YouTube’s lowered mid-roll ad requirement may lead to shorter videos from publishers

Don’t be surprised if you soon start noticing publishers’ YouTube videos getting shorter. 

By the end of July, YouTube will reduce videos’ required length to carry mid-roll ads from 10 minutes to eight minutes, and publishers operating channels with millions of subscribers are welcoming the news as an opportunity to avoid extending the duration of their videos simply to reap the extra ad revenue. “A 20% decrease in how much content you need to create is not insignificant,” said one publisher.

The change may be an attempt by YouTube to remove the incentive for publishers and creators to pad their videos with extra content that only serves the purpose of ensuring a video qualifies to carry mid-roll ads. That can compromise the quality of videos and annoy viewers who sit through the interstitial ads only to be rewarded with filler content. Since the timeline in YouTube’s video player displays when a mid-roll ad will play, viewers may see a mid-roll ad is slotted near the end of the video, expect that the content after the ad will be filler and opt to stop watching before the ad plays, preempting the revenue that would have resulted for the video maker and for YouTube.

“You can tell when a video is stretched to be eligible,” said the publisher. Lowering the length requirement “will inherently enhance the quality of videos leveraging mid-rolls because you’re not stretching out for that duration.”

Short as two minutes may seem, meeting the 10-minute minimum can push publishers to produce an additional segment in a video, which can necessitate hiring more talent. “It should lower our cost per video slightly because we don’t have to put quite as much into it,” said a second publisher. In an economic downturn, any chance to cut costs can be a boon. Then there’s the potential for publishers to make more money from these shorter videos because of the additional ads they will be able to carry.

Publishers and individual video creators have prolonged their YouTube videos’ lengths over the past few years, in part, to prop up their revenue. As YouTube cracked down on brand safety following an advertiser outcry in 2017 after ads were found running against extremist videos, video makers saw increased instances of videos going unmonetized, and inserting multiple mid-roll ads in a video provided a means of offsetting the lost revenue. 

The addition of mid-roll ads typically increases a video’s revenue by about 50%, said a third publisher. The figure can vary, though, depending on how many mid-roll ads a video contains and how many viewers sit through those interstitials.

However, to meet the 10-minute threshold, some publishers and creators would fill their videos with bloat, like extending clips or replaying clips at the end of a video. “If you go to any channel with a lot of 10-minute videos, you’ll find a lot of comments where the audience even knows people are filling out the content to try to get it to 10 minutes,” said the third publisher.

By lowering the video length minimum, YouTube may reduce the incentive for publishers and creators to lengthen their videos purely for financial reasons. Or maybe not. YouTube allows channel owners to manually slot mid-roll ad placements in their videos and does not have clear limits on how many ads can be inserted. For the most part, though, publishers and creators are responsible and try not to insert mid-roll ads too frequently.

One creator told Digiday earlier this year that a best practice is to include a mid-roll ad every two-and-a-half minutes at most. Publishers and creators will need to see how many mid-roll ads viewers are willing to tolerate in an eight-minute video.

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YouTube’s change could also spur a passive revenue boost for publishers because it will apply to the videos they have already uploaded to the platform. After seeing YouTube’s announcement of the shorter minimum, the first publisher analyzed its YouTube channels’ video libraries and found that one channel had roughly 500 videos that were between 8 minutes and 10 minutes in length. 

Considering YouTube’s reputation for long-tail viewership, the revenue from mid-roll ads being inserted into those videos could be notable, and even if not, it would be found money. “If you’re still doing pretty good viewership on your library, it’s like you’re getting a nice little raise,” said the first publisher.

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