Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

YouTube’s Magic Number

YouTube is grading the channels it has launched in the last year. At least six in 10 of them won’t make the cut.

Out in videoland, there’s lot of chatter about who’s in and who’s out. But if you take Google executives at their word, this shouldn’t be that mysterious: They want to keep the channels that keep people watching the longest.

That’s why the video site has been pushing “watch time” as a key metric over the past few months. In August, YouTube told content creators that time spent watching videos was now the site’s primary focus. Last month, they reinforced the message by making it easier for channel operators to see how much time viewers were spending on their stuff (see an example at the bottom of this post).

And this month, Jamie Byrne, YouTube’s head of content strategy, spelled it out again: He said watch time would guide the site’s decisions about which channels merited a new round of funding.

Here’s YouTube executive Eric Meyerson in August, explaining the change:

We’ve updated what we call video discovery features, meaning how our viewers find videos to watch via search and suggested videos. These changes better surface the videos that viewers actually watch, over those that they click on and then abandon.

Why this shift? Our video discovery features were previously designed to drive views. This rewarded videos that were successful at attracting clicks, rather than the videos that actually kept viewers engaged. (Cleavage thumbnails, anyone?)

Now when we suggest videos, we focus on those that increase the amount of time that the viewer will spend watching videos on YouTube, not only on the next view, but also successive views thereafter.

If viewers are watching more YouTube, it signals to us that they’re happier with the content they’ve found. It means that creators are attracting more engaged audiences. It also opens up more opportunities to generate revenue for our partners.

All of that makes plenty of sense. But, as Meyerson notes, it’s also a change. Up until this summer, YouTube, like everyone else in Web video, was primarily concerned with overall views, because those related directly to ad sales: More views = more opportunities to show ads. And this is still supposed to do that — but over the long run.

I can imagine that some channel programmers are griping that YouTube has changed the rules of the game while they’re playing the game. But that’s the nature of Web video, period — all of this stuff is a work in progress, and if you can’t change as it changes, you’re going to have a very hard time.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/hvoya)


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