The modern history of media more or less shows that when given an opportunity to fly, most innovators decide it’s more prudent to walk. Flights crash and burn. Walkers mainly stumble.
So it is that in 2014, Google will continue to transform its YouTube into something that seems more and more like television we already know, even signing on to Nielsen’s OCR measurement that puts audience figures into language TV advertisers understand.
That makes sense as more people turn away from traditional television, or at least modify/augment their habits, and add connected TV devices into their lives. (That’s what this Christmas is for, by the way.)
YouTube began funding some channels almost two years ago, and increasingly there’s a YouTube of channels that are more or less professional and a YouTube of millions of channels that are just the province of user generated content that, if viewed in a big lump, almost have the jarring dissonance of a bad dream. (Whereas a lot of YouTube’s professional stuff looks like the senior project of a multi-media class, but better lit.)
USA Today reports that in coming months, YouTube will increase efforts to seem more like cable. It’s not all fresh news; YouTube’s been doing that for the last little while too, but in 2014 users will likely see that approach done a lot better.
If it works, it will radically reset the viewing and advertising environment, even more than online video already has. The programming may not be much different, and probably not better than already exists somewhere already, but with a push, online video generally and YouTube specifically could overwhelm the stuff we call traditional media. And of course, this new thing will very soon look like… traditional media.
Scratch one of the existing creators of professional content on YouTube and you’ll reveal executives who are dying to sell their programs—if not their entire companies—to the biggest, fattest TV network they can find. By May, when television starts pushing its upfront programs, advertisers will start making comparisons that can cause a seismic event in the content and advertising world.
"The opportunity for brand advertisers and Google to work together is enormous," Lucas Watson, vice president of brand solutions at Google, tells USA Today. "We have massive growth in front of us." And of course, he’d say that. But the trend lines seem pretty undeniable. What’s more the ad community is now, in total, old enough that they experience digital every day. They’re buying in, and they're buying ads.
In the USA Today article, Rob Norman, chief digital officer for GroupM Global predicts, too, that YouTube in coming months will make all kinds of changes to make it look more familiar to TV advertisers. (“Familiar,” we should note, is usually what is left when big business gets its hands on “experimental” and tries to sell it to Procter & Gamble.) "YouTube will be more like a cable TV line-up rather than this morass that sometimes people see as YouTube now," Norman says, --and that ought to shake up everything.