Is Facebook stealing YouTube's video crown?
Hometalk has recently built a video presence on Facebook, with one spot that shows an environmentally-friendly way to clean an oven attracting over 38 million views -- a significantly better performance than the brand's experience on YouTube. "A lot of media organizations have struggled on YouTube," said Josh Topolsky, the former digital head at Bloomberg, noting that organizations wish YouTube was more like a social network.
Some Media Companies Cool on YouTube Distribution
Since then, its Facebook video audience has surged, driven by clips such as an eco-friendly oven cleaning technique that has garnered over 38 million views since July 2, according to Hometalk’s co-founder and chief marketing officer, Miriam Illions.
That’s far more attention than Hometalk’s videos have generated on YouTube, where it has had a limited presence for years.
“Facebook is so instant,” Ms. Illions said, because of the inherent sharing that is part of the social network, helping videos reach more people.
Hometalk’s audience has been “nothing to write home about on YouTube,” she said. With the Google-owned video site, “it’s painful to know that these videos are sitting there” without the same level of promotion.
While a relatively small brand like Hometalk may not represent the entire web publishing world, Ms. Illions is not alone. Even as the media business becomes more fixated on web video, some publishers are questioning whether YouTube is still worth their investment.
“You never count Google out, but something has to change at YouTube, or Facebook and Snapchat are going to own this world,” said a prominent digital media executive. For some newer media companies, YouTube has become an afterthought, this person said. “Google can’t rest on its laurels.”
The shift in tone regarding YouTube shows how quickly the technology and media landscape as well as consumer habits have evolved. YouTube, founded in 2005, reaches 1 billion people a month, and the platform has built a sizable, mature ad business that shares revenue with creators. Yet the video site is now crowded with more content than ever, and it doesn’t have the built-in network for sharing that helps other sites rapidly amass viewers, particularly on mobile.
A fair number of publishing executives say they are now more bullish on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and, in some cases, even Twitter when it comes to amassing video audiences.
“A lot of media organizations have struggled on YouTube,” said Josh Topolsky, the former head of digital at Bloomberg who previously helped launch The Verge. “They wish it was more of a social network.”
There are several examples of companies with large Facebook and Instagram video audiences that have generated only modest viewership on YouTube. The short-form video startup NowThis has over 6.7 million fans on Facebook, where its videos generate thousands, if not tens of thousands of views. On YouTube, NowThis has just under 17,000 subscribers and its videos sometimes struggle to crack a thousand views. Similarly, the Daily Mail’s videos on Facebook attract hundreds of thousands of views, but barely register on YouTube.
Mr. Topolsky and other executives noted that, for many people, YouTube often serves as a video search engine and not a place where people connect with friends, limiting its ability to help users discover new videos and have them spread.
To be sure, YouTube has fostered an ecosystem of homegrown creators who do continue to thrive on the platform. These YouTube stars have established their own form of video content, driven by personalities, often talking to their fans directly about topics ranging from videogames to beauty or hair tips. Given their fans’ propensity to subscribe to YouTube channels and to comment and share, they likely very much see YouTube as a kind of social network.
But, as many executives noted, media companies don’t generally excel at creating this type of personality-driven content, and young people don’t necessarily turn to YouTube seeking professionally produced videos from big media brands.
According to Scott Grimes, co-founder and non-executive chairman of the young male-oriented web company Woven Digital, publishers need help standing out amidst the sea of YouTube stars. But YouTube doesn’t make it easy for content to get discovered or shared—key strengths of other social platforms like Facebook and Instagram, he said.
“People underrate the shareability,” Mr. Grimes said. “That’s really how you grow your audience as a publisher.”
Mr. Grimes said that if he were starting a new media company now, he’d focus on Facebook and less on YouTube, though his company is not abandoning YouTube.
YouTube, for its part, says that more and more creators and media companies are publishing on its platform and finding audiences. “In the past year alone, we’ve launched thousands of additional news channels to YouTube and the time people spent watching news content has more than doubled. Our partner revenue growth has averaged 50% over the last three years” said a YouTube spokeswoman.
The Web video giant recently introduced a live mobile streaming offering. Plus, it boasts of content distribution deals with media giants like the NFL and has made strides in getting advertisers to consider it as an alternative outlet for TV budgets.
There are companies like Vox Media creating original videos that often exceed 4 million views on YouTube. Or take BuzzFeed. Even as the company has rolled out 20 unique brands on Facebook, including the food-oriented Tasty (which has a staggering 65 million fans on Facebook), the media startup has continued to pour resources into YouTube, where series like “The Try Guys” regularly garner millions of views.
To its credit, YouTube has helped nurture newer media brands such as the general interest WatchCut and the news-oriented Seeker Daily, both of which have amassed more than 1 million subscribers over the past few years, while attracting far fewer Facebook fans.
Some publishers contend that while it’s harder to gain viewership on YouTube, the audience proves to be far more engaged and loyal.
“On YouTube, once they are with you, they are with you,” said Steven Oh, chief business officer at the progressive-leaning web video company The Young Turks.
It’s worth noting that YouTube shares 55% of the revenue generated by pre-roll ads with the publisher, while Facebook, for instance, doesn’t offer pre-roll video ads. But, at the same time, Facebook has been paying media companies and celebrities directly to create videos and experiment with its Facebook Live feature.
“There are no deals to be had at YouTube that are particularly compelling,” said Jon Steinberg, the former Daily Mail and BuzzFeed executive who recently launched the business-oriented video brand Cheddar with a big focus on Facebook Live. “There is no discovery, and there are nickel-and-dimey [ad rates].”
The power of Facebook’s vast network—not to mention the fact that videos play automatically on the site and that Facebook’s algorithm appears to favor video—is hard for publishers to resist.
“We see YouTube as a valuable place,” said Micah Gelman, senior editor and director of editorial video at the Washington Post. “But the pure audience on Facebook is so much bigger.”
(Courtesy of WallStreetJournal)