Tag Archives: YouTube

Misaligned Interests

Did you happen to hear about (or read!) the NY Times article on how a young man got “sucked into the vortex” of radical videos on YouTube? It’s an interesting and scary read. It’s about how a person goes to YouTube to watch a video on one thing and ends up multiple videos later watching something completely different and often dangerous.

As the article says:

YouTube has been a godsend for hyper-partisans on all sides. It has allowed them to bypass traditional gatekeepers and broadcast their views to mainstream audiences and has helped once-obscure commentators build lucrative media businesses.

As usual, we’re not here to rant about the politics of these videos. It’s just as easy for the videos to be dangerous and non-political and even though YouTube specifically bans harmful or dangerous content, they can’t catch everything.

The real issue here is YouTube’s – and many other platforms’ – business model. They make money by keeping you engaged and the way that they do that is often via a recommendation engine. That engine uses an algorithm that rewards videos that have lengthy watch times by promoting them more often. Of course, the more engaged you are, the more ads you’ll see and that’s really the problem. Most of the popular platforms follow that business model and their interests don’t necessarily align with yours. They all have some sort of algorithm which on YouTube, as the article says, is

the software that determines which videos appear on users’ home pages and inside the “Up Next” sidebar next to a video that is playing. The algorithm is responsible for more than 70 percent of all time spent on the site.

Of course, you can turn off the recommendations. You can also delete your search history, pausing it going forward, and your watch history which will prevent the algorithm from determining what you usually watch. If you haven’t hidden the video suggestions (it’s in your settings) at least you’ll see lots of pretty neutral offerings. More importantly, you’ll take back control and realign their interests with yours.

It would be easy for YouTube and others to prevent a host of problems by killing off the recommendation engine but they never will because it’s the thing that drives their business model. In a perfect world, every business’ interests would align perfectly with those of their customers. Maybe it’s because the big platforms are out of alignment with us that there is so much anger directed toward them?

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The Ludovico Technique

One of the most uncomfortable scenes in all of film is the scene in “A Clockwork Orange” in which Alex is made to watch scenes of horrible violence for an extended period of time. His eyes are held open and his head is immobilized. This is part of the fictional aversion therapy known as The Ludovico Technique. It’s forced attention to something.

That’s what a good chunk of marketing has become today. What got me thinking about this was the announcement by Snapchat that they will test a new ad format called “Commercials”, which will be unskippable six-second ads that run in select Snapchat Shows. You want to see the show? Then you WILL watch the ad. It’s not all that rare anymore for various media to force your attention. Been in a taxi lately? Maybe you were subjected to TaxiTV. Nonstop noise and motion that, unfortunately, we humans are wired not to avoid. Maybe your attention was grabbed at the gas pump. $15 of gas and a headache from the TV screen blaring the latest headlines and ads. Or perhaps you didn’t have your headphones on as you waited for your flight to leave and the sound of the overhead TV (and the ads) interfered with your reading. YouTube has a “skip” button after 5 seconds for longer ads but also sells unskippable 6-second ads.

All of these things as forced attention. Disabling the fast-forward button during VOD playback is another. I am well acquainted with the attention-value exchange. We give you free content, you give us your attention which we then sell to sponsors. I made a career in TV and media based on it so I’m a fan. I’m not, however, a fan of taking that attention without consent. You can always change the channel or flip the page if you want to skip the ad. The examples above don’t give you that option.

So where is the issue? Not with the media. Our job is to provide the sponsor with the opportunity to sell something. If the creative is awful, people leave. The focus needs to be on making ads that people want to watch. There is an ad running now with bulldogs substituting for bulls during the Pamplona run. I watch it every single time. There are many other great examples of ads you wouldn’t skip even if you could. Forcing consumers to watch is stealing their attention. It’s subjecting them to a bombardment of crap with any shelter available. Does that sound like a great way to do business?

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The End Is Nigh?

Walk around any big city and inevitably you’ll come across some person wearing or carrying a sign proclaiming that the end is nigh.  They’re warning about an impending apocalypse.  While they’re generally seen as a little odd (a polite way of saying nuts), I suppose at some point they’re going to be right.  Hopefully, that time isn’t close.

With that preface, and with the recognition that my timing might be off, I think we’re seeing signs that the end is nigh for the TV industry in which I grew up as a businessperson.  If you’ve been paying any attention to the media landscape over the last decade, you’ve seen some changes in what I’ll call Big TV (cable and broadcast).  To a certain extent, TV has adapted and their basic revenue model hasn’t changed a whole lot.  Sure, broadcast TV has done a good job of mirroring the cable model of dual revenue streams by gaining carriage fees, but the ad model – dollars for eyeballs – is pretty much the same as when I sold, even though the demographics are a bit more precise as the industry adopts additional data sources.

So why is the end nigh?  Let me offer a quote from YouTube’s CEO as presented at their “newfront” and quoted by Cynopsis:


To make her case, CEO Susan Wojcicki rattled off a startling statistic: “YouTube now reaches more 18–49-year-olds than any network ­ broadcast or cable,” she said. “In fact, we reach more 18–49-year-olds during primetime than the top 10 TV shows combined.” Her assertion is backed up by a Nielsen study of US viewers that Google commissioned. Wojcicki also confirmed news that broke earlier in the week: Between 2016 and 2017, Magna Global,Interpublic’s ad-buying unit, has committed to spending at least $250 million on YouTube instead of TV.

It’s a truism in media that dollars follow eyeballs (eventually).  Other than live sports and breaking news, those eyeballs have been departing the BigTV guys for a while, at least in the traditional form via the traditional channels (we program, you watch when we offer a show). While the digital dollars have been increasing (and will pass TV spending this year), very few marketers admit to cutting TV for digital.  Magna has because according to them, 18- to 49-year-olds watch an average 26 hours of linear TV per week, down from 32 hours in 2009.  Dollars follow eyeballs. As Adweek reported:

Magna Global’s $250 million investment in YouTube advertising will come straight from its TV budget. The $250 million investment is four to five times Magna Global’s typical YouTube budget. As a result, the firm will spend less on traditional marketing overall this year as TV ratings dip.

So you tell me – is the end really nigh for Big TV or am I just another nut carrying a sign around?

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