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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

YouTube’s success is a great sign for CTV

April 27, 2022 | By Todd Krizelman, CEO – MediaRadar @ToddKrizelman

Lately, there has been much investor handwringing over CTV investments. With Netflix’s latest results, some worry that if Netflix’s growth has stalled, the prospects for everyone else may be diminished as well. This is why the same day that Netflix stock came down 35+%, there were also (albeit much smaller) declines in other broadcast stocks too.

But the concerns may be misplaced. If YouTube can build a $28.8B annual revenue advertising business, without subscriptions, surely there’s hope that Netflix and other media brands with strong content catalogs can build and sustain ad-supported offerings.

The YouTube business

To better understand the YouTube business, MediaRadar took a look at the mix of YouTube’s current advertising. For this analysis we reviewed pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll ads from the largest 3,000 YouTube channels across 33 content categories through a panel of over 2 million users.

What we found was a robust, growing business, with significant lift in advertising revenue the trailing year, but also the number of advertisers, across most product categories, was up. Alphabet Inc, which owns YouTube, recently released FY 2021 numbers. The economics look strong. The company grew revenue 47% in 2021, up to $28.8B. Almost all of this was from ad revenue, with very little from subscriptions. The implications for all broadcasters and publishers is meaningful.

Some view YouTube as a platform only, not as content creator. But this is not quite right. YouTube is a platform of course. But they also invest aggressively in their influencers and third-party content creators. While they don’t finance scripted shows, they don’t leave content creation to chance. They do this by providing physical space, the latest tech, upfront grants, and even assign a manager to advise creators once they hit a certain number of followers. As reported by the WSJ in October 2021 they note YouTube employs 1,000 full-time managers assigned to the top 12,000 creators. With this in mind, there are takeaways for others on how to build a hybrid approach to content creation.

YouTube advertising findings

  • The industry verticals with the most concentration of ad spend include entertainment, technology, retail, finance, and pharma. Altogether, these categories accounted for 60% of ad placement, and each segment increased > 30% YoY from 2020 to 2021.
  • Retail and ecommerce advertising are up significantly year-over-year. We observed an increase in ad spend within this category of 109% from 2020. Unlike in certain categories, in retail we continued to see steady growth throughout the year. The Retail Category increased advertising on YouTube by 60% in Q3 2021 and 91% during the Q4 2021 holiday rush.
  • YouTube’s music content was the most popular in both 2020 and 2021 with advertisers. YouTube benefits from strong renewal rates, but also from new clients. 52% of advertisers in music YouTube channels were new in 2021.
  • Everyone knows Travel advertising would be up. YouTube did not disappoint. Advertising investment in the Travel vertical grew by 270% YoY from 2020. Some of the ad spend was from kid-friendly vacation destinations and theme parks like Disney World and Discovery Cove. Ad spend increased 8x year-over-year.

Content is key to advertising growth

Next, we looked into YouTube’s programming channels to see what content categories are helping to drive growth of the platform. Interestingly, the most popular among advertisers were the same in 2020 as 2021 – music, kids, society and culture, and gaming.

YouTube’s music content was the most popular both years among advertisers.  Furthermore, 52% of the companies investing among YouTube’s music content were newcomers to the category.

Another trend we uncovered was within “kids” content. Advertising investment among travel vertical grew by 270% YoY from 2020. Most of the ad spend was from kid friendly vacation destinations and theme parks like Disney World and Discovery Cove. Ad spend increased 8x among this group.

What’s next?

As we move through 2022 and into 2023, we expect retail ad spend to continue growing on YouTube. YouTube will continue to be a hot-spot for advertising among retail brands.

While ecommerce has had an increasing presence for years, the pandemic likely accelerated this possess by uncovering new technology to help making digital buying easy. YouTube has had success with shoppable experiences, and we expect to see more of them.

Publishers have long understood the value of affiliate revenue and shoppable content. The opportunity here – as demonstrated through YouTube’s success – is to evolve this into video and CTV offerings as well.

It will be interesting to see how the “new normal” plays out post-pandemic. Obviously, the industry and buying behavior has been forever changed. The online video market is also becoming cluttered with numerous CTV and OTT options.  Even Disney+ and Netflix are launching advertising-based models. The constantly evolving market will impact the way video is consumed and the methods advertisers need to use to promote their products.

The combination of content and commerce is a strong one. And, as we are seeing throughout the streaming space, content drives audience interest. And audience interest drives ad sales success. YouTube’s success illustrates the opportunity for ad-supported streaming success.

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