There's no time to rest when you're on top, even after years of total domination. YouTube, having been firmly entrenched as the number one online video portal for several years, might be tempted to stop and rest for a bit. After all, they are the second most searched site online. They get 20 hours of new content uploaded to the site every minute, and they seem to have finally figured out how to turn a profit.
Yep. Things at YouTube central must be all high-fives and back slaps right about now.
Of course, it's exactly the opposite.
While the higher ups have surely been dolling out compliments and congratulations to those that helped make all these successes possible… there appears to be a never-ending drive for something more at YouTube. It's not enough to have the light bulb go off on profitability—they actually want to reach profitability. It isn't enough to have the most eyeballs… they actually want those eyeballs to stick around for longer periods of time.
Part of what forms this attitude is who YouTube chooses to see as its adversary. You might think it's Hulu. Or some other portal site.
But according to YouTube's Hunter Walk—a lead engineer—they're actually gunning for a much larger target: television. As in… the entire industry.
Here's what Walk says:
"Our average user spends 15 minutes a day on the site. They spend about five hours in front of the television. People say, 'YouTube is so big,' but I really see that we have a ways to go.”
Wow. Talk about overachieving.
And yet… how exactly do we think they've come as far as they have? By aiming low?
The big task at YouTube these days is length of time users spend on the site. That one stone kills an awful lot of birds.
First, they'll have eyeballs for longer, which is a good bit of leverage in the advertising-revenue game, I should think.
Second, they'll get even more market share over their competitors like Hulu and Fancast—who don't have quite the battle for time-on-site since their users are, by definition, watching much longer videos (full movies and television episodes).
If you need me to keep listing benefits, you can add increased user loyalty, better-and-more-valuable analytics data, and any of the next ten things that come to your mind.
YouTube has the unique visitors, the brand awareness, and the market share. Now they want more of all those things… and the path they've chosen is increasing the time each user spends on the site.
Comparing themselves against television, as opposed to another website, makes them feel like the underdog again, as they get about 5% of the time the same user gives to the almighty TV.
So, how does Mr. Walk and his team plan to get users to spend more time on Youtube? For starters, they want to get even better at search as it pertains to videos. For instance, Google searches are getting pretty darn specific (long tail), while YouTube searches by average users remain frustratingly vague.
They also hope to have a breakthrough on what they refer to as "discovery”—how people find their next video to watch—and plan improvements in their system for suggesting videos. If they've got the discovery stuff sorted out, then users will presumable stick around longer. It's assumed that many users leave the site when the suggestions get off track or they tire of a particular topic or genre.
And there's plenty of reason to expect them to succeed. Set aside for a moment, if you can, the fact that they have a long, storied history of succeeding—particularly when they are expected to fail. But in just the past year, YouTube has already increased the average user's time on the site by 50%. While that may be minuscule compared to the lofty gains they're trying to make—turning minutes into hours—a 50% gain is nothing to sneeze at.
It's a pretty fascinating topic. How can a site that specializes in bite-sized videos convince you to stay for what amounts to a five course meal? What do you think is the best way for YouTube to increase the length of time users spend on the site? Or better yet… what feature, service, or add-on would make you yourself more likely to spend more time on YouTube?