This is an idea I’ve been thinking about for a while (witness my last two posts), but I found it put really nicely in this New Yorker piece about YouTube:
Kyncl’s relationships in Hollywood would help in securing premium content; and, more important, he understood entertainment culture. He brought “the skill set of being able to bridge Silicon Valley and Hollywood—an information culture and an entertainment culture,” he told me. The crucial difference is that one culture is founded on abundance and the other on scarcity. He added, “Silicon Valley builds its bridges on abundance. Abundant bits of information floating out there, writing great programs to process it, then giving people a lot of useful tools to use it. Entertainment works by withholding content with the purpose of increasing its value. And, when you think about it, those two are just vastly different approaches, but they can be bridged.
”In TV, airtime is a scarce resource, and quality programming is scarcer still, and expensive to create. Writers spend months or years developing an idea, which they then pitch to network and cable executives, who make decisions based, at least in part, on their “gut.” The majority of the ideas never get produced. If a project is green-lighted, the networks or cable channels buy it and fund its production, and the creators have to give up some or all of their control over the material.
But on YouTube “airtime” is infinite, content costs almost nothing for YouTube to produce, and quantity, not quality, is the bottom line. “YouTube green-lights everything,” as Tim Shey, the director of the site’s division for coaching content creators, YouTube Next Lab, told me. It’s up to the audience, not the executive gut, to decide what’s worth watching. “I’ve worked in TV, and I’ve been the one green-lighting projects,” Shey went on. “Believe me, the YouTube way works much better.” Kyncl told me that at Google it makes no sense to bring “a gut-based decision-making process to a culture that is based on numerically quantifying everything. Ultimately, that kind of decision-making gets rejected, as if it were a foreign body.”