Social Interaction and Co-Viewing with Youtube: Blending Mass Communication Reception and Social Connection” by Paul Haridakis and Gary Hanson.

Article Summary:
The author examines what motives predict what people watch on YouTube, with the hypothesis that YouTube viewing includes a social element that television does not.

The Uses and Gratifications theory explains that people watch what they watch for a reason; they select viewing material to satisfy needs or desires as determined by their personality and psychological dispositions, and their use of media competes with interpersonal communication.

People traditionally watch TV for entertainment, information, arousal, habit, pass-time, escape, or relaxation. YouTube differs from the traditional TV format in that users can watch commercial media or consumer-created content. This article proposes an additional component for YouTube: the social, with the theory that antisocial people tend to gravitate towards YouTube.

Viewer’s pre-viewing and during-viewing activities have always been a subject of study, but YouTube brings another dimension: post viewing activity. What do people do after watching a YouTube video? People’s connection with what they watch generally makes them more likely to socialize about it post-viewing.

This study examined whether motives and individual differences (social activity, interpersonal interaction, locus of control, sensation-seeking, innovativeness and YouTube affinity) predicted viewing videos on YouTube and then sharing with others. The study examined users’:

  • Social Activities and Interpersonal Interaction: relationship between online and offline behaviors
  • locus of control: how much control users feel over their lives
  • sensation seeking: do people watch things for excitement or to relax?
  • Innovativeness: how do people adapt to new technologies?

The sample was comprised of college students from various majors enrolled in the same large communication course. Students who said that they used YouTube voluntarily completed self-administered questionnaires. Out of the 427 questionnaires administered,  41.5% were answered by men  and 58.3% by women, with the average age being 19.67. The researchers intended to gather information to answer following questions:

  • RQ1: What communication motives predict viewing YouTube video content?
  • RQ2: What communication motives predict sharing YouTube video content?
  • RQ3: How do users’ background characteristics, motives, and affinity with YouTube predict the viewing and sharing of content?

The results were that male gender was a significant predictor of YouTube viewing. Sociable people,  thrill-seekers, experience-seekers and the easily bored gravitated to YouTube, while other motives for watching included convenience, co-viewing, and social interaction. While the typical user is a socially-active male who uses YouTube for entertainment, information seeking, social interaction, and to watch videos with others, the findings suggest that a variety of people use YouTube to connect with other people, making it a social rather than interpersonal medium.

Analysis:

The article was published in 2009, and my understanding that the study took place in 2007, as the author mentions that YouTube was less than two years old at that point. I can’t help but feel that the study is slightly biased due to its audience, as it examined early adopters among college students and not the average user. It seems like the study selected participants based on the researchers’ preconceived mental models of the typical YouTube user rather than coming to a scientific conclusion of what the average actually user might look like. In 2007, bored adolescent males may have been the primary users of YouTube, but I have trouble believing this is the case today.

My mother and father, both in their 60’s, often forward me YouTube videos that friends or colleagues share with them; if my parents, the people who used a rotary phone until 2000 and who still watch TV from a set with knobs, are using YouTube, then it certainly must be mainstream. To pass the time at a family reunion in September while waiting for others to arrive, my 70-year-old aunt suggested that we watch YouTube videos. This was not because she thought someone my age would enjoy it, but rather because watching YouTube is a pastime of her own, and she took great joy in sharing LED sheep. Her videos, like my parents’, are perhaps not ones I would gravitate toward, but show her genuine affinity for the site.

Anecdotal evidence aside,  Mashable reported in 2006 that the average age of YouTube users was 27, yet people in the 35-64 age range comprised over half of the viewers. Young, technologically-competent males may have been YouTube’s early adopters, but it’s appeal has grown. The initial skeptics have now adopted the site and are using it well. As Rogers says in Diffusion of Innovations, the Internet speeds up the time it takes to adopt an innovation; the encouraged sharing of YouTube videos makes this seem highly likely. Therefore, diffusion of YouTube potentially followed this path enough so that, in the time between collecting the data and the article being published, the demographic findings were already out of date.

However, I do agree that there is a highly social element to YouTube, if the user chooses to use it for that purpose. The opportunity to leave a comment, email to a friend, embed or share a link via email, Twitter or Facebook makes it certainly a social medium.

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