YouTube knows they got your attention, but their latest feature aims to keep you watching longer and help you find new things to love. The video giant is rolling out autoplay for suggested videos to a small fraction of users world wide. The new feature, which users will, at least initially, have the option to toggle on or off, will automatically start streaming a suggested video as soon as the one you’re watching is done. The idea is to hook casual viewers, the kind that just dropped in to check out a viral video shared by a co-worker, and keep them watching.
The new autoplay feature will solve a couple of major problems that YouTube has been wrestling with over the last few years. The first is audience retention. Here at NMR we’re all seasoned professional YouTube watchers with our own YouTube accounts and perpetually overflowing subscription boxes. However, many of the millions of eyes that land on YouTube are casual users who followed a link or searched for a specific piece of content and stumbled upon a video. YouTube wants to grab hold of those users and show them what it has to offer. The easier way to do that is to throw some new content in front of them before they have a chance to move on.
An integrated autoplay feature also helps YouTube with a more subtle problem, discovery. Back in the day when YouTube was young the site would hand curate its content, featuring worthy, interesting, or trending videos on the front page where casual visitors could easily find them. Today YouTube is so swamped with content that finding something new and awesome is like discovering a needling in a haystack. YouTube partially solved this problem with alogrithms that identify videos you might like based on the one you’re already watching, you’ve probably seen them hanging out on the right hand side of your screen. Unfortunately it’s still tough getting people to click on them, so now YouTube will do the clicking for you. If you’re not fast enough on the trigger YouTube will serve up one fresh new video after another.
The new feature will help YouTube to function more like a television network, constantly serving up content and letting users be more passive. That may sound annoying but it’s what advertisers want to see before they dump even more money into YouTube content. The new feature may result in longer viewing sessions, but it also runs the risk of turning off users who prefer a self-guided experience. Apparently YouTube feels that’s a risk worth taking. The new feature is currently in beta testing for a small percentage of users worldwide but it could be coming to a screen near you soon.