I've long been bullish on YouTube, viewing it as the best advertising platform ever known to mankind (despite the giddiness that some have for Facebook and Twitter).
A Walled Garden?
Some critics have suggested that YouTube is just the latest iteration of AOL or Facebook, a walled garden that locks in audience and ad dollars. That's unfair. YouTube has always been very open: from the famous Paypal-inspired embed code to how it has evolved into a platform for other properties. In fact, in my experience, YouTube has been more open than the challengers who are trying to stay in the same universe as the incumbent.
Game, set, match
In a previous column, I outlined four things that YouTube could do to make more money for itself and producers. Front and center was the following:
4. Add comScore and Nielsen tracking at the producer level. This, my friends, is the nuclear option that will change everything. YouTube has already opened up its platform to content partners. It can go one step further and outline individual producer metrics on comScore or Nielsen. This is not fundamentally different from how:
· an ad rep firm like Gorilla Nation or Glam Media can get a website it represents to assign them their traffic, or
· you see sub-domain traffic on large portals.
In other words, if comScore and Nielsen could display what a content producer's reach is on YouTube, then it would open up a whole new stream of RFPs from the larger ad agencies and marketers. This, we believe, is a holy grail for both producers and YouTube.
Last week, YouTube and comScore announced a beta program with a few dozen content owners which did just that. Sure, I was a bit disappointed that my company wasn't included in the initial beta test, but as a content producer, video entrepreneur and digital media executive, it was easy to get excited about the big picture (our data will appear as of next month).
Understanding How Audiences are Measured Online
While miles ahead of television, radio or print audience measurement, online audience measurement has always been the ire of publishers. Techniques include:
a) Absolute, site-specific services/tools such as
- Server log files
- Analytics products such as Google Analytics (formerly known as Urchin, until Google acquired it)
b) Relative techniques such as
- Compete (a subsidiary of TNS, which itself is part of Kantar, WPP's market research unit)
- Quantcast (when their tag isn't added and they approximate one's traffic)
- Panel-based services such as comScore and Nielsen, who over time have added actual traffic behavior from their panel.
The long and short version is that nothing is entirely accurate.
Understanding How Marketers and Ad Agencies Buy Media
Media buyers rely largely on the comScore and Nielsen's of the world to make ad decisions. They will either
- cross-reference a property's stated internal traffic with comScore or Nielsen's data, or
- use comScore and Nielsen's data to pull up a list of relevant websites to advertise on.
Previously, if someone wanted to reach the video gamer audience, it would see that IGN.com (my former employer) ranks very high in terms of the male 18-24 audience. Today, with the new partnership, they will see that Machinima boasts a high concentration of gamers on its YouTube channel, even though its own-and-operated property is a mere corporate landing page.
You can see how this partnership finally "opens" up YouTube in a big way. In fact, while "demand outstripped supply" in the broader video market, each YouTube impression was not necessarily as valuable as it should have been due to a lack of data and reporting. This changes that.
With content being a long-term endeavor and slow to really scale, YouTube has always been one-part meritocracy rewarding influence and personalities, one-part "ongoing experiment" where content quality was secondary. It also makes the actual content more valuable: now that audience measurement becomes less opaque, then what people are watching becomes the next big thing that will concern advertisers.
One Quantum Leap for Online Video
This won't be error-free, and it won't be perfect, but it's a game-changer. Over time, I don't know if this will be more a case of
- "That's one small step for YouTube, one giant leap for individual content producers"
- "That's one small step for content producers, one giant leap for YouTube"
All I know is that this is a quantum leap for online video, period, as YouTube/comScore just a) empowered content producers and b) gave media buyers the data needed for YouTube to become the must-buy in video campaigns.
To see what else YouTube could do to further dominate online video, read my previous column for 1 through 3.