Social interaction and co-viewing with youtube: blending mass communication reception and social connection.

Author:Haridakis, Paul

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).


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. The Internet, in particular, is both an interpersonal and mass communication medium (Flanagin & Metzger, 2001). Prior Internet research has identified both traditional media-related motives and interpersonal motives for using the Internet. Media-related motives include entertainment (Ebersole, 2000; Kaye & Johnson, 2002; Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000; Wolfradt & Doll, 2001), information seeking (Ebersole, 2000; Kaye & Johnson, 2002; Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000; Sjoberg, 1999; Wolfradt & Doll, 2001), and passing time or alleviating boredom (Ebersole, 2000; Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000). Interpersonal motives for using the lnternet include interpersonal utility (Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000), social utility (Kaye & Johnson, 2002), social or interpersonal interaction (Ebersole, 2000; Wolfradt & Doll, 2001), and chatting with others (Sjoberg, 1999).


Uses and Gratifications researchers have long argued that there are links between media-use motives and audience activity before, during, and after media exposure (e.g., Levy & Windahl, 1984). Much of the research has focused on the influence of pre-viewing activity (e.g., viewing intention), and during-viewing activity (e.g., attention, involvement) on media use and effects (e.g., Kim & Rubin, 1997; Perse, 1990; Rouner, 1984). For example, Rubin (2002) suggested that purposive viewers are more intentional in their pre-viewing planning and more attentive and involved during viewing. Lin (1993) also suggested that motivated viewers are more active during television viewing.

Media researchers have long felt that post-viewing activity also could influence media effects. Rubin and Perse (1987) found links between motives and the postviewing discussion of televised soap operas and concluded that lonely viewers were more passive and less likely than non-lonely viewers to watch soap operas for social interaction. The ability to share YouTube videos provides researchers an opportunity to examine a new form of post-viewing activity.


The argument also has been made that level of motivation and activity affect attitudes toward the media and/or their content. Media affinity is one attitude that has received considerable research attention. Rubin (2002) found that more habitual and less active viewers tend to exhibit an affinity with the medium of their choice, whereas more instrumental and active viewers tend to exhibit an affinity with the content selected. Rubin (1983) found that more instrumental use is evidenced by greater activity levels, more purposive motives (e.g., for information), and relatively greater affinity with the content than with the medium, whereas more ritualized use is evidenced by lower activity levels, more passive motives (e.g., to relax, escape, pass time), and relatively more affinity with the medium than the content. Affinity with particular programming (e.g., soap operas) has been linked to post-viewing program discussion (e.g., Rubin & Perse, 1987).

YouTube User Background Characteristics

The Uses and Gratifications model posits that people's motives for media use are shaped by their particular social and psychological characteristics. Locus of control and sensation-seeking are two traits that should be relevant in an online environment in which users can exercise considerable control in selecting from among millions of videos, ranging from very exciting (e.g., sports fights), to very relaxing (sounds of an ocean breeze). Since viewing of videos requires at least a minimum level of computer skills, and the service itself was less than 2 years old when this study was conducted, innovativeness also could be an important user characteristic to consider.

Users' ability to share YouTube videos with others in their social circles suggests that the extent of their offline social activities and interpersonal interaction with others may influence their social use of YouTube.

Social Activities and Interpersonal Interaction. There has been significant discussion about the relationship between online media use and offline social activities and interpersonal interaction (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, & Robinson, 2001). Some researchers have suggested that greater Internet use results in smaller social circles, less communication in homes, and loneliness (e.g., Kraut et al., 1998). Others have suggested that Internet users have wider social circles than nonusers, and that the Internet enhances existing social networks (Hampton & Wellman, 2003). Regardless of the position taken, each view highlights the importance of one's offline social activities and interpersonal interaction (Haythornthwaite, 2002). Papacharissi and Rubin (2000) found that those who were satisfied with their face-to-face interactions tended to use the Internet for informational reasons, while those who were not satisfied with their face-to-face interactions tended to use the Internet for interpersonal interaction. The research suggests that offline interaction and social activity are background characteristics that would be particularly salient in the use of a technology such as YouTube, which has been specifically described as a social medium (Fernando, 2007).

Locus of Control. Locus of control is a personality trait that reflects one's belief in the relative power to control events in one's life. Those who are more internally controlled tend to believe that they can control external circumstances in their lives. Those who are more externally controlled believe that external circumstances such as fate, luck, and influential other people tend to control events in their lives (e.g., Levenson, 1974). Locus of control has been positively associated with the amount of television viewing (Wober & Gunter, 1986), post-viewing perceptions (Wober & Gunter, 1982), and attitudinal and behavioral effects (Haridakis, 2002). Some research has suggested links between locus of control and attitudes...

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