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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

3 reasons publishers need a dedicated YouTube strategy 

August 25, 2022 | By Damian Radcliffe, Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism – University of Oregon @damianradcliffe

You probably have a presence on YouTube, but do you have a specific strategy for the platform? If you don’t, then it’s time to address that.

With close to 2.5 billion monthly active users, YouTube is the second most popular social network in the world. Only Facebook, with 2.9 billion users each month, enjoys greater reach. 

Despite this, many publishers’ presence on YouTube can often feel like an afterthought. The popular video-sharing network sometimes seems like an also-ran when compared with the content strategies (and resources!) being deployed across newer, shiner, networks like Instagram or TikTok. 

It’s time for that to change. Here are three key reasons why.

1. YouTube is too big to ignore

Originally created way back in 2005, YouTube is not exactly a new kid on the digital block. Yet it’s also far from being an internet dinosaur. 

According to Semrush, a software-as-service (SaaS) platform used for keyword research and online ranking data, last month YouTube was the second most visited website in the world with 60.9 billion visits. The average session visit was a whopping 29 mins 42 seconds.

Image: Screenshot(s) via Semrush, 22 August 2022

“YouTube is a seriously undervalued part of most publishers’ audience development plans,” Nic Newman, the lead author of the annual Digital News Report, recently told me during an email conversation about their 2022 study. 

The latest findings, which were published in June by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, found that across the 46 countries covered by the report, YouTube “is the second most important network for news after Facebook,” Newman says.

Because this is a global study, there’s considerable variance on a country-by-country basis. 

Nonetheless, in the United States, YouTube is the second most popular social channel for news in a typical week (19% of the sample). That puts it behind Facebook (28%) but some way ahead of Twitter (11%). 

It enjoys similar popularity when figures are aggregated across 12 major markets. This reflects the universality of its appeal and begs the question of whether publishers are giving the platform the attention it deserves.

2. YouTube is a versatile platform

User habits for news and other content on YouTube might also surprise you. As Micaeli Rourke explained in a feature for Digital Content Next last December, YouTube is something of an audio powerhouse. (Disclaimer: She interviewed me for the article.) 

YouTube was the leading platform for podcast consumption in the Ulast year, the 2021 Digital News Report found. They don’t provide comparative data for 2022. However, the latest study does note that YouTube is the second biggest platform for podcast consumption in Germany (19% of listeners) and the top source in Spain (30%).

Video-led podcasts are part of the reason for this popularity, as well as the opportunity to access content on multiple devices. This includes desktop and Smart TV consumption, which allows YouTube to play in the background, as well as more active “lean in” viewing. 

The rise of YouTube viewing on TV sets is one reason why mobile increasingly makes up a smaller percentage of overall views in many developed markets. This presents opportunities for content creators to reach audiences in new places and spaces.  

Meanwhile, the ease of publication (and lack of a requirement for a broadcast licence) has resulted in the emergence of YouTube TV-style shows and commentary alongside popular formats such as WIRED’s Autocomplete Interview (where celebrities answer the internet’s most searched questions about themselves) and Vogue’s 73 Questions video series. It also creates opportunities for historically text-centric outlets, such as Portland-based newspaper The Oregonian to go deep with long-form investigative stories. And it enables the Guardian (and others) to produce highly effective short explainer videos on issues du jour.

Looking ahead, Podnews revealed in March that YouTube is working to improve promotion, discoverability, and monetization opportunities for podcasters, including audio ads and “new metrics for audio-first creators.” Similarly, YouTube Shorts, its “TikTok clone,” is also a growing priority for the platform and another space that publishers may look to capitalize on. 

Collectively, these formats, along with more traditional video content found on the site, present a variety of means for publishers’ to harness YouTube as part of their engagement and revenue strategies. 

YouTube generated around $20 million in advertising revenue in 2020, CNBC reports. Arguably, that puts it in competition with publishers for ad dollars. However, creators can join the YouTube Partner Program (YPP) to earn income through mechanisms such as advertising, sponsored content, channel subscriptions and online shopping. YouTube’s revenue share model means that publishers typically take home 55% of the revenue from ads shown against their videos, Digiday stated back in 2020. 

That said, some of these returns might be less than publishers hoped for. Digiday notes that “news publishers, in particular, have a harder time attracting ad dollars because advertisers remain wary of their ads appearing next to controversial topics.”

Nevertheless, when it comes to both content and opportunities for revenue, the platform’s versatility means you don’t have to deploy a cookie-cutter model to be successful on it. There’s scope for variety, experimentation and avoiding the “one size fits all” approach, which you sometimes encounter on other platforms.  

3. YouTube effectively reaches younger audiences

Reaching a youth audience has long been the Holy Grail for many brands and media companies. For publishers interested in reaching Millennials, Gen Z, and even Generation Alpha (a cohort born in the past decade), YouTube should feature prominently in their plans. 

New data from the Pew Research Center demonstrates how YouTube usage is virtually ubiquitous among American teenagers. Teenage boys are more likely to say they use YouTube than teenage girls. However, in terms of those who have tried the service, there’s actually surprisingly little variance across a wide range of different indices. 

Moreover, when looking at teens overall, Pew’s “Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022” report discovered that nearly one in five (19%) say they use YouTube almost constantly. That puts it ahead of both TikTok (16%) and Snapchat (15%). Collectively, around three-quarters of U.S. teens (77%) visit YouTube on a daily basis, some way in front of its rivals. 

Roll credits

This isn’t a piece extolling another “pivot to video.” We’ve been there. We know how that worked out. Instead, it is a recommendation to take a look at YouTube and whether you are using it as effectively, and comprehensively, as you could. 

Of course, the platform is not without its challenges. Its recommendation engine can drive viewers away from your channel to other creators. Publishers might prefer to keep traffic (and its associated ad revenue) on their own properties. And last year The Information argued that programmatic ad sales were also hurting midsize publishers. Companies like BuzzFeed and Vice receive less money via YouTube’s revenue share arrangements than if they sold the spots directly, they said. Nonetheless, despite these real considerations, YouTube’s size, versatility, and reach with younger audiences are all major plus points.

Press Gazette has outlined how the biggest publishers on YouTube—in terms of subscribers and all-time views—are typically broadcasters. Many of these providers will post copies of reports, bulletins and shows, or offer a livestream, on the platform. But that doesn’t mean non-broadcasters can’t punch through. Press Gazette’s research also shows how Vox has broken the paradigm with a distinctive approach to high-quality (and often quite evergreen) video. 

Vox, along with Vice News and Insider, have also achieved success on the platform despite publishing considerably fewer videos than many of their more broadcast-led peers. This makes it clear that this isn’t just about volume of content.

In a separate discussion with video leads at UK newspapers, The Sun and The Guardian, they also posited how a clear voice, a willingness to experiment and “building trust with the casual audience,” are all potential ingredients for YouTube success

Thus far, tapping into YouTube’s potential isn’t something that many non-broadcast publishers have done well. Yet. 

But, if publishers are able to look beyond platforms like Twitter, Instagram and TikTok (channels that either fall into the media’s longstanding issue with “shiny object syndrome” or spaces that might also seem more natural hubs for their content), then that might change in the not-too-distant future. 

Certainly based on its audience, reach and breadth of content you can post, there’s an argument to be made that YouTube merits more of many publishers’ time and resources than it currently enjoys. If you want to ride the next digital wave, this trusty steed may not be a bad one to back. 

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