SAN BRUNO, California — YouTube is ready for its close-up, Mr. DeMille.
Google’s streaming-video arm launched a complete site overhaul on Thursday, setting its sights squarely on reshaping the media landscape.
The central focus of the redesign rests mainly on the idea of the channel, a concept we’ve known since the birth of the television. Until now, Google concedes, YouTube viewers haven’t seen the site as a destination for a channel filled with content, but rather a series of ‘one-off’ videos on the web.
Google wants the YouTube audience to become a destination site for media. Instead of a grid of one-offs, the redesigned front page features a feed running down the center of the site, which displays the top channels in a user’s stream. Every feed will look different, with selected channels based on YouTube recommendations and sitewide viewing trends, what a user’s friends are sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, as well as those channels specifically chosen by the viewers themselves.
“We’re trying to make everyone an effective programmer on YouTube,” said A.J. Crane, product manager at YouTube.
The site’s redesign, then, serves to enhance discovery of content for users, many of whom find it difficult to navigate the millions of videos hosted on the site.
The redesign comes in the midst of an entire aesthetic sea change for Google’s internet properties, which began with the mid-summer launch of Google+, the search company’s most earnest attempt at creating a social network to rival Facebook. With Google+, the company rolled out an entirely new integrated interface, incorporating a bar that spans many of Google’s properties.
Since that time, the company has steadily moved forward in redesigning its other web products, including its Gmail service, Google Reader, and most recently, another version of the so-called ‘Google Bar.’ YouTube’s revamp is the next step in that progression.
Importantly, the new look isn’t just tailored to the consumer crowd. The launch is also an appeal to content creators, both small and large. Especially the large.
Partner content providers can customize their individual channels to display media in whatever order makes sense. So for instance, HBO may choose to offer clips of Boardwalk Empire organized by season, while Comedy Central’s Daily Show might opt for a feed of shows in reverse chronological order.
Appealing to the major industry players is in line with YouTube’s recent activity, beefing up the site’s premium, professionally produced content. Aiming to move beyond just LOLcat videos and double rainbow enthusiasts, YouTube announced last month it would begin building out a network of content providers who — like a network — would produce original videos across multiple categories like comedy, sports, music and the like.
Further, YouTube inked a major content deal with Disney in November, bringing co-branded original content to Google’s streaming media service.
So the site’s redesign, then, brings more eyes to relevant content, which in turn attracts more content partners. More eyes, after all, means more potential for customers to visit partner sites.
“On the ads team, we can help fuel the growth of these content creators if we get these channels right,” said Lane Shackleton, a product manager at YouTube.
Google isn’t stopping at aesthetics. In the near future, YouTube will roll out its new Xbox application for the first time. Similar to the desktop site, the app surfaces the top channels based on viewing trends and personal preferences. It seems much like the Google TV YouTube application, though Xbox’s massive market penetration could bring the YouTube app to millions of potential new users who aren’t using Google TV.
The new Xbox app is in line with Google’s theme of media convergence, stretching YouTube’s reach across multiple devices outside of strictly the desktop.
“In a few years when you say video, people will assume that you mean video across all devices,” said Shishir Mehrotra, VP of product development at YouTube.
Google’s efforts to step up its YouTube presence on other properties, such as web-connected devices, has been some time coming. The company released the second version of its Google TV product in October, vastly improving the YouTube experience on the set-top box. A far cry from the first version of Google TV, the company optimized its YouTube app for the new release, leveraging a number of the software optimization tweaks used in bringing YouTube access to mobile devices. As a result, switching back and forth between YouTube and other content feels like flipping through channels on a television set.
“We want to marry the best of TV and the best of what’s online,” said Shishir Mehrotra, VP of product development at YouTube.
Though the current redesign initiative is aimed mostly at peripheral connected devices and set-top boxes, the future of YouTube on mobile isn’t far off.
“I’m most excited about what we can do with tablets,” said Shiva Rajaraman, product manager at YouTube. “The tablet environment just seems so natural for viewing video.”