Joe Rogan’s departure from YouTube to a lucrative Spotify contract is a welcome, if small, step towards pluralism in social media. Estimated to be worth up to $100m, the multi-year deal for the creator of the world’s most popular video podcast is a significant moment for free-market principles in social media. Lacking for years, prospects of a genuine free market in online video sharing have suddenly improved. What happens next will be vital in determining if social media can regain its halcyon early period, or if increasingly politicized and media conscious major tech companies constrain user created content even further, living up to the authoritarian image handed down by vocal online critics.
Viewers of the Joe Rogan Experience should switch when the transfer of over a decade worth of material is completed. Doing so will send an important message to the Google owned YouTube: stymying user generated content is bad for business. Rumor has it that even under the ownership of the dominant internet search engine in the West YouTube has never made a profit—this helps to explain why the company has become so desperate to please critics in the legacy media and advertisers yet to understand how brand association with content differs online compared to TV. Consequently, the threat of meaningful financial damage to the San Bruno based company is now very real. Though the company is lambasted correctly for failing to live up to its initial ideals, the leadership team is not stupid. Losing market share in online video sharing, despite occupying much of the available market, will harm the wider business strategy of Google and its parent company Alphabet.
Some libertarians may opine that YouTube is a private company and if people do not like the terms of service, they are free to leave. Reality is different. At present there is no viable alternative rival in which a commoner content creator can setup home. Changing that is important if ordinary people are to be free to exercise their consumer power over companies, dispensing with the near monopoly YouTube has over independent creators. Now Rogan has crossed the Rubicon rivals are now far more likely to gain traction, helping to make the outside online world more habitable. Yet to make this happen Rogan must succeed on Spotify. Fail and other big YouTube names will be reluctant to take such a risk, and the average content consumer will be stuck with a choice between the tech giant or small alternatives which struggle to achieve the quality offered by YouTube a decade ago, let alone match the modern day, multi-billion dollar incarnation.
Pronouncements from the widely banned Alex Jones that Rogan is going to war with big tech are encouraging, and it could be argued Rogan has already fired the first salvo in leaving YouTube in the first instance. For adherents of the free market ideal it must be hoped the podcaster does indeed carry on launching broadsides.
Early signs suggest the move has already had an impact on YouTube video selection. Political commentator Tim Pool has already said on his podcast show that subscribers are reporting being able to see his output more easily. Whether a repeat of the period when Steven Crowder’s videos were made harder to find for viewers only in the US remains to be seen. For the sake of diversity of opinion in independently created content online, it must be hoped a culture change at the top of YouTube and within Google can be brought about. Backing Joe Rogan on Spotify is the best chance of fragmentation in social media has had to date.
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