Why YouTube Isn’t Beating Television, and Why It Never Will

The moment that digital video providers like YouTube and Hulu started taking viewers away from cable television a line in the sand was drawn. As YouTube started attracting trillions of viewers annually, analysts inevitably began foretelling the last days of paid television. We are constantly being told just how well YouTube is doing and assume that since free digital programming is succeeding, paid TV must be failing.

Back in 2006, a young Pete Cashmore even reported that 43% of digital video viewers in the UK claimed to watch less television. Since then, digital video has only grown more powerful, especially with the arrival of services like Hulu and Netflix streaming. However, according to data from The Hollywood Reporter, YouTube isn’t dominating cable TV as much as we might think it is.

The aforementioned data suggests that in the first half of 2012, homes without cable television only rose by 40,000. Although that may seem like a huge amount, consider that the U.S. market for cable boasts around 100 million customers. The amount of homes without paid TV has only dropped by 0.3%, which is a negligible loss at best.

With over 3 billion hours of YouTube videos being watched every month, what is keeping the video-sharing site from completely shutting down cable TV?

Television Has Content That YouTube Does Not

As much as YouTube is attempting to turn themselves into a pseudo-television network, they will never have access to the type of content that TV has. Cable television has staples of American culture like “Monday Night Football” and half-hour sitcoms. These are shows and events that have ingrained themselves into the fabric of our society, and it will be a long time before anything on YouTube can replace them.

YouTube Doesn’t Have Anything TV Hasn’t Seen Before

YouTube and digital video are not the first competitors to try and take down television. They both might be the fiercest competitors, but it isn’t anything TV hasn’t seen before; for decades, cable TV has been fighting off would-be heirs to the throne of most-viewed format. The people in charge over at big cable know how to adapt to a changing digital entertainment marketplace; for example, most television cable companies have recently recognized the public’s attraction to cheap, if not free, entertainment and created bargain-priced cable packages to accommodate them.

YouTube Content Is Too “Snackable”

YouTube conditioned their audience to respond best to small, short and “snackable” content. Over time, YouTube will most likely adapt to longer form content, but for now, the sweet spot for most YouTube creators is just under seven minutes. Anything longer than that and people naturally drift away. If YouTube ever wants to finally take down TV, they need to have the same type of long-form content that is found on cable television.

YouTube Makes Things Too Hard for Advertisers

Television does not suffer from having the same type of constant, distracting stimuli that is YouTube’s calling card. The video-sharing site was created to encourage viewers to jump from one video to the next in rapid succession. If something isn’t grabbing your attention for even a moment, you can just click on one of the many suggested videos inches from what you are watching. Television, however, forces viewers to focus on one show at a time. Most of the time, people aren’t aware of what else is on as they watch a single TV program, which keeps them effectively glued to that one show. This means prime real estate for advertisements, which is something that YouTube has struggled with for a while now.