The Billion Hour YouTube Rabbit Hole (And It's Growing)

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It can often be a sad state of affairs.

I don’t know about you, but when someone send me a YouTube video to watch, I always have the best of intentions. Best plaid plans, and all. It’s inevitable that I catch myself three hours later watching these random videos, that have been perfectly lined-up for me on the right-hand side of the screen. The personalization is often so good (knowing the many and varied types of content that gets me to click) that it’s Amazon-like in its ability to show me something that I have not seen before, while also being something that I want. It’s a dangerous sport. I can’t tell you how many late nights have been spent deep in the YouTube Rabbit Hole watching demos of tricks from magicians, watching bestselling authors give speeches at conferences that I never attended, seeing some obscure hair metal band from the 80s now touring state fairs in the US, and much more. It may not (all) be the most cerebral stuff one could watch, but it’s often far more entertaining than any other form of video-based media. So much so, that my de facto destination for all things “new” on video is done by subscribing to a myriad of YouTube channels and clicking on the “subscriptions” tab. There, I’m able to see all of my favourite content creators (from YouTubes to major media outlets to think tanks) and sort all of that content by the date it was most recently updated. That – to me – is the new television. On demand, constantly being refreshed, no set schedule, always there if I miss a day, and more.

I am not alone. You are right here with me.

If there’s one stat that marketing professionals will be turning into a slide over the next fews months, it’s the Wall Street Journal‘s reporting that YouTube hit a significant milestone in their massive growth over the years. YouTube viewers worldwide are watching a billions hours of video content… each and every single day. Marinate on that for a moment. Every day, one billion hours of video content is being streamed… and that’s just on YouTube. The latest data that on Netflix suggests that their 93+ million subscribers are streaming about 10 billion hours monthly. Which, considering that Netflix is a subscription-based paid model, is equally staggering. 

It’s not just a piece of data that validates digital media. It’s a piece of data that has massive implications for YouTube, brands and, of course, the viewers:

  • For YouTube: This number indicates that they will -aggressively – pursue what was considered traditional TV ad dollars. Brands buy TV for reach and repetition. YouTube is going to amp up their sales with this “reach” and “repetition” game. It also means that their algorithm is getting more and more sophisticated. This YouTube Rabbit Hole is not a market of one. This is what is keeping users attached, watching and making it a go-to-destination. Don’t forget, for traditional advertisers, time spent is a great measurement of engagement. Watch next as YouTube adds to the personalization with a bunch of original TV content. Some of it may look more akin to regular television programs (this Netflix’s House Of Cards, etc…), Netflix-like specials (comedy, documentaries, etc…), or even pay-per-view movies (which, in fact, they already have) and pushing beyond that into live streaming-like events, subscription-models and more. The infrastructure is there. The audience is there. YouTube Red (not available worldwide just yet) is just a test to gauge what kind of potential market there could be for more subscription-like pay models. Today, YouTube launched YouTube TV, a streaming TV service for $35 a month, where customers can stream networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and more, with no limit on DVR storage space and customers can cancel anytime. It’s all happening… it’s all coming.
  • For advertisers. YouTube is not going away any time soon. You can stare at Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, etc… YouTube is capturing a lot of video attention and – because it’s so unrestricted and free – it seems to be the current destination for online video. Watch how this grows as more and more people watch YouTube on television (through their app), video game consoles, etc… It also means that advertising on YouTube is going increase significantly. TrueView (the ability for a user to skip an ad after five seconds) demonstrated to brands just how quickly consumers will skip their ads, when given the option (and, let’s be honest, how great is it to improve your reflexes? ;). YouTube has spent years capturing this data (much like they have done on the pay-per-click side of search engine advertising). We already know that the brands who develop a video ad with a 5-second story arch (instead of placing their traditional 30-second spot) as a pre-roll are playing the YouTube game much more effectively. Brands that complain are missing the point: their 30 second spot doesn’t play in the YouTube format. Some brands have become so great at it, that they, literally, run ads that are long-form – real content, multiple minutes and getting millions of views. Couple that with better targeting and YouTube’s ability to put a brand’s ad in front of a consumer who is less inclined to skip the ad (for a myriad of reasons), and this will push the price of these spots to a delta from where they’re presently residing. It’s not too hard to imagine that YouTube could very well have developed the most valued and powerful personalized video advertising platform in the world. It is the kind of tech that traditional television and media professionals would kill for.  
  • For Users. It means many more hours of being connected. It also means that the company is going to have to balance the content flow to ensure that this engagement continues. What works so well for short video content (quick little snippets of videos that can be easily viewed and shared) to the long-form content (old documentaries and brands that are using YouTube as a distribution platform for in-depth profiles and much more) will need to be balanced with their own original programming and live-streaming exclusive content. Many may welcome the additional formats… many may yearn for the YouTube that was. This balance of short, quick and fun videos with longer views – or more original content – will be an interesting experience to watch as it evolves. 

A billion is the new million.

If you look at traditional television, the shows that are considered “hits” and “breakthroughs” are delivering impressive audiences, but they’re small in the comparison to the history of television hits during the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, etc…. One could argue that this is a function of fragmentation: more networks, more specialty, cable bundling, premium channels, etc… One could also argue that more and more people find it “easier” to time-shift or watch snippets of the shows that they used to watch/record on YouTube. There’s a reason why the many late night talk shows all clamor for YouTube views, as they beg their audience members to subscribe to their YouTube channels. The real and significant advertising is in them there hills. Carpool Karaoke may not be able to be a stand-alone show for James Corden on network television, but those millions-upon-millions of views sure look great on a video platform that has billions of hours being streamed (it has also done wonders for his TV network platform, hasn’t it?). It’s probably why Apple picked up the show, tweaked it and Carpool Karaoke will soon be an online show all of its own. Is this omnichannel television? Is this television everywhere? Is this a case of the networks recognizing the frenemy that Google (Apple, Amazon, Netflix) is, and the networks are simply trying to capture some extra coins on the way? Is this truly where the audience is, lives and resides? We used to celebrate platforms that had millions of views. Billions is the new millions when it comes to online video. 

It sure feels like all of that and more, when it comes to YouTube. What do you think?