The battle between YouTube and traditional television has already been decided, according to one of the most prominent figures in the new media world. Google CEO Eric Schmidt declared online video watching overtaking television viewing "has already happened" during a special YouTube media event this week. Schmidt is certainly biased, since Google is the parent company of YouTube, but some experts think he has a point. "More and more people everyday are going to be watching more and more television, or whatever we call that stuff, online," says Robert Thompson, professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University. The numbers also seem to back up Schmidt's claim--YouTube recently surpassed one billion unique monthly visitors, and more 18- to 34-year-olds watch YouTube than any cable network.
Despite YouTube's monumental growth, comparing it to television is not as simple as it seems, according to Thompson. He tells KTRH that online video sites like YouTube can actually thank television for their success. "A lot of (online viewing) is viral videos, a lot of it is stuff made directly for the Internet, but a lot of people spend a lot of time on the Internet watching what I would call traditional television," he says. Thompson points out that many of his students don't watch an actual television, but they do watch "television shows" online like Game of Thrones, Dexter, Girls, etc. Thus, he sees some gray area between online and TV viewing. "I don't know about this idea that somehow it has to be either YouTube or traditional television and one has to go away entirely," he says.
For its part, YouTube seems to be moving away from trying to mimic television to emphasizing its more unique aspects like instant global reach and interactivity. Thompson also sees much wider possibilities for YouTube and online viewing in general. "What it encompasses is really, really vast," he says. "Rather than comparing YouTube to a cable channel or network, you'd be better off comparing YouTube to your entire cable box." That might be a better comparison, since it appears YouTube is revolutionizing viewing in a similar way to what cable TV did more than 30 years ago.