5 things we learned about YouTube in 2015

It was a busy year for YouTube. Google’s video giant has changed in many ways over the past 12 months, both due to internal shifts to its business as well as an evolving online video landscape that’s breeding new competition for eyeballs and ad dollars.

Here are five things we learned about YouTube in 2015, and what it means for the company and the online video industry:

YouTube is no longer the only major player in online video.
It might be the biggest story in online video. A space once dominated by YouTube now has a lot more competition — at least in terms of perception.

Facebook does 8 billion views per day. Snapchat claims 6 billion. Newer entrants such as Vessel, Verizon’s Go90, Comcast’s Watchable are starving for content. Older players like Vimeo are also trying to court YouTube personalities.

YouTube is feeling the heat. In response, it has made more of an effort to please some of its biggest stars, from offering payouts to keep their content exclusive to YouTube to even financing original content.

YouTubers are no longer just YouTubers.
YouTubers. Multichannel networks. Both are terms that for years were unique to YouTube. But as the online video space gets fragmented, the terms need to evolve — at least, that’s what many YouTubers and YouTube networks want you to believe. Now, they’re “creators” and “multiplatform networks.”

“All of that is speaking to the diversification of publishing and multiplatform nature of online video,” said Juan Bruce, CEO of Epoxy, a social management platform for these video makers. “They defined the space and business, and now it’s getting more blurry.”

It’s true. YouTube networks are now making content for Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Many have deals with streaming platforms ranging from Sling TV to Go9. There are a lot more buyers and distributors for video content, which means new non-YouTube revenue streams — even if YouTube still accounts for a majority of viewership and revenue.

YouTube has gone mobile.
Video is increasingly mobile, and that’s no different on YouTube, where mobile can account for as much as 70 percent of viewership for top producers like Tastemade. Overall, the average mobile viewing session on YouTube is more than 40 minutes, a 50 percent increase year over year, according to the company.

Mobile revenues are up 200 percent compared to last year.

It’s a key reason why YouTube launched three different mobile apps in 2015 dedicated to three of its biggest content categories: music, gaming and kids. It’s still too early to tell if the multi-app strategy is a success, but the launches coupled with improvements made to the main YouTube mobile app show how serious the company is about getting the handheld screen right.

YouTube is finally trying to grow and diversify its business.
When longtime Google ad executive Susan Wojcicki was named CEO of YouTube in February 2014, the move was seen by many industry experts as Google finally making an effort to grow YouTube’s business. Since then, the company has systematically built out a management team with an equal focus on product and revenue. Nothing symbolizes this more than the appointment of another big-time Google ads exec, Neal Mohan, as YouTube’s first-ever head of product.

“They are getting serious about YouTube as a business by putting the right kind of managers in place,” said Andreas Goeldi, CTO of YouTube marketing technology firm Pixability, which has worked with YouTube on various data and marketing initiatives. “Neal is totally an advertising guy, putting in somebody like that as an overall head of product shows how serious they are about growing YouTube as a large ad-focused business.”

That said, YouTube is no longer just about advertising. One of its biggest moves in 2015 was the launch of an ad-free subscription version, which offers the entire YouTube library plus original movies and TV shows (starring YouTubers) for $10 per month.

“They are playing upstream into the Netflix population to see if they can compete in that pool,” said Igor Ulis, CEO of digital media consultancy Omnigon. “It remains to be seen how relevant and compelling the original content they push through the subscription offering is going to be, and whether that and the removal ads will be enticing enough for someone to pay the fee.”

And yet, news of YouTube’s demise is greatly exaggerated.
“It’s still the 800-pound gorilla in the space,” said Brad Hunstable, CEO of Ustream.

Facebook and Snapchat might have eye-opening daily view counts. But Facebook counts a view after three seconds, and Snapchat counts it as soon as the video starts. It’s harder to define what a YouTube view is, but it’s generally accepted that it gets counted 30 seconds after a user has initiated the clip. (Things change if the YouTube clip is on autoplay.)

In other words: People are actually watching video on YouTube, which accounts for nearly 17.9 percent of broadband usage during peak hours in North America, according to broadband services company Sandvine. YouTube is second only to Netflix in terms of usage. Facebook, meanwhile, accounts for 2.5 percent of broadband usage.

Still: “They’re still a massive asset and aren’t going away,” said Hunstable. “But the rise of videos on these other platforms makes you wonder what happens over time.”

Images via YouTube