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This weekend sees the first ever YouTube Video Music Awards streamed online. In many ways, it’s like a lot of other music awards: there’s glitz, there’s glamour, and there’s Lady Gaga, One Direction and Rihanna (though Cher’s invite is presumably still in the post…).

However, the YouTube awards are different in one major way. Any videos shared across Facebook, Twitter or Google+ since September 2012 contribute to deciding the winner, alongside user votes.

Just over a year ago, in August 2012, Nielsen revealed some research that revealed YouTube as the number one music discovery source for under 18s – a figure that can only have grown in the past 12 months. Arguably, this makes these awards the most relevant of all.

Social media and on-demand technology have forever changed the way we discover media, with tastemakers now an aggregate population of consumers, rather than DJs and record execs. Such democracy might not be a new idea, but it’s now accepted and recognised by the decision makers. Even BAFTA has introduced a category into its awards for online-only broadcasters such as Netflix.

So does this approach help or hinder the prevailing industries?

YouTube is well known for making overnight successes of the most unlikely stars. Few can argue that some of the biggest ‘successes’ are often based on novelty (Gangnam Style, Rebecca Black, the Chinese Food song) rather than actual artistic merit.

The individual’s rewards can be handsome (Gangnam Style generated $8m+ on YouTube alone) while at the other end of the music discovery market, artists are pulling works off Spotify claiming its model is unsustainable.

For YouTube to truly shake up and democratise the music market, could the natural next step be to reward the fans for the part that their sharing plays in the success of the artists (and, indirectly, the channel itself)? Will this then lead to influential online protagonists becoming the power-brokers, with artistic quality the sacrificial lamb? It’s 1970s style payola, but with the bloggers coining it in instead of the radio stations.

Until this becomes widespread, we’ll have to wait until Sunday night to see whether the fans consider the awards show to be reward enough.

Steve Richards

Published 1 November, 2013 by Steve Richards

Steve Richards is MD of social media agency Yomego and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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