Late yesterday YouTube announced "a new destination for TV shows and an improved destination for movies," moves that continue the site's evolution from its UGC/video sharing roots to an aggregator of premium-quality video.
The reality is that this evolution has been underway for some time now, and I expect it will only continue. Two weeks ago in "6 Reasons Why the Disney-YouTube Deal Matters" I explained again why, as the 8,000 pound gorilla of the online video market, YouTube is in an excellent position to partner with premium content providers. In a media landscape marked by massive audience fragmentation, the online destination (YouTube) that accounts for 40-50% of all streams and is 15 times as big as the #2 destination (Hulu) is quite simply a must-have promotion and distribution partner.
The new destinations address what has been an ongoing Achilles' heel for the site - enabling users to easily find premium video "needles" in YouTube's user-generated "haystack." YouTube's UI weaknesses for premium video have been highlighted by the gold-plated user experience Hulu - and more recently TV.com and Sling.com - have brought to market. The sites have quickly gained passionate fans, and at least in the case of Hulu, significant viewership.
From a design perspective, while there's nothing I would call truly breakthrough about YouTube's premium destinations, they are still a step forward and a solid start. For users solely interested in premium content, they help organize things nicely. There's a decent selection of content, including titles from deals with MGM, BBC, CBS, Crackle and Lionsgate and lots of other partners, which will no doubt continue to grow.
Possibly more important though, is that for content providers they show how YouTube is serious about addressing their needs for clean, well-lit spaces. Premium content providers want the benefits of being in the massive YouTube site, but without the risk of their brands showing up too close to scruffy UGC material. Being clustered with other premium content is a must.
YouTube's concurrent beta launch of Google TV Ads Online, which allows targeted instream ads, is another positive for premium content providers. Beyond YouTube's massive traffic, Google's potent monetization capabilities are the other reason I've been so bullish on YouTube's prospects for premium content. As I wrote on Monday, with increased DVR penetration driving rampant ad-skipping, broadcast and cable's traditional ad model is looking more and more defunct. Online video ads offer a lot of promise as an even higher value ad medium, but much of it is still unproven. Having large players like Google and YouTube involved is significant for showing online video advertising's true upside.
One last take on this is how YouTube continues to position itself in the "over-the-top" sweepstakes, where multiple competitors are vying to be viewed as bona fide substitutes for cable/satellite/telco subscribers itching to cut the cord. I remain skeptical that the trickle of cord-cutters is going to turn into a gusher any time soon, but I will say that with its move up the content ladder, YouTube continues to burnish its standing as a must-have partner for any convergence device-maker looking to make over-the-top inroads (e.g. Roku, Vudu, AppleTV, etc.). YouTube is the most-recognized online video brand, the most-heavily trafficked, and increasingly a credible alternative to premium aggregators like Hulu and others.