The Internet is going to replace TV by producing content without network gatekeepers. That’s what YouTube believes as it invests $100 million to help develop its own professionally created channels. It’s also what dot-com companies were saying in 1999 when they made Internet shows like Hard Drinkin’ Lincoln. But now it’s YouTube’s turn to bring us cheaply produced content from moonlighting celebrities, like Amy Poehler’s advice channel Smart Girls at the Party.
YouTube has the advantage of a big built-in audience: it now streams four billion videos a day. To turn that into advertising money, it wants to target viewers who aren’t being served by TV; skateboarders, for example, can turn to Tony Hawk’s Ride channel. Most cable channels have given up on “narrowcasting,” unable to make money on niche audiences. YouTube has the chance to fill the void—or to find out why cable was losing its shirt on this kind of programming.