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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 October 2006, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
What are you looking at?
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Magazine

YouTube video
YouTube: A hundred million videos... but are they any good?

YouTube is now worth a fortune - but is it worth watching? How does a night watching YouTube compare to regular television?

While Trinny and Susannah were holding forth last night on ITV1, a less polished double-act called Chad and Steve were proving the big draw on YouTube.

Apart from looking as if they could do with the urgent attentions of Britain's first ladies of fashion makeover, Chad and Steve seemed pretty happy.

In fact they looked delirious - and they'd made a short film that explained why. A little over a year ago, Chad and Steve, two twentysomething Silicon Valley dudes, hit on the idea of creating a website where anyone could post videos for anyone else to see.

On Monday they sold the YouTube site for $1.65bn (890m) to the internet colossus Google, making the pair overnight multi-millionaires.

With that sort of cash to throw around, they could have hired Steven Spielberg. But in true YouTube style, it was a slapdash affair; Chad and Steve goofing around in front of a handheld camera, their thanks to "everyone of you guys who've been contributing to YouToob" almost drowned out by the rumble of passing traffic.

What's on the tube

After a few more reassuring remarks on continuing to stay committed to users they broke into a fit of giggles. It's the uncontrollable laughter of knowing you'll never have to worry about your mortgage again.

Chad Hurley and Steve Chen
Chad Hurley and Steve Chen in their own YouTube video

If you believe the forecasts, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen are the future of broadcasting; all the more now they've got Larry and Sergey (that's Page and Brin, co-founders of Google) bankrolling their phenomenally successful site - where more than 100 million videos are said to be viewed each day.

So what does the future look like? What would happen if you traded in your television for a night watching YouTube?

A typical evening in front of the television might start with a soap opera. YouTube doesn't do "channels" as anyone the wrong side of 30 might understand the word; but it does do "categories". Unfortunately, for soap addicts, there's no category catering just for them.

Despair not. There is a search engine. And typing in the term "soap opera" yields some 2,500 results. Top of the pile is "Mexican Soap Opera" - a 41-second home movie staring three glove puppets (make that two glove puppets and one naked hand) behind a sofa... oh, and the ill-placed top of a puppeteer's head.

The furry creatures seem to be locked in a classic Albert Square-style love triangle confrontation, to the accompaniment of an off-camera giggling onlooker. It's a raucous, wobbly to-do and is over almost as soon as it begun.

Emmerdale opera

Further down the search results page is one titled "Emmerdale commercial soap opera". Given that Emmerdale itself is a 7pm staple of Tuesday nights, this might be worth investigating. It turns out to be an ITV1 trailer for the soap in which the Emmerdale theme tune is rendered as an operatic aria.

Jane Edmonds
Jane Edmonds makes a YouTube appeal against a deportation

Several of those that tally with the "soap opera" search brand themselves paraodies and there's one, posted by "sexipuss", which centres around cuddly toys in coitus.

What if one were to delve further into the archives, say 100 pages into search results. Bingo - genuine soap operas in the form of a string of Dallas re-runs. I click on "Dallas Season 5 - at the OBB Sue Ellen metts (sic) Holly".

Before you can say "poisoned dwarf", here's Larry Hagman working his sly charms with a robustly shoulder-padded Linda Gray at his side.

But if Dallas used to be 60 minutes per episode, this "re-run" is 59 minutes short. Copyright issues have been an ongoing headache at YouTube HQ, and while it has recently trumpeted deals with some major media firms to carry their stuff legitimately, clipping shows is perhaps a way of staving off some of the legal writs.

Sport, football in particular, is about the most highly-guarded content in terms of copyright. But could I find a re-run of last Saturday's Euro championships tie between England and Macedonia? Easy.

There's a solid 10-minute highlights package, complete with John Motson and Mark Lawrenson commentating. And there's also a posting of the Scotland-France match.

Reality TV

Where YouTube wins on choice, the traditional broadcasters have a clear edge on quality. But if there's one place where the two converge, surely it's reality TV - a linchpin of broadcasting schedules these days and the bread and butter of any YouTuber.

Glove puppets
The face of the future? Glove puppets from a Mexican soap

With ITV1 showing Britain's Youngest Mums and Dads, I wonder if YouTube has something of a similar ilk. My innocent search throws up a profoundly shocking video purporting to be of a "pregnant teenager" smoking cannabis through a bong "while friend sits and laughs".

It's been viewed 1,600 times and has been given a three-and-a-half-out-of-five star rating. There's a warning that "this video may contain content that is inappropriate for some users".

As with all sites that allow users to post material unrestricted, YouTube has a dark side. The film's categorisation as "comedy" only emphasises the stark differences in what we've come to see as entertainment.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

If I want properly scripted and acted shows, I'll watch programmes on the television - but if you just want to be mindlessly entertained for half an hour, I'll take those fan-made dance videos for Guild Wars on YouTube over the soaps any day.
Joanna, Cambridge

I think the last paragraph sums up the content of YouTube perfectly. I certainly wouldn't expect to find a video of someone having drunkenly fallen off the toilet as part of BBC One's Friday night schedule!
Kris Garthwaite, Darlington

I spend more time watching YouTube than TV. The variety and comedy value of a lot of the pieces is unparallelled. YouTube is a big sign as to the future of entertainment.
Martin, London

YouTube isn't replacing television - it has never tried to. If you want to watch Emmerdale at 7pm on Tuesday night then sit in the living room with it on the tv, not searching for it online. However, after watching your soap operas then you can browse YouTube for anything you want to see. I specifically enjoy watching my favourite singers performing live, which only YouTube can provide. For dramas, soaps and movies, stick to television. But for a more exclusive request, YouTube is far more likely to give success. Inappropriate material crops up all of the time on YouTube, as it does with all media, but it does warn you and it is fairly easy to pick out. And yet like all the television shows I deem as inappropriate, I simply choose not to watch them - problem solved. I don't buy tabloid newspapers then complain about the photographs; I don't watch late night documentaries that I know in advance will shock me; I don't listen to a radio station that plays classical music knowing that I don't like that genre. I watch what I want to watch on YouTube, and it's why I am a happy user of the service.
Paul, Norwich

I love YouTube. I got into it a few months back when I was bored at work (spent hours watching the cat flush the loo!) then introduced my son to it who spends hours watching it. Much more fun than TV - perfect for those with a limited attention span! I can imaging men would watch far more often than women.
Stephanie, London

Google have made a big mistake in paying out $1.65bn for YouTube. YouTube is merely a frivolous distraction for our increasingly short attentionspan society. The vast majority of people will find it initially entertaining because of novelty value. After the first two or three visits, they will realize that there are more useful ways of using their time...
Tony Bradley, Plymouth

This is the life that they promised us in the movies- the chance to be famous- if only for the length of a video clip... But with so much time and energy "wasted" on entertainment is it any wonder that the environment is groaning under our weight and civil society is faltering through lack of engagement. Maybe that's the YouToob I should post...
Cllr Allan Siao Ming Witherick, St Albans

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