Here are three new changes that YouTube has made to try to balance the needs of brands, creators, and viewers. Unfortunately, unintended consequences mean they don’t support a coherent strategy!
Changes to ad delivery and timing
YouTube is working to boost engagement by reducing the number of ad interruptions viewers encounter. The Alphabet-owned company’s approach to doing this is to show twice as many ads per “ad pod,” and reduce the frequency of the ad pods. Instead of seeing one pre-roll ad, as has been the standard, viewers will now be fed two ads. For longer videos, rather than seeing one ad every 7 minutes or so, the viewer will see two ads per pod every 14 minutes or so
YouTube management is hoping that fewer interruptions will keep people watching longer. However, there is a delicate balance between the frequency of breaks and their length. Overplay either, and YouTube could see increased abandonment rates and shorter viewing times.
This change is not surprising as the company moves more towards a TV-like-experience. Although most users watch videos and the ads they contain on their mobile phones, many also watch YouTube on their television. Traditional TV ad pods are longer and less frequent
YouTube has long been attempting to appeal to these television viewers. Earlier in the year, it had announced that it was making available popular films and traditional television shows free ad-supported on its site.
Changes such as these might indicate its ditching its current model but not so fast.
Changes to the ‘Trending’ page in favor of creators
There has been no shortage of complaints from creators. Frequently discussed topics include the difficulty of smaller creators to be noticed and the crippling copyright issues. However, another problem that has long been voiced has finally gotten some attention from YouTube management.
YouTube’s Trending section, an area where videos that the company deems as popular and important are displayed, has notoriously overlooked creator content. Until now, a quick scan of the Trending page would show mostly content derived from traditional media, such as talk shows, film trailers, music videos, and news stories. Individual creators, who deliver most of the content on the platform, were mostly shut out of the Trending page.
According to Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO, the situation is about to change. She announced that at least 50% of all videos displayed on the page would come from YouTubers. The remainder, she says, “will come from music and traditional media.” Ms. Wojcicki also pointed out that safety remains a big concern for the page. She warned that though a video may gain millions of views if it is deemed inappropriate, it will not be shown on the page.
Many creators will be happy with these changes, but it is hardly the end of their problems.
Making money is becoming harder on YouTube
A report entitled “The State of YouTube 2019” by Storyblocks and ICXMedia shows that creators are encountering more challenges as the platform grows in popularity. According to the report, most YouTubers say they post to express creativity (57%), but a significant portion (34%) say they are promoting a business or brand. Unfortunately, many of the more business-oriented people are encountering challenges.
One big challenge they face is engagement. Typically, a serious YouTuber has an engagement of around 3%, meaning 3% of a video’s viewers leave a comment or ‘like.’ Raising the engagement rate is very difficult.
Another challenge is the continually changing algorithm which decides to whom a video is shown. Changes in the algorithm are forcing creators to post more frequently. One creator stated:
“The Algorithm has forced me to triple my output… in order to maintain the kind of growth, I was experiencing in 2017. This is more difficult for me and doesn’t allow me to polish the final product as much as I would like.”
Changing the algorithm to force creators to post more videos of a lesser quality seems at odds with YouTube’s strategy to make its product more “premium.”.
YouTube’s confused strategy
YouTube seeks to become more like television but also wants to stick with individual everyday creators. It pushes premium content but then continues to favor the bread-and-butter creator posts.
If you are looking for a clear strategy from the social media giant, you won’t find it. Ms. Wojcicki and her team seem to be employing Google’s longtime strategy of hedging its bets: trying a variety of approaches and waiting to see what sticks.
Why it matters
YouTube is doubling up on ads and reducing the frequency to boost engagement.
The social site is working to make 50% of Trending page videos be from creators
Creators are being forced to deliver far more content to make the same amount of money.