There are a couple of practical reasons that violence would be less prevalent on YouTube. For one, violence can be difficult for an amateur to produce. Violent scenes, to be done well, generally require staging, props, special effects, and the like, which aren’t necessarily accessible to the amateur producer. Also, narrative often isn’t as important in YouTube videos, so violence as a narrative device isn’t necessary.
But a bigger reason, and a more important reason, is that violence seems to be much less valued as “entertainment” than its dominance of mainstream media would suggest. One of the reasons we began the research on YouTube is that we wanted to know what kinds of decisions consumers would make given a nearly infinite amount of choice. Of course, with YouTube there are two key types of decisions to examine. In this context, it’s important to understand not only what people choose to watch but also what they choose to upload. Both of these decisions are indicators of what consumers value in their entertainment experience.
Consistently (and again, contrary to what you might expect from looking at the offerings in the mainstream media), violence is not one of the things that is valued. Violent content makes up a much smaller percentage of YouTube content than it does for television content, and this is true not just for a random sampling of videos but also for those videos that are “most viewed” and “highest rated.” That is, the presence of violence does not predict popularity of content, whether you are talking about views or ratings. Importantly, even when we just looked at videos that were recordings of mainstream media content, violence was very low. So even when the practical issues above weren’t relevant (recording and uploading a violent scene is just as easy as recording and uploading a nonviolent scene) and even though there’s a wealth of violent content available to choose from, people were overwhelmingly choosing to upload nonviolent content.
So violence isn’t as prevalent on YouTube in large part because consumers (and the distributors who upload the content) don’t value it as part of the entertainment experience. What do they value? Preliminary research (both ours and others) indicates that audiences are drawn to uplifting and elevating content … what Mary Beth Oliver has described as content that shows the triumph of the human spirit. Humor is also predictive of popularity. We’re currently engaged in some follow-up research to dive deeper into the processes that guide our entertainment choices in the Web video context.
Andrew Weaver is a professor in the department of telecommunications at Indiana University.