Google’s Karen Stocks: online video is about ‘popular’, not ‘premium’

Winter is on the way and I find myself wondering about the media community’s craze with ‘premium content’ online. Industry executives are constantly debating the rate at which TV ad dollars will move to the web, but when it comes down to it, the advertising budgets can’t move in significant ways until the marketing and media communities fully understand and get what people are actually watching online. 

Yes, my 12-year-old daughter watches Hannah Montana and Designing Houses on TV, but this content represents a very small percentage of her online video viewing behaviour. The same is true for my 18-year-old niece who loves Modern Family on telly but also spends hours watching Natalie Tran and other ‘gurus’ on YouTube.

The bottom line is, people watch everything and they don’t focus on whether the content is professionally produced or user-generated. People just watch what they like, right? So why don’t we, as marketers, start embracing media in the same way people consume it?

Yes, there are gating factors like formats and standardisation and length of commercial spots, ad serving complexities, measurement, etc., but the primary factor seems to be psychological: it’s about understanding how the 2011 users perceive video.

Today’s video consumers are content agnostic: they don’t differentiate between professional produced (often called “premium” content) and any other types of content (which I like to call “popular”). How do we know this?

Let’s compare how online video creators with popular content stack up to commonly consumed premium content on TV. Big autumn TV hits like Go Girls, Masterchef New Zealand and 7 Days all received significant viewership in the last week of March 2011.

Then look at the audiences ‘popular’ content creators were attracting in the same week. The viewership is staggering. You may not be familiar with all of these content creators, but people are consuming them online, tuning into all definitions of shows, tutorials and news.

I surveyed a focus group of one 12-year-old and one 18-year-old. Not a representative sample, because YouTube has just as many users over 45 as under 18. My subjects spent about 50 minutes watching digital video and another 20 watching traditional television. On YouTube they watched Katy Perry, Fred, nigahiga, Michelle Phan and Matt Mulholland. On TV they switched from Glee to Modern Family to the Disney Channel and back. The point is that they watched everything and nowhere in their session did they categorise what they were watching as premium or user-generated videos. It is all just content.

This was one experience in my own family, but YouTube’s User Experience team contends that this user session is typical. Users move through content fluidly and without contemplation of content origin. And more of that content is watched on YouTube than anywhere else.

  • Over two billion videos are viewed every day on YouTube worldwide
  • We have more than 15,000 partners across 21 countries to date
  • We pay out millions of dollars a year to partners around the world

The full potential of digital video will not be realised until we let the obsession with ‘Premium-ness’ of content go, just as our users have. Popular content is where it’s at online. Users consume everything and don’t differentiate between big studio productions and web originals (for example, take a look at Matt Mulholland’s YouTube channel).

YouTube, which will celebrate its sixth birthday next month, is still very much at the centre of pop culture. YouTube is where the popular content lives. And we, the media and marketing community, need to get our heads around what people are really watching online. Here’s to getting it right in 2011.




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