the way Netflix intends to define its content needs to be examined. Netflix views “internet content and entertainment” as shows or movies that require an internet connection, according to yesterday’s investment report. It’s the type of content that can’t be viewed with a basic cable package alone. Whether you’re watching Netflix on a television set, laptop, desktop computer, tablet or phone, you have to be connected to the internet in any capacity to stream.
Streaming is what it comes down to for Netflix. The company isn’t broadcasting to its subscriber base, but allowing them to stream. Adding up all the parts that makes Netflix define its body of work as “internet content,” it’s evident that the company is referring to the platform through which viewers consume the content.
But the term “internet content” carries with it another inflection that can’t be ignored: the broader understanding of the culture and community that defines the internet’s relevance in our day-to-day lives.
The internet isn’t just a platform anymore. For many of us, the internet has become our stomping ground. It’s where we work, play, socialize and love. The virtual world that was created decades ago has changed the way we think, the way we act and, as seen in recent times, the way democracy operates. The internet is no longer just a medium that exists as a plaything for us to use occasionally; it’s a part of our cultural makeup. In an era when your grandparents are sharing photos on Facebook and favoriting your tweets, the internet is no longer just a place to ask Jeeves what’s going on in the world.
Within the new wave of internet culture, of what defines the space that we co-exist in, the most important element is community. Communities build up around every conceivable subject, around every beloved passion or interest. It’s those communities that, for better or worse, define what is successful and what content is relevant.
What, then, is internet content if it’s not streaming on Netflix or other services like Hulu and Amazon Prime? For most of us, it’s content being created for a community to enjoy and interact with. It is our favorite personalities on YouTube, Twitch and, for a time, Vine.
Community, Community, Community
In a recent video, Casey Neistat, a top YouTube personality, broke down what makes YouTube so special compared to other competing platforms. Neistat points out that it’s not YouTube Red, which is the company’s answer to Netflix and Hulu originals, but the millions of people who subscribe to various channels and engage with other personalities.
“Community is the only thing that none of YouTube’s competition has,” Neistat said. “Community is the one thing that makes YouTube extraordinary.”
YouTube was built on the concept that although videos are still non-interactive in the sense that audiences can’t actually do anything with the video while it’s playing, it doesn’t have to feel isolating. That’s why all of the top YouTube personalities run daily vlogs. Think of people like the Paul brothers (Jake and Logan), PewDiePie, Neistat, Philip DeFranco, Boogie2988 and hundreds of others; how do they start their videos?
“What’s up, everybody?”
The videos begin with an immediate addressing of the person watching the video. Although there’s no interaction beyond that (outside of social media), the vlog feels more personal. Speech pathologist Erin Hall told Vice that vloggers use this over enunciated, more personal opening to engage their audience and keep it casual. Unlike big networks or studios, like Netflix and HBO, the idea is to make everyone feel like they’re friends with their favorite vlogger, despite that being the case.
“They're trying to keep it more casual, even if what they're saying is standard adding a different kind of intonation makes it more engaging to listen to,” Hall said.
YouTubers don’t see the internet as a place where they can just publish a polished video and come back a few months later to do it again. It’s a daily service they do for their communities; they’re engaging with an audience and cultivating a community they can talk to and hang out with. It’s why Jake Paul calls his fans “Jake Paulers” and why Philip DeFranco starts almost every single video with, “What’s going on, you beautiful bastards.” By the end of watching four or five of their videos, we feel like we know them.
For example, I’m very caught up in the tangled web of Jake Paul trying to buy furniture, because I feel personally invested in his mission to find the perfect couch. That’s something only a YouTuber can accomplish.
YouTube isn’t the only site that’s allowed people to develop communities, though.
Twitch, the largest video game streaming site, is full of well known personalities who sit in front of their computer for hours at a time and play games while others watch. Twitch has designed its platform for community engagement; emotes can be bought from subscribers to connect with their favorite streamers. Certain terms associated with personalities become official slang in chats that are coopted by the entire community.
Hell, the most successful Twitch experiments, like “Twitch Plays Pokémon” and “Twitch Plays the Stock Market” are entirely community driven.
Kevin Lin, Twitch’s chief operating officer, told The Verge that community is always going to be a big part of Twitch’s future. Lin said the company was developing new ways of promoting that community base while also giving streamers the ability to try new formats, like scripted series that could be uploaded.
“Live is always going to be our focus,” Lin said. “Gaming is going to be our focus. But as we expand and more people build their Twitch channels as their primary outreach mechanism to their audience, it just makes sense for them to find all the content they want to push to their community in one place.”
Both Twitch and YouTube personalities know the importance of building a community around their videos. It’s the type of community that could only be built on the internet, where reaction is immediate and engagement is possible. Unlike Netflix, whose content is released into the ether and left for people to stream whenever they like, but not followed up on outside of marketing, YouTube and Twitch audiences return daily to watch videos and engage with fellow members of that community.
Community is the biggest ingredient in creating successful “internet content,” but there is one other must-have that Vine figured out better than any other company: sharing.
“Have you seen this?”
The internet isn’t just one website. Content can exist on multiple sites at once and no company better understood this than Vine. The six-second looping videos that were created inside the Vine app spread to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook as people shared their favorites. Comedians, magicians, and kids looking to go viral for 15 seconds uploaded their best and, as increasingly distracted, bored people starving for constant entertainment, we obsessed over it.
Vine created more self-referential memes than any other platform; ones that the rest of the internet slowly caught on to, even if they weren’t part of the Vine community. Vine, and the personalities that became prominent (like Logan Paul), was built for people to share videos with others. It became more than just a social media platform built around the concept of a six-second clip. Vine redefined what internet culture was and, in doing so, helped audiences understand what type of internet content they were consuming.
Dom Hofmann, Vine’s co-founder, told The Verge that they realized pretty early on they struck something interesting with Vine. Like YouTube and Twitch, Vine’s prominence would come from its community.
“Watching the community and the tool push on each other was exciting and unreal, and almost immediately it became clear that Vine’s culture was going to shift towards creativity and experimentation,” Hofmann said.
When Twitter announced that it was shutting down Vine, stories from the community about how important the platform was to them began spreading like wildfire. The community is what skyrocketed Vine into the platform it became known for, and being able to share Vines through Twitter helped make those personalities well-known names.
Without the ability to share, videos can’t be considered “internet content.” Internet content is, by definition, something that is engaged with and added on to by audiences who exist online. Netflix wants to define its content as being made for the internet, but the company doesn’t understand that the internet isn’t a static figure. It’s a constantly evolving and shape-shifting beast that few websites really understand. Vine was one of them, but that’s gone. YouTube and Twitch do, and are continuing to see upward success because of their dedication to developing those communities.
Netflix makes TV shows and movies that are enjoyed online, but only personalities on Twitch and YouTube are in the business of making internet content.