Nearly a Year Into YouTube’s Great Content Experiment, What’s Working?
Nearly a year into YouTube’s $100 million-plus bet on content, more than 100 “original channels” have launched, and of those, 20 are now earning a million views a week.While they’re still small by YouTube or TV standards, YouTube Head of Content Strategy Jamie Byrne said the channels are attracting an audience that’s sticking around longer than they did a year ago, when YouTube started emphasizing channels over the one-hit wonders that used to drive the bulk of viewing. You can track their progress week-to-week with Ad Age’s YouTube Original Channel Tracker.
More importantly to YouTube, 25 of the new channels have more than 100,000 subscribers. Only 2% of YouTube channels overall ever reach that number, so the channels YouTube has invested in are outperforming on that one metric. YouTube has focused on helping creators build their subscriber counts because those who subscribe see new episodes in their queue and tend to watch twice as much content, Mr. Byrne said.
“We think that these channels that we’re launching are the next great media brands,” he said. “It’s like the early days of cable. The networks that launched back then have become great media brands. And we think we’re in a very similar time.”
We caught up with Mr. Byrne, who will be a speaker at the Ad Age Digital Conference in San Francisco this week, and talked to him about the performance of the original channels.
Advertising Age: Does YouTube still care about views? Isn’t time spent watching a more important metric?
Jamie Byrne: One of the other things we’ve changed about YouTube is that we’ve shifted the focus from being just about views to being about watch-time. Because we actually do think that watch-time is a better indicator of viewers being engaged with the content on YouTube. One thing that we have seen is that if we go back to January, the amount of watch time on the site has grown 10 million hours a day. So this change to channels has helped us and the changes we’ve made to the site have increased the amount of time viewers spend watching content.
We talked a little about the success of these 20 or 25 channels that have crossed these important thresholds. The other thing that I would say is that these channels that are performing are targeting different audiences and the content is from a variety of different categories. So it’s not as if our success is focused in on one narrow place.
Ad Age: Are there any promising new brands emerging?
Mr. Byrne: Some of the ones that we look at as being particularly successful [include] a channel called Drive, which is an auto channel that in only seven months grew to over 100,000 subscribers, and they had 17 million total views. Drive is a channel that is targeted at males, a variety of ages, because it’s focused on cars.
There’s a channel called YOMYOMF and it is a partnership between Ryan Higa, KevJumba and Justin Lin. That channel got out to an amazing start: 400,000 subscribers, 11 million views. And that’s obviously a little bit younger of an audience. WIGS, which is from Jon Avnet, is targeting female viewers and has 80,000 subscribers.
The thing that I think is really interesting is that as you go through these examples, it’s really diverse. You have channels targeting men, channels targeting young adults and channels targeting women. And they’re all seeing success and they’re all building loyal returning viewers.
Ad Age: Are there certain types of content that fare well?
Mr. Byrne: Something we’re seeing, and this really doesn’t happen in television, is the ability to iterate. The ability to listen to your audience and change your programming. So Nuevon is a great example. That’s a channel targeting the Latino community. They have a variety of shows and they had one hit where they had such great success with the first video that they then turned into a series and it’s become a big hit for them.
Ad Age: Are there things that you’ve learned haven’t worked?
Mr. Byrne: I think that the channels are the best source for some of that knowledge because they’re looking at their programming schedules more closely. It’s connected to what we were talking about, someone might have a show and they have a presenter or spokesperson for the show that’s not well responded to by the community, so they’ll make that change.
Ad Age: What has surprised you?
Mr. Byrne: One of the things that I think is interesting is the length of content that viewers are watching. If you had asked me two years ago how long the content should be for some of the channels, I probably would have thought that shorter-form content is the way to go. But we’re actually seeing channels like Vice, they have shows that are 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and when we look at the watch time for those shows, the viewers are actually watching them to completion. So one of the things that we’ve learned that we think is great is that viewers on YouTube are willing to watch longer content if it’s great content.
We’re also seeing that viewership isn’t just relegated to the PC. So we’re also seeing great growth in mobile viewership, which is why it’s also really exciting that we have our iOS app out. So that’s another interesting thing. People are watching longer content, but they also watch content where its most convenient to them using the device that’s most convenient to them, whether that’s a computer, a phone, a tablet or a TV.
Ad Age: What is the role of scripted programs on YouTube and in the “originals” initiative?
Mr. Byrne: There is going to be a wide variety of programming and we’re going to continue to see the evolution of scripted programming. We’ll also see documentary style, reality style.
One of the great things about H+ and shows like WIGS is that it’s really helping to bring in great creative talent. Whether its folks behind the camera like Jon Avnet or the stars that you see showing up in the content, like Jennifer Garner, we think that this initiative has changed the way that the creative community thinks about YouTube; it’s really changed the way that they think about digital video. We think that that is great for the viewer. They get to see content that is amazing quality. And then it’s also great for advertisers because they get to associate their brand with fantastic quality content and creators that viewers know and love.
Ad Age: What advice would you give producers on how to build an audience for a channel?
Mr. Byrne: The first is that a lot of YouTube’s success comes down to authenticity. So as a creator, making content that is authentic to your subject matter, authentic to your audience, is probably the most important thing because the viewers have a high bar. They know when someone’s not making content they’re passionate about and they’ll react to that.
The second thing is to engage with the community. So once you have that viewer connecting, whether they’re commenting or liking it, the relationship that the creator builds with that audience sustains the most success. You see that with the original YouTube creators. They have really close relationships with their audiences; they engage with them directly.
The third thing we see that works really well is cross-promoting. You’ll often see this with some of the top channels on YouTube; they’ll work with other channels that are similar to them and they cross-promote their content. So you’ll see them recommend another channel. You’ll see them take a video from another channel and do some editorial around it. And what that does is help share subscribers.
And the last thing is just use the tools that we have available. One is annotation, so you can put notes on the video that you can click and use that to direct viewers to other videos. We have tools like our TrueView video product or things like promoted videos, which our video ads in search results. Those types of things are great ways to try to build awareness of new content, which we think will be particularly important in the episodic space where you’re trying to drive awareness.