YouTube overhaul will deliver “likes” all round

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Google is planning an overhaul of YouTube, with changes including a $100m (£62m) investment in “low-cost” yet “professionally produced” original content, according to a report published earlier this week.

If the report is to be believed, the site will become further populated with original programming made specifically for the web by YouTube or partners.

The new “quality” content is set to highlight the channels that appear on the homepage around specific topics, such as sports or arts.

Google has attempted to downplay the excitement of the alleged overhaul. A spokesman says: “We’re always updating the look and feel of YouTube. Any changes in YouTube’s design would involve lots of research and would be rolled out slowly, over time to ensure the best possible user experience.”

But unfortunately for Google, YouTube has already laid the clues about upcoming change. It acquired Next New Networks last month, a web video production company, and Green Parrot Pictures, which makes technology to sharpen the quality of videos.

A content-focused overhaul would see YouTube becoming a direct competitor with broadcasters as its co-founder Chad Hurley said the site was aiming to do last year.

The site already hosts full-length programmes from Channel 4 and Channel 5 in the UK and the introduction of bespoke content is the next step on the journey to YouTube becoming a fully-fledged internet broadcaster.

YouTube has obviously realised a change in the way its content is being viewed and had to react and produce more TV compatible content. An increasing amount of users are now viewing YouTube on their TV screens. Many set top boxes such as Virgin Media’s TiVo and video game consoles now come complete with internet connections.

More professionally produced content will not only improve YouTube’s position against linear TV but it will also strengthen its arsenal against US site Netflix, which will stream the first four seasons of Mad Men from July. Competitors Amazon and American site Hulu are stepping up the content game too.

Google sites attracted about 141 million unique viewers in the US in February, according to comScore. Each of those viewers watched about 261 minutes of footage in that month. The introduction of original content is likely to keep those US users on the site for even longer.

YouTube only has to look at the success of its Lady Gaga interview to determine how popular original content is to net audiences. Despite the footage lasting for an hour and ten minutes, the interview has attracted more than 1.3 million views in a matter of weeks.

Slicker content, starring celebrities is also far more likely to attract the big money advertisers than the Peckham Terminator or the boy still high on laughing gas after visiting the dentist.

As of yet, it is unclear as to whether the new focus on original content could expand to ad-funded programming, which Google competitor Yahoo is currently exploring. But wouldn’t that be exciting?

For brands, ad-funded programming promoted on YouTube’s front page alongside its own original content would present some added benefits to linear TV.

Programmes would receive worldwide coverage rather than specific local audiences – fantastic for brands looking to expand into new territories.

YouTube also has the added benefit of social engagement against TV. While many TV viewers are currently part of the “two screen” generation, commenting on Twitter and Facebook while they watch programmes, many would feel uncomfortable with a “social engagement” box appearing their TV sets. However, YouTube users watching on their televisions are more than accustomed to writing comments and sharing videos on the YouTube interface.

If the overhaul really has been given the thumbs up from Google, with potential extensions into ad-funded programming, it looks set to deliver “likes” all round from YouTube, producers, brands and users.

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