YouTube: Time to Stop Obsessing Over 'Premium' and Think 'Popular'

A New Generation Watches Everything From 'Glee' to 'Fred'

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Suzie Reider
Suzie Reider
The fall TV season is underway and I find myself wondering about the media community's obsession with "premium content" online. Industry executives are constantly debating the rate at which TV dollars will move to the internet, but when it comes down to it, the advertising budgets can't move in material ways until the marketing and media communities fully get what people are actually watching online.

Yes, my 12- and 14-year-old daughters watch "Glee" on Fox and download episodes of "Pretty Little Liars" from iTunes, but this content represents a very small percentage of their online video viewing.

People watch everything and do not focus on whether content is professionally produced (scripted Hollywood content) or user-generated. People just watch. Everything. So why don't we, as marketers, start leveraging media in the agnostic way people consume it?

Yes, there are gating factors like formats and length of commercial spots and standardization, ad serving complexities, measurement, etc., but first things first -- the primary factor seems to be psychological -- understanding how the 2010 user perceives video.

Today's video consumer is content agnostic -- they don't differentiate between professional/scripted (often called "premium" content) and 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 television. Big fall TV hits like "Dancing with the Stars," "NCIS," and "The Mentalist" all received significant viewership in the first week of October.

Popular YouTube Content Creators
Partner Unique Viewers
nigahiga 1,904,724
Ray William Johnson 1,716,548
College Humor 1,246,156
The Young Turks 1,213,800
ClevverTV 1,193,284
Fred Figglehorn 1,041,622
Annoying Orange 602,685
Howcast 548,530 348,500
The Station 548,530

Then look at the audiences "popular" content creators were generating in the same week (see chart on left). The viewership is staggering. You may not be familiar with these content creators, but people are consuming media online, tuning into all definitions of "shows."

This theory of "premium vs. popular" -- I surveyed a focus group of one 14-year-old. Not a representative sample, but YouTube has just as many users over 45 as under 18.

My subject spent about 90 minutes watching digital video and another 30 watching some traditional television. On YouTube she watched Archie shorts, dozens of clips on how to do a back handspring, "Brady Bunch" clips, a lot of Lady Gaga, the "Will It Blend" guy having his way with an iPad, and a dozen recent and "vintage" Fred Figglehorn clips. Somewhere in there she also settled into Food Inc. streamed over Netflix, whilst flipping through "Glee" on-demand. The point is that she watched everything and nowhere in her session did she categorize what she was watching as premium or user-generated content (UGC). It is all just content.

This was one experience in my own household, 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 2 billion videos are viewed every day on YouTube
  • 70% of the world's digital video lives on YouTube.
  • 24 hours of video are uploaded every minute
The full potential of digital video will not be realized until we let the obsession with "premiumness" of content go, just as our users have. Think about the single word "Popular." Popular. Popular content is where it is at online. The point is, users consume everything and do not differentiate between big studio productions and web originals (e.g., Panacea81. Check her out; she now has her own makeup line at Sephora!).

YouTube, which celebrated its fifth birthday in May, is still very much at the center of pop culture. YouTube is where the popular content lives. And if we, as the media and marketing community, can't get our heads around what people are really watching online, it'll take years. Here's to getting it right in 2011.

Suzie Reider leads the Display Media Sales Organization for Google/YouTube. She's been engaged in the media industry for over 23 years.
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