May 17, 2016

We Need To Talk About YouTube

Published: 17 May 2016 

Have you ever had that moment when you’re chatting on Messenger, WhatsApp, or even just plain ol’ texting, and the conversation calls for a contextual YouTube video injection? Or you’re just flat out talking to someone and then feel the need to show them a vid of a baby panda sneezing? I was recently speaking to a friend on how Malcolm Turnbull, (the Prime Minister of Australia, for overseas readers), can be equally as awkward and inarticulate as his predecessor, Tony Abbott. My friend didn’t believe me, which prompted me to begin trawling the vast expanses of YouTube to find a clip to prove my claim. So I began the search, annoying link find and subsequent copying and pasting all to share this content.

Now it’s time to say goodbye to the painful past of sharing a YouTube video. YouTube is in the midst of making game changing plays in a bid to snare users away from other messenger apps, and connect via their domain, with video content as the core interaction component. This means no more copying and pasting into texts or apps, with videos now capable of being shared directly through YouTube, with optional commentary. Starting late last week, what’s called “native sharing”, went live for a small portion of YouTube users. This enables users with the ability to spread the new feature to their fellow users/friends by including them in Youtube based messaging threads. Users can chat with ease about a video shared, all within the mobile app by YouTube. Better yet, users can reply with a video - and thus a whole, potentially fun, engaging, educational equivalent of virtual interaction is now here and readily available. Say one person was sharing a video to a friend regarding a university topic they were both working on, and the receiving friend found another video, perhaps better, they could share back - thus a mutually beneficial dynamic is created. This new conversation thread capability is placed on a new tab feature within the mobile app. Users can come and go between threads, scrolling back to catch up on what their friends have added or watch a new addition to the conversation.

This development is objectively inspired. All social media platforms are vying enthusiastically for ‘shares’, especially YouTube. Director of product management, Shimrit Ben-Yair, says the concept was unearthed after her team brainstormed ideas on how to increase YouTube’s sharing statistics - a streamlined, in app method became the solution.

This update is really throwing things in the social media blender for Google and their subsidiary YouTube in terms of growing and retaining users. There is now an easy, mobile optimised way to share millions of valuable video content between one application. It’s not as if YouTube is lagging. The video platform is still setting the pace in terms of audience numbers. The average viewing time of users stands at 40 minutes. Overwhelming stats in the US published by YouTube in 2015 highlight that YouTube’s mobile application alone reaches more 18-49 year olds in the US than any cable network. To round things off, YouTube still assumes the number 1 spot for all video online, with over 1 billion users watching videos per month.

Yet, while YouTube flexes its video streaming muscle effortlessly, Facebook and Snapchat are chomping at the bit to steal users away and onto their respective platforms. Even online retail giant, Amazon has jumped into the fray, recently announcing their very own online video service. Aggressive strategies from fellow social platforms are motivation enough for YouTube to consistently stay at the cutting edge and develop, even something as simple as native sharing. The more people engage and interact on YouTube, the less they do on Facebook and Snapchat. The advantage YouTube has over competitors? Is endless, compelling content for all genre’s, now readily available to share.

The goal for YouTube is to get users engaging with content on their mobile devices, stealing audiences away from Facebook. From there, YouTube are free to establish creative methods to integrate advertising to mirror the potential rise in user content engagement. Google, and YouTube, already implement machine learning techniques that scour users’ viewing habits and histories, predicting genres or videos they may want to watch or explore. Throw recommendations from friends into the mixer and users have another reason to stay engaged.

Now ask yourself, what’s really happening here? A few weeks ago Facebook announced a new approach for integrated, interactive advertising, run by third party bots in their Messenger app, of which boasts 900 million users. Interesting times when you consider the dynamic traditionally associated with these platforms. Google was built on being a solution to user questions - with advertising becoming an integrated component as user numbers ballooned and Google became number 1. Facebook was built solely as a platform for user interaction. Now it would appear the tides are turning. If the recent F8 summit, paired with YouTube’s new direction, is anything to go by, Facebook’s big focus is on implementing integrated advertising strategies, whereas Google, via YouTube, is focusing on user interaction to retain and build users moving forward, (albeit as mechanism to sustain and drive advertising revenue).

Ben Maden

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