Cenk Uygur isn’t short on opinions. As the main host and co-founder of the digital news program, The Young Turks, it’s Uygur’s job to keep the conversation lively while breaking the news and breaking down the hot social issues of the day.
It’s a formula that’s earned the TYT network – an early adopter of the YouTube platform — an audience of 2.2 million subscribers and, recently, more than two billion views on YouTube. TYT also has a strong presence on Facebook and Twitter, with 426,000 and 108,000 followers, respectively.
It’s no surprise that’s he’s got some choice words for linear broadcasters when asked to share his thoughts on the future of the industry, and how video news is changing distribution and consumption patterns.
To say he believes the end is near for traditional news media is putting it mildly. He thinks traditional-style news, the old nightly news with a familiar anchor, is “decrepit” and “corrupt.”
As for TV itself, “I think (it) will have an epic collapse that broadcasters don’t even comprehend yet,” said Uygur in an interview with StreamDaily.
Uygur had plenty more to say on the subject when we caught up with him recently prior to Vidcon, where he is set to tackle the topic in greater detail, along with media futurist Jeff Jarvis on Friday, July 24.
Tell us about your initial decision to move the news to a digital platform.
We’ve been on YouTube for 10 years. The reason we went to YouTube as a news talk show is because that’s where all the new audience was and I’ve been a believer for a long, long time that YouTube is the new television.
Right from the beginning, the interest was in grabbing that young demographic?
I don’t think that we actively thought that we will now get young people to watch our show. I think that it happened organically, partly because of the platform and partly because of the content and style of the show.
We did many things differently than the mainstream television did at the time. We got rid of prompters. We told stories directly into the camera. We were far more irreverent. We were, I hope, a thousand times more authentic than television news. We were passionate, whereas in television news they teach you to be dispassionate. We just believed in a new way of doing news – doing the news as if you actually care about the news. That wound up resonating with a younger demo that was tired of the enormous fakeness that they see on TV. I think some of the older demos just haven’t had a chance to see it yet because they are still so wedded to TV, but I know…when they see it, they love it, too.
There’s a belief that young people aren’t interested in the news, what made you think otherwise?
Everything is news, so it is preposterous to argue that human beings would not be interested in the news no matter how old they are or what demographic they are in.
But if you are trying to get younger people to watch the nightly news, of course they are not interested. Why would they be interested? They have somebody who is 95 years old, presenting news in a style from 150 years ago, that is so wildly irrelevant to their lives that it is basically a foreign language. The only people who think young people are not interested in news are the ones who are so biased that they think the old way of doing news is the only legitimate news.
You talked about the “epic collapse” of TV. Can you expand on that?
They (TV and cable execs) understand they are in trouble and that they are losing viewers, especially those under the age of 35, at a significant rate. But what they don’t understand is the concept of the tipping point – it will become rapid and irreversible to the point where they have to look at their business models and say, “Can we stay in business?” If your cable packages are unbundled and now all these stations are trying to survive in the new ocean of content, I would be shocked if most of them didn’t drown. For the people who have built their islands and their contents in that new ocean, who are used to that ocean, we are going to have a much bigger advantage than the old guys who never learned how to swim in the first place.
How will that consumption of news will change in that same time frame?
Prime-time news clearly will not exist in the future. There is no one under the age of 35 watching prime time news. The only question is, when will they keel over? Is it two years? Five years? Ten Years? And, don’t get me wrong, it’s still a cash cow, so can they milk that cow for another 10 years? I don’t know. I don’t find that inconceivable. The timing is always tricky, but I think that, obviously, the news is going to come from online, from YouTube, from Facebook and from the very few TV news outlets that can learn how to adapt to the new environment.
What is the future of monetizing news online?
You sell ads, just like you would on television. For a long time, digital was at a disadvantage because television had the infrastructure and they had the old habits of advertisers who were doing what they were used to doing. That has been eroded. It’s not quite at the balance that it needs to be, there is still growth that needs to happen online, but I think the future is even brighter for online brands than even the industry realizes because once you enter the ocean of content, advertisers are going to need to latch on to the lifeboats of established, recognized brands. There isn’t a ton of brands that are big enough to appeal to advertisers and give them safe haven, so I think for the few of us out there in the news category that have built these brands online, the future is incredibly bright.
Was there a moment over the last 10 years when you thought, “We’ve really got this right. This is really the future of news”?
I’m not sure we had a movie moment where you see the numbers running wildly off the screen and you pop the champagne. The truth is the growth was so gradual. Having said that, there was that moment when we crossed one billion views. I’ve often talked about how I couldn’t even imagine a billion views, and I am not short on imagination. That is a number so big that you know you have reached people. It’s just amazing.