YouTube appears poised for an image makeover, with a pair of announcements this week promising less sex and more symphony. YouTube's new Symphony Orchestra will accomplish the latter, offering classical musicians worldwide a chance to perform in an "online orchestra" packed with some of the industry's biggest names. As for the former, a set of new standards will attempt to keep adult-oriented content away -- or at least make it slightly harder to find.
YouTube Symphony Orchestra
First up: the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. Billed as the world's first collaborative online orchestra, the program promises to "change the way musicians connect over the Internet."
All right, so here's the lowdown: YouTube is inviting musicians from across the globe to send in demo tapes of themselves performing two songs -- "The Internet Symphony," a composition written by Chinese composer Tan Dun for the competition, and a second piece of their own choosing. The winning performers will work with Dun and San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas to prepare for a performance at Carnegie Hall -- which, of course, will be broadcast worldwide on YouTube. Pianist Lang Lang and members of the London Symphony Orchestra will help lead the rehearsals.
Entries are being accepted from now through January 28, 2009. Professional classical musicians from all over the world will help select semifinalists from their own regions. Then, an online vote will determine the final Symphony Orchestra members.
The winners will spend three days at a YouTube-sponsored classical music summit in New York, which will end with the Carnegie Hall performance.
YouTube Sexual Standards
So that's the symphony part -- now, here's the sex: YouTube has announced plans to revise its policies surrounding "mature" content effective immediately. The changes feature a stricter definition of "sexually suggestive" content that will include any videos showing people in "minimal or revealing clothing." Well, there goes Britney's entire catalog.
All content deemed to be "sexually suggestive" under the updated code will be flagged as age-restricted. (Translation: Sixteen-year-olds will now have to enter in a fake birthday before being able to access it.) In addition, the material will be "algorithmically demoted" on YouTube's primary pages -- lists like the "Most Viewed" or "Top Favorited" videos.
I'll spare you the full details of the revised standards, but should you be so inclined, you can read them in their entirety here.
The Hulu Factor
All the announcements come amidst increased pressure for YouTube to compete with Hulu, the NBC- and Fox-operated service getting plenty of attention lately. The New York Times recently referred to Hulu as the "most prominent site for mainstream TV shows and, increasingly, movies" and went on to systematically deconstruct the perceived problems with YouTube.
"Studios are wary of YouTube's historically lax attitude toward posting copyrighted material," the story says. "Many media companies worry about the rising power of Google over their own business. And some worry about having their multimillion-dollar epics shuffled in between home videos of babies plopping the pudding on their hair."
Despite the reviews, YouTube seems to be doing just fine. A Nielsen Online study found YouTube dominating the online video market, with more than 5.3 million video streams in the month of September. Hulu was sitting at a comparatively meager 142,261.
One does have to consider, however, that users are likely to view more of YouTube's typically short videos compared to Hulu's longer show- and movie-oriented videos -- something that will obviously affect those statistics. Plus, Hulu just opened its site publicly this past March, while YouTube's been around since early '05.
The question, then, is how time will, or won't, change the equation. YouTube appears ready to fight to maintain its reign -- and the symphony and tightened standards are likely only the latest weapon we'll see in the increasingly competitive battle.