YouTube has been slowly and quietly building an army for their war against network television. From the moment that Google bought YouTube in 2006, the endless homepage redesigns and Google+ integrations have all been in the name of conquering screens around the globe.
We’ve all seen the signs of Google’s big shift towards network programming. First, they expanded the partner program, and then they subtly bundled all Google services, including YouTube, together into one web-based user experience. Steadily, YouTube and Google have been building a platform that will throw away a single-view YouTube experience for one that will keep viewers glued to their computers, televisions, smartphones and tablets.
YouTube’s secret weapon
Google’s most powerful component in their shift towards network programming is YouTube’s suggested channels bar. You know the one; it arrived around a year ago and controls a quarter of your home page. It’s big, grey and will soon be responsible for the future of what is and isn’t viewed on YouTube.
In a Wired article, YouTube product manager Noam Lovinsky said, “In Q4 one of the first things we did was put a big giant ugly black bar on the left side of the homepage with all of your subscriptions,” a decision which Lovinsky explains as entirely intentional.
That “ugly black bar” will soon become the gateway to the content that YouTube and Google want you to see. Gone are the days of falling through the YouTube rabbit hole into random content. Instead, YouTube will be providing maps and signs pointing you towards a specific channel tailored for you.
The lynchpin of the YouTube and Google plan will come in the form of that black bar. If you are writing emails about knitting and searching for knitting tutorials on Google, you better believe that YouTube will have a suggested knitting YouTube channel for you, a channel that was probably funded by Google’s multi-million dollar YouTube partners investment program.
If the writing wasn’t on the walls already for aspiring YouTube creators, it should be now. Since YouTube is reaching towards network-style programming, they are going to want to control what you can and cannot see.
The YouTube television network
With YouTube being a user-sourced video site, Google cannot bar the public from uploading videos. However, YouTube’s new network programming does not have a place for flash in the pan-style viral videos like “Nyan Cat.” So, how can Google discourage individual non-network-style YouTube content without completely changing the site’s focus? They will do it with suggested videos.
In the same Wired article, Lovinsky explained, “Creators will live and die by that guide,” referring to YouTube’s suggest videos guide. “It will be the guide to 100,000 channels that can make or break businesses,” Lovinsky added. Due to the fact that Google has invested millions into premium content, one can only assume that what will be in your suggested video column will also be a premium channel.
Independents need not apply
For young channels that have yet to or will never receive funding from Google, this could be the beginning of the end. Advertisers spend money on networks and shows that retain audiences for extended amounts of time, something YouTube does not specialize in.
To address this issue, YouTube has, of course, put money into the channels that they believe will keep audiences watching for longer than a few minutes, channels that concentrate on longer-form content akin to television, the kind of content advertisers salivate over. These channels will be the ones suggested to you and the ones receiving the most traffic because Google knows where their bread is buttered. For anyone not supported by Google and YouTube, how could they possibly stand out?
Google and YouTube have put their faith and money into channels that they believe will help propel this leap towards network programming. For everyone else not producing television-style content, who can say if there will be place for them once YouTube goes full network. It is safe to say, however, that with Google giving premium channels unlimited resources and site support, the fight to stay afloat as a non-YouTube-supported creator will be incredibly difficult.