As a long-time, experienced YouTuber, my first reaction to autoplay being enabled by default was pure outrage. How DARE they change something yet again?! But as usual, I went from complaining to giving it a fair shot the last week or so and it’s all beginning to make sense.
I’m not going to say the feature is perfect, because I’ve noticed a few glitches where autoplay conflicts with a pre-set playlist sequence and ends up repeating the same video. And occasionally I move on to the next video in sequence before I have time to comment properly on the one I’m watching. But that being said, the feature has led to me spending more time on the site, which is exactly what YouTube is looking for. Another theory of mine, because I love theories, is that YouTube enabled this change as a direct response to Facebook’s growing video presence, Twitter's testing of video autoplay in feeds, and the public launch of Vessel.
UPDATE: It appears YouTube has put in a ninja change in the past week for their Autoplay feature, addressing one major flaw that was impacting engagement. Instead of the next video in sequence automatically playing regardless of the action a viewer takes, the timer on the autoplay video will now pause if you have scrolled down into the comments section of the video and will progress when you have returned to the video player.
YouTube Autoplay: Response to Facebook and Vessel Threats?
On the Facebook front, this move is YouTube flexing their muscles a bit. Facebook’s numbers are inflated lately, in part, due to the autoplay feature being used on Facebook videos. Those inflated numbers paint a rosy picture for Facebook, but I’m very curious to see the numbers on YouTube come next reporting period. Personally I have spent 6-7x more time on the site (if that’s even possible) due to this autoplay feature alone. I say 6-7x because each autoplay list tends to get me hooked in for a good 6-7 videos before I find myself walking down some dark and twisty YouTube tunnel where it’s not quite what I was aiming for anymore. I’m not sure if that’s just YouTube reflecting my terrible attention span or the algorithm that’s choosing my videos being completely shocked that it still has my attention.
Either way YouTube is proving itself to be superior in grabbing and holding my attention, whereas my attention on Facebook tend to be more fleeting, especially with the complete lack of a quality way to search for video content there. Users can disable the autoplay feature (by clicking on the toggle button in the upper right-hand corner of the video page you are watching), but I’m finding that watching videos in 6-7 video chunks is working perfectly for me.
On the Vessel side of things, it’s just pure competition. Although much prettier than current YouTube, Vessel feels more like YouTube circa 2007, in a good way. I was pulled over to Vessel via a clever shoutout video from Veritasium and when I saw the sheer volume of my favorite YouTube creators who had also jumped on board, I couldn’t help but sign up for an account.
But once on the site I didn’t stay too long. My viewing habits are still too entrenched on YouTube and I have yet to discover a feature that keeps me rolling from one video to the next as well as autoplay, playlists and related videos. That’s not to say Vessel doesn’t hold promise either. In fact, their platform is stunningly beautiful to me and I could easily see them with the potential to take the biggest bite out of YouTube in years if they can convince more of the audience on YouTube, like myself, to make an account there.
They have listened to some of the most vocal cries from the YouTube community and brought back “Categories”, a “Channel/Show” section, and separate sections for “Popular” and “New Releases”. Simply put they have brought back casual browsing to combine with search based browsing which, oh by the way, they also have. Vessil’s homepage is brilliant, with moving thumbnails of content that really grab my attention. I can’t decide if the content is just plain awesome on the site or if my tastes in channels plus their home page algorithm make for a deadly good combination.
But before I derail this entire article touting Vessel the point is that YouTube has figured out what works for online video, namely taking the fleeting attention of Internet viewers and getting it to rest in the same place for more than 2 minutes. So while Vessel is poised to make an impact, I see YouTube’s launch of autoplay as power move to slow the public launch of Vessel and keep viewers’ attention trained on their own site.
Why YouTube's Attention to Detail is Paying Off
YouTube has gotten away from some of the core behaviors that made the site successful in its infancy, but their increased focus on high quality content and audience retention is paying off. I found myself having no issue sitting through a quick 30 second ad to wait for the next video in the autoplay list, just to see how well they selected the next video. And despite my desire for YouTube to remain more true to the content that populated the site years ago, I have to admit that the site is now the closest to TV as it has ever felt before and it doesn’t upset me like I thought it would. Here's a quick overview of the feature from YouTube itself:
So what does this all mean for video marketers? Well, as YouTube channel Veritasium mentioned in their video above, now is as good a time as ever to diversify your efforts. Don’t put all of your eggs into just one video site basket. While I’m not personally high on Facebook as a video destination, all signs point to significant growth there and it’s only a matter of time before Vessel begins to make an impact as well. YouTube remains the king and focusing your efforts there is still an absolute must, but there is also something to be said for spreading your efforts to other sites as well to ensure you have some diversity in your approach to video marketing.