A Participatory Culture

The technological advances that have occurred in the last few years have had a tremendous impact on the Media Ecology of the 21st century. Changes happen so rapidly that it can be difficult to stay current on all the new technology and trends. The “maps” of new technology media ecology probably change constantly unlike the maps created by Snow to study the cholera outbreak in London.

In today’s world practically anyone has the ability to be a “movie producer.” With the convergence of low cost camera equipment and YouTube, people are able to create their own movies, YouTube channels, Internet shows, Vlogging channels, etc.

Since YouTube is a “broadcast yourself” medium, people have the opportunity to “express themselves” for all (or most) of the world to see.  We would like to believe that there is no censorship involved with YouTube, however some countries as well as elementary schools in the United States have banned YouTube.


YouTube has helped encourage a participatory culture.  People watch the videos, can comment on them, make parodies, make sequels, vlog about them, etc. This participatory culture has forced “traditional” entertainment companies to assess their distribution methods.  Some have challenged YouTube’s “support of copyright infringement,” some have developed their own streaming, some see the site as a way to provide exposure.

When thinking about how a big company can react to content being parodied or worshipped, George Lucas seems to be making an effort to allow fans to re-purpose Star Wars content, yet also trying to contain the copyright infringement issue. By creating a site where fans can use Star Wars content, he is able to somewhat control the content while appeasing fans.

When he tried this before with the caveat that he would own the fans’ creations, there were campaigns started encouraging Star War fans to not participate. It seems the fans may have won that fight. The Star War fans are very protective of the franchise.

Even I use the tagline “May the Mediaforce be with you.”




It may seem that all of YouTube is amateur video, people trying for their “fifteen-minutes of fame,” however there is professional video content on the site. Some companies have their own channels within YouTube. There are big media companies, web-TV companies and ordinary user videos all on YouTube.





The most active group is the users. These are the people who make their own videos and upload them. Some of these users become famous within their YouTube audience and/or in the world. Vlogging is one way people get followers on YouTube and become very popular.

I think that it is great that people have a way to express themselves creatively, share funny moments and become stars of their own universe with a site like YouTube. However I also have concerns.

As a professional video producer, my first concern is the difference between a professionally produced video and an amateur one. Not all the amateur videos on YouTube are horrible; actually some of them are produced very well.

But when it comes to producing a video for a corporation (a TV commercial, training video, marketing video, promotional piece, etc.) I believe that hiring a professional is going to produce a much better outcome for the hiring company than if they hire “a kid with a video camera.”

For one thing there is the difference in consumer vs. professional equipment.  We all throw the words high definition around, however there are different qualities of HD.  A consumer camera is going to compress the video, usually only has one chip, does not have some of the manual features one may need for certain looks, does not offer choices of frames per second, does not have the quality of lens that a professional camera comes with (this reflects on the ability to choose depth of field) and just does not have the quality look of a professional camera.

Another reason to hire a professional video production company is experience and training.  The more videos one produces the more experienced the person becomes and can advise the client what may or may not work for their end purpose. Someone who just makes movies for themselves does not have that experience. They also are not used to dealing with a client and making content that the client wants.


The producer needs to know what the distribution method will be for the final product to be sure that any required specs are met. Even though we are in the HD era of video production, TV stations each have their own requirements for video and audio specs.  These are different at the local, regional or national level as well as for each station. If the final product will be televised, the producer needs to know if it will be a local, regional or national airing and what station it will be on. As a professional producer I know to consult with the TV station before I produce the video. An amateur may not realize this and not know to check ahead of time to be sure the video meets the requirements to be aired.

The list can go on and on of why, even if it may cost more, hiring a professional video production company can save the client money in the long run.

The “kid with the video camera” is a big problem within the video community. Just because someone can purchase a video camera does not make them an expert producer. Some companies today are surprised when they are quoted a professional rate for their product. They expect to be able to get a 30-second commercial videotaped and edited with special effects for a few hundred dollars.  When they are quoted thousands of dollars they are surprised. I try to explain all the differences and sometimes they hear me and sometimes they don’t.  Example – just because I have a medical bag does not mean that I have the expertise to treat a medical condition.

If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur. — Red Adair

Another concern I have with YouTube is the unrealistic expectations that some have when they upload a video. Some people see it as their way to fame. It surprises me that these somewhat seemingly intellectual people don’t seem to realize that those who have reached famed through YouTube are few and far between. I do believe in dreaming big (I want to win an Academy Award) but there also has to be a sense of realism involved.

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One Response to A Participatory Culture

  1. sara says:

    One of the challenges that the amateur vs. the professional film maker brings up is the quality of production that the audience expects. I agree with you that the “kid with the video camera” isn’t going to produce the same high quality, technically correct, professionaly edited piece that a professional videographer would. The rub really is that consumers are okay with this lack of quality in the videos we watch. In fact, many times, the more raw the video is, the more we like it. With these lowered standards, we prioritize quick access to less-professionally produced video footage vs. a longer lead time to access higher quality footage. In many ways, it’s a compromise we’re making every day through website that welcome news footage, photography and written submissions from the public and then packages them as news. For the news outlets, these amateur reporters, bloggers, videographers are cheap labor that help sell their news products. For professionals in these fields, these amateurs are a threat to their livelihood and the craft.

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