Social Interaction and Co-Viewing with Youtube: Blending Mass Communication Reception and Social Connection

Article excerpt

YouTube is one of the new forms of social network-oriented online communication that have emerged in the past few years. It exemplifies a social environment in which everyone has the potential to be both a consumer and purveyor of content (Holtz, 2006), and illustrates the speed with which social networking innovations can achieve widespread penetration and utility.

YouTube was created in 2005, and 15 months later the site was delivering 100 million videos per day, accounting for 60% of all videos watched online in 2006 ("YouTube serves up 100 million videos a day online," 2006). The most popular clips are viewed by millions of users, providing a new form of appointment television--one that is built around the calendars of individual users and not rigid network program schedules. The audience is now an integral part of the media distribution chain.

Since YouTube resides on the Internet, it can take advantage of the Web's social-networking capabilities. Viewers can share opinions about the content through online comments and ratings systems, and can share the content itself by e-mailing links to family and friends. It allows users to move seamlessly between traditional mass communication activity of watching mediated content, and interpersonal or social connection activity of sharing it with others.

The centrality of the individual audience member suggests the value of applying audience-centered perspectives to studying media use in an environment in which users can receive, publish and modify Web content (Pisani, 2006). The predominant research framework for studying media use from the audience's perspective is Uses and Gratifications, which assumes that people use media to satisfy underlying needs or interests. This study applies a Uses and Gratifications approach to examine the communication motives of YouTube users' viewing and sharing of videos.

Uses and Gratifications

Uses and Gratifications theory emphasizes how and why people use media (Klapper, 1963). This perspective assumes that media uses and effects are influenced by a host of factors working in concert. It suggests that such factors as one's social environment and psychological circumstances, needs, motives, and expectations about mediated communication influence media use and effects (e.g., Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974; Rosengren, 1974). Summarizing these assumptions, Rubin et al. (2003) explained that "(a) media behavior is purposive, goal-directed and motivated, (b) people select media content to satisfy their needs or desires, (c) social and psychological dispositions mediate that behavior and (d) the 'media compete with other forms of communication--or functional alternatives--such as interpersonal interaction for selection, attention, and use'" (p. 129). The assumption that media behavior is goal-directed and purposive makes motivation a central concept in the perspective. Research suggests that motivation influences communication behavior such as the selection, use, interpretation, and sharing of media fare (e.g., Haridakis & Rubin, 2005; Levy & Windahl, 1984).

Motivation

The videos on YouTube come either from the traditional mass media (e.g., television, movies), or are created and uploaded by YouTube users. Therefore, one basic question to consider is whether motives such as entertainment, information, arousal, habit, pass-time, escape, and relaxation identified in prior studies (Greenberg, 1974; Haridakis, 2002; Kim & Rubin, 1997; Rubin, 1983) for watching media fare may be salient reasons for viewing YouTube content. By the same token, the ability to share videos with others offers a social component to YouTube that suggests interpersonal motives such as inclusion, affection, and control, identified in prior studies (e.g., Barbato & Perse, 1992; Downs & Javidi, 1990; Rubin, Perse, & Barbato, 1988), also may contribute to YouTube use.

Several years ago, Rubin and Rubin (1985, 2001) argued that people can use media to satisfy interpersonal needs, and use interpersonal communication to satisfy media-related needs. …