YouTube: TV is our fastest-growing market

Guardian Web |

After dominating video viewing on mobile phones, tablets and computers, YouTube is now setting its sights on the big – or, bigger – screen: the one in the living room.

TV screens are the fastest-growing area for YouTube, according to the company’s chief product officer Neal Mohan. “Mobile phones aren’t even the fastest growing device these days. It’s actually screens like … the living-room screen or television sets, where people turn on the TV and open up the YouTube app when they come home from work, sitting on the couch or what have you.

“That today is about 180m hours of watch time [a day], and in the EU that number is growing 45% year on year.”

Those figures show viewers are actively replacing time once spent watching traditional broadcast TV with streaming video. But Mohan insists that the company’s aspirations in the living room don’t place it in competition with broadcasters. “I don’t see it that way at all,” he says. “It really is about the context that the user is in: if you’re standing by the street waiting for a cab, or on a platform waiting for a train, you’re going to have your mobile device with you, and that’s how you’re going to consume whatever content you choose to consumer.

“Sometimes you might be at home and the best place to consume content is lying on your bed with your tablet, and sometimes it might be on your big screen, either through the app on the smart screen or Chromecast.

“The thing I would point out is, regardless of device, in terms of what consumers are watching, traditional broadcasters have always been part of YouTube.

“We’ve been working with broadcasters throughout Europe, but particularly here in the UK, for years and years, and the really sophisticated ones understand that it’s a way to reach an audience above and beyond just television.”

Geoff Blaber, VP Research, Americas at analyst firm CCS Insight, says YouTube can be a good partner to traditional broadcasters – and a threat. “They’re a frenemy. The fact is, a consumer’s time, and it doesn’t matter what market, is going to be split across a growing range of different services.

“Whether you’re a content owner or broadcaster, you’ve got to be able to ensure that you’re reaching consumers at the right time

“Broadcasters in the UK undoubtedly view YouTube as a competitor, but they’re not in the content game to anywhere near the same extent as a Netflix or an Amazon.” That, Blaber says, makes YouTube less of an immediate threat.

Mohan is eager to point to areas where YouTube has worked hand-in-hand with broadcasters, to the betterment of both, from a collaboration with Endemol Shine to promote the animated Mr Bean series to the Britain’s Got Talent youtube channel, the first in the UK with 10m subscribers.

“It’s also about inventing entirely new formats, and YouTube-forward formats,” he says, “Obviously, one of the most clear-cut examples here in the UK is James Corden, and what he did around Carpool Karaoke.” Corden’s YouTube spinoff of his Late Late Show blew up, and eventually became the launch show for rival Apple’s own TV ambitions.

But frenemies only go so far, and YouTube is creating its own original content at pace. Mohan was in the UK following a trip to Germany, to launch the company’s slate of original shows there, including a mockumentary featuring David Hasselhoff and an English-language talk show. When asked whether he feels YouTube has lost ground to competitors like Amazon and Netflix in the so-called “golden age of TV”, he counters that that’s just a subset of a wider “golden age of content”.

“What I mean by that is every month, 1.9bn plus users are finding exactly what they want to watch when they want to watch it, and consuming an enormous amount of content.

“YouTube’s unique approach there is that this is not just about genres that you would know and expect – originals, sports highlight, content from traditional broadcasts – but it’s also the unexpected and the niche content. We have channels with 250,000 followers on topics like sneakers and 18th-century quilting. For users who are interested in that, this is the golden age.”

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