Ever since YouTube came out many years ago and completely changed the way that we access and create online content forever, other video streaming services have been trying to find ways to do it better and take You Tube’s spot. Has anyone been successful as of yet? Well, not exactly. At least not if we are talking about unseating YouTube. It is still, by a huge margin, the most popular and widely used free video streaming site on the web. It has the largest community of users (with billions of them) and, thus, is still the site with the highest number of videos on the web.
That doesn’t mean that there is no room for another video streaming site to rise up and take You Tube’s spot, though. People, it seems, are becoming increasingly fed up with YouTube. There are a number of issues that people have with the site, most of which YouTube appears not interested in changing in the slightest. The ads, for instance, have grown increasingly frequent and obnoxious on YouTube over the years. People have been quite vocal about how annoying they find this, but YouTube has not throttled them at all. In fact, if anything, the ads on YouTube have only become more prominent since the outrage.
Secondly, YouTube has come under fire in the last few years for censoring content. No, I am not just talking about how they do not let any adult content onto their platform, this has to do with their policy of demonetizing channels and videos that happen to express beliefs that differ from those of YouTube. That means if someone publishes a video stating a political belief, say, that YouTube doesn’t like, they can just demonetize that video, make it so that the user can no longer earn money on the site, or, in the most extreme cases, simply take the video down.
This has happened numerous times over the last few years, perhaps most famously in the case of You Tube’s decision to demonetize Joe Rogan because of something that he said on his podcast (of which he posts videos on YouTube). Instead of respecting Joe Rogan’s right to freedom of speech and issuing a statement about how YouTube does not agree with what he said, they simply demonetized his channel. A rather draconian policy, don’t you think? Especially considering the fact that Joe Rogan was not even expressing a hateful, racist, or particularly hurtful belief.
With all of these factors taken into account, it makes a lot of sense that there would have been an influx of numerous competitor sites gunning for those coveted YouTube user numbers over the last decade or so. Nobody has been successful in dethroning YouTube and becoming the top video streaming site, but the good news is that, if you are sick of YouTube, there are plenty of alternative sites out there for you to check out, all of which offer a slightly different type of content.
Perhaps you have heard of Daily Motion (the second most popular video streaming site on the web), Vimeo, Meta Café, or D Tube. These are but a few of the viable You Tube replacement sites. If you just can’t take You Tube’s ads anymore, their outrageous censorship measures, their militant dedication to upholding copyright laws, or you just want to check out something a little different, any one of these sites will provide hours of entertainment.
The site that we will be looking at today, though, is one of the most popular sites in Japan. It is called niconico, and it has one of the largest collections of recorded and live videos of any video streaming site in the world. Niconico is easily one of the top 5 streaming sites, even if you have never heard of it. It is a great source of news, live TV, anime, manga, gaming, and otherwise fun, funny, and fascinating video content. Without further ado, let’s learn more about this awesome video streaming site, shall we?
The very first incarnation of niconico sourced its videos from, you guessed it, You Tube. As niconico grew bigger, however, You Tube began to feel the strain of increased bandwidth and traffic that niconico was putting on them. This resulted in You Tube blocking access to niconico. The site ceased operations almost immediately.
But only temporarily. Two weeks later, niconico was up and running once again, re-launching with its own on premises video server. And on May 7, 2007, niconico announced that it would be releasing the mobile version of the service. “Niconico Douga Mobile” has been available on NTT DoCoMo and Au mobile devices since August 9th, 2007.
It did not take long for this site to become a powerhouse in the world of video streaming sites. Niconico had nearly 24 million registered users, 6.9 million mobile users, and 1.4 million premium users as of October 31st, 2011. And in 2012, the site famously unveiled its “Zero” update, which significantly increased video quality, streaming speeds, and other upgrades. Since then, niconico has also been made available on the Nintendo Switch in Japan, making it the Switch’s first third-party app available in its app store.
As far as web design goes, there is certainly plenty of worst-designed video streaming sites out there. I don’t think that I can fairly say that niconico is poorly designed. I think it would be more accurate to say that the design of this site just isn’t for me. It’s kind of cluttered, meandering, and difficult to navigate. I have trouble figuring out the logic of the user experience as you scroll down the page – the section sequences do not seem to make a whole lot of sense to me, but maybe that’s just me.
The site menu bar, which is slender and stylized, makes things a little bit easier. Here, you can browse the site by Videos, Images, Live, Channels, Blomaga, RPG, Apps, and More. I suppose I would like it if these sections also materialized on the home page more clearly, allowing for quick browsing of each one.
Do the videos themselves hold up to the quality of the videos to be found on, say, YouTube? Well, this really just depends on what kind of content you like to stream. If you love manga, anime, gaming videos, etc., then there is a good chance that you will love all that is available on niconico. There is also some kind of cool live video experience to enjoy on niconico, adding an original and unique flair to the site. Take a virtual trip on a cruise ship, for instance, or check in on live Japanese news.
All of this is available, of course, free of charge. And most of what niconico has on their site is also available to stream in HD. Obviously, this really depends more on the uploader than the site itself, though.
Mobile and Desktop Experience
Honestly, I think that the mobile app is where niconico really shines. The whole platform feels like it was made specifically for mobile devices as opposed to desktop browsers. The app feels much more intuitive and user-friendly, with all videos conveniently archived and featured by category and recent uploads.
The app has a 4.3-star rating (out of 5) on the Apple App Store, and it looks great. My only real issue with the app, however, is that it only comes in Japanese, with no option to switch to other languages. So, unless you speak and read Japanese, you are going to be out of luck with this app.
Pricing and Plans
Although it is completely free of charge to use niconico, they do offer a premium version of the service. For 550 yen a month or 6,600 per year, niconico Premium members get an ad-free experience, the ability to live stream their own broadcasts, and additional MyList slots (about twice as many videos can be archived into playlists for premium users).
Suggestions that I have for niconico
I would like to see niconico start to expand more for a global audience. They have the numbers, community size, and servers (it seems) to do so … I would love to see what niconico would look like if it expanded beyond the borders of Japan a little more. Make the app available in additional languages, start to expand into the European and American markets a little. Other than that, I think niconico has a pretty great video streaming service here, especially for Japan.