The Battle for your eyeballs

YouTube is the reigning behemoth of online streaming video. It has channels, stars, communities, content and lots of ad revenue, lots and lots of ad revenue.

Facebook wants in on the action, and the money that goes with it. For the past year, Facebook has been beefing up its video infrastructure in order to compete with YouTube. Facebook now gets 8 billion* video views a day, 800 per cent more than a year ago. YouTube has nearly 5 billion views per day**.  Here are 5 Questions (and answers) on the video battle of the tech titans.

Why is video so important?

A: Video is what people seek out when they go online. If you have great video, people will come to you. If you don’t, you’d better have something else they can’t live without. Mobile video is growing like crazy, between phones and tablets consumption of online video is skyrocketing, and kids and young adults are driving that growth.

What kind of video are we talking about? Crazy stunts? Cat videos? Popular TV shows?

A: Not TV shows, movies, or fictional dramatic content, another set of Titans are fighting it out there (Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Hulu, Bell, Rogers). We’re talking about video created exclusively for online consumption by amateurs (some are very highly skilled amateurs who draw more views on YouTube than some conventional TV shows get). Yes it can be stunts or cat videos, but more likely it’s the kind of content created by stars like Jenna Marbles or Superwoman who have thousands of loyal followers and millions of views.

What difference does it make where I watch video? If I can find what I’m looking for – who cares?

A: Every video platform is different. Some let you search and explore, others curate it for you. YouTube is mostly search driven with some consideration of your preferences. And once you subscribe (like) to a YouTube channel you are part of their community. Facebook is a more curated offer, with content driven by what you’ve already viewed, clicked on or searched for online, plus all the data they have on you including age, location, marital status, education, friends etc. They boil it all down (well, really their mysterious algorithm does) and offer what they think you’ll be most interested in watching. Facebook makes it very easy to find video and they know what people like and what they share. And then there’s BuzzFeed, who generate billions of views on YouTube and on FB every month. They’re also a heck of a case study in this world of online video.

I can’t believe how easy it is to watch video on my phone; my kids can find anything they want. Why are YouTube and Facebook paying so much attention to mobile video, there’s already so much out there?

A: Because that’s where your kids are, and they are the biggest consumers of video. YouTube has 1 billion mobile views per day, with each session lasting around 40 minutes. YouTube brags it reaches more of the 18-34 year old audience than any cable network in the USA, so if your kids are watching YouTube, they’re not on Facebook, they’re not watching TV, or even Netflix. It is a battle for eyeballs. There’s never been more video available than there is today. That means there’s never been more opportunity to sell ads – and let’s face it – YouTube and Facebook provide great services, but they only survive by putting ads in front of your eyeballs, and more importantly the eyeballs of your children.

But my kids hate ads they’ll actually turn off a video to avoid an ad. Why can’t we just watch whatever we want, whenever we want?

A: What are you, nuts? Have you ever been able to do that, even on regular TV? Google’s pre-roll ad model is a license to print money. In fact, Google is busy telling kids’ brands that at least 25% of their advertising budget should be spent on YouTube.

Plus, advertising is so painless now, you don’t even know you’re being pitched. All those YouTube stars that get paid by companies to casually (or not so casually) mention a product or two in one of their segments. It feels so real, and genuine. And those kids can make thousands of dollars, they’re set for life…or at least a week. Is there a downside?

Facebook works a bit differently, pairing companies with people who make online video, but they’re making money from it too. Bottom line? There is no free lunch; somehow you’re going to pay for what you watch.