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The Unfair Fight for Video Views in 2019

Conner Galway

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Every year around this time YouTube releases its Rewind video – a fun and quirky look at the past year’s most popular content and the people who made it. It seems somewhat fitting that this year’s quickly became the most unliked video in the history of YouTube. The previous crown was held by Justin Bieber’s “Baby”, and it took him 8 years to hit the 10 million dislikes mark. This video did it in just 2 weeks.

Why so much negativity? There was something unique about this year’s edition: YouTube said that this time around everyone would have control. That means that the people featured, the trends referenced, even the clips that were cut in would all come from user suggestions and comments.

It turns out that we don’t want democracy in our content.

Crowdsourced direction sounds like a great idea, but in practice it’s the exact opposite of what we want to see. A video, an article, even this blog post are all a series of creative choices made by the creator. That’s what has always made YouTube so great – the fact that seemingly everyday people were creating things that we can all watch, share, and enjoy. Where YouTube messed up was by creating something that felt like there’s no one at the wheel, leaving the viewer to question every turn and argue every choice.

So what, right?

Here’s why that matters: Viewers want their creators to take control, to tell them a story, and in 2019 those storytellers are going to be better than ever.

You see, YouTube started as grainy cat videos, and since then the attention (and therefore the financial opportunities) have grown to the point that it can now attract the best in the world. That means that the people who are competing for our attention are going to be less Webcam Vlogger and more Cinematic Director.

Sure, we’ve already had Netflix and Hulu changing the face of media through original programming made exclusively for streaming, but I’m talking about content that’s scripted, shot, and produced 100% to be watched in the way that we consume most of our media: On our phones.

In one example Hollywood and Silicon Valley are teaming up in the form of Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s startup: Quibi. It’s already raised more than $1 Billion and has inked deals with all of the major studios to produce “quick bites of captivating entertainment, created for mobile by the best talent, designed to fit perfectly into any moment of your day.”

They’re planning to make that make financial sense through subscriptions. In an A16Z podcast interview Katzenberg shared that YouTube content is typically made for $500-$2000 per minute, and while he was blown away by the quality and creativity of that work, he’s bringing TV-sized budgets (~$100,000 per minute) along with producers like JJ Abrams to compete for our attention.

It’s not a fair fight, and it’s one that will only work if we’re willing to fork over cash every month in exchange for access to those premium clips.

But where does that leave advertisers?

There are two ways that we can take advantage:

1. Go Where the Attention Is

We’ve seen this story before. Amateur blogging encroached on traditional journalism, which attracted budgets and ultimately led to properties like the New York Times allocating serious resources to create quality content. Now we have platforms like the Players Tribune, Wired, and other world class properties producing subscription-powered content, but the greatest volume of attention is still in places like BuzzFeed.

Video will be no different, and Facebook’s Watch platform is betting on it. Facebook is luring serious talent away from YouTube with promises of better ad rates and distribution.

Every new star on Watch creates more opportunity for advertisers to insert their content, appearing sometimes next to content that’s more popular than the most watched primetime TV show, and it’s accessible to all of us.

2. Create Real Partnerships

When the content is premium, so are the opportunities to show up in it. This is a script that’s as old as cinema: Brand offers product and cash to a show and, in exchange, that product appears prominently, as if it were a natural part of the story.

Now, with so much more content about to be produced, the supply of opportunity to show up is about to spike, and the brands that are paying attention and have a great story to tell are going to scoop some sweet placements.

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