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An adaptation of medium theory analysis: YouTube as a digital moving image medium

McMullan, J. (2015) An adaptation of medium theory analysis: YouTube as a digital moving image medium. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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YouTube has fast come to support global moving-image communication for millions of people. In the current literature, however, YouTube is not considered a ‘medium’ the same way that cinema and television are. Much of this has to do with the computer’s suggested status as a ‘meta-medium’, or ‘medium that can be all mediums’, which in turn heralds the computer itself as a single digital medium. My own perspective is that the term ‘medium’ deserves to be revised to include digital platforms that support novel communication practices. In my perspective, digitisation is yet another foundation technology that facilitates the invention of new mediums from its new ‘proto-affordance’ of computability. In this regard, previous foundation technologies include that of the machine and electricity, with the respective new proto-affordances of reproducibility and instantaneity. The emergence of both of these foundation technologies instigated periods of new media at the time and, hence, spawned new mediums. In terms of moving-image mediums, cinema is mechanical, television is electrical, and YouTube is digital. New mediums of each original foundation technology remediate those of the foundation technology before it, and foundation technology proto-affordances are cumulative. This describes our current engagement with digital, electrical, machines.

Bolter and Gruisin define a medium as “that which remediates” (2000, p. 65). Thus, to demonstrate that YouTube remediates cinema and television and is a medium in its own right, I created consists of 28 published video episodes (plus one private) portraying local original music acts, and exists in many online forms—including a streaming web-page and a YouTube channel. Distributing content that is not unlike that of television through YouTube, exhibits new aspects of moving-image communication. It demonstrates that the participatory culture of YouTube promotes on-going media conversations regarding its moving-image content, which in turn contribute to the overall text. In more ways than one, YouTube users are shaping cultural meaning and contributing to future moving-image content, something that neither traditional cinema nor television can support. This remediation of cinema and television makes YouTube a moving-image medium in its own right, with its own specific affordances and conventions of communication.

Gaudreault and Marion outline the emergence of a new medium as consisting of three stages: appearance, emergence and constitution (2005, p. 12). The first indicates a medium’s initial state as a new technology for communication that adopts the existing nature and practices of existing mediums. Then, through maturation into a new communicative process a medium offers itself for social experimentation. Finally, in a form of rebirth, it becomes institutionalised as a new singular medium that supports unique communicative practices. In the case of YouTube, it appeared with its roots in existing practices, such as initially being touted as a private way to share home videos online. As its creators evolved its technological interface, YouTube users explored its potential for novel forms of communication—including the illegal viral dissemination of snippets of broadcast television. This arguably led to a boost in YouTube’s popularity, which in turn influenced its purchase by Google. With Google ownership came YouTube’s institutionalisation, in its commercialisation, legalisation, and forging of relationships with big media. This was YouTube’s rebirth, in its constitution as a singular new medium.

Throughout YouTube’s emergence and evolution, the online participatory culture that was its users continued to explore its communicative affordances and develop new conventions and practices of communication. The video blog is a result of this effort, as an asynchronous, two-way, genre of the moving image that was developed from the affordances of Web 2.0 platforms. That the moving image genre of video blogs relies on the Internet as technological infrastructure implies that YouTube is its supporting medium. Once YouTube is recognised as a medium, it can be analysed in opposition to cinema and television as to its social, cultural, and psychological impact. This helps clarify the position of YouTube as an evolution of human communication via the moving-image, as well as its place within visual culture.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Richardson, Ingrid
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