As costs rise, can YouTube finally dominate the media industry?
Future News & Media 125
To be essential, or not essential, that is the question that may haunt, hinder or boost media services and outlets in the West for at least the next couple of years. With costs surging on the back of the Ukraine war and when many industries are still trying to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers are quite literally paying the price.
Though communication prices haven’t gone up as sharply as other goods and services, the cost of living crisis is making households re-evaluate their budgets and ask whether streaming services are worth it, especially after Disney Plus and Netflix have increased their offerings and energy bills are leaving an almighty hole in their wallets.
Subscriptions had begun to slide in the middle of last year, with parts of the news media industry later dodging the drop as consumers flocked back to trusted sources as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in late February. We now know, however, that there is a flood of consumers quitting the big streamers, with a record 1.5m accounts being terminated over the past three months in the UK according to Kantar.
The market intelligence outfit estimates that Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video had the lowest churn rates in Q1. In contrast, family-friendly Disney Plus (Star Wars, Marvel and that biopic about Pamela Anderson) saw a rate of 12% compared to Q4 2020.
The stickiness of Prime is no doubt thanks to its inseparable link to other Amazon services and their wider utility, including cheaper shopping options, while Netflix has been on the block much longer than Disney Plus. Regardless, the situation could prove to be extremely advantageous for Alphabet’s YouTube, which made a cool $8.63bn from advertising in Q4 2021, up 25% on the same period the year before.
The platform is free to use (unless you want to purchase an add-free Premium subscription) and, as The Spectator’s Rory Sutherland recently noted, offers hours-upon-hours of non-neurotypical video-on-demand. It is well-known for video gaming streamers, but you can find live sports commentary, cooking shows and more obscure pursuits on the platform to fulfil geeks of all stripes and sizes.
Factual programming seems to fit especially well on the platform since there is no specified limit to the length of videos of YouTube. A few of my favourites include History Buffs, a channel dedicated to analysing the historical accuracy of films and TV series, Abroad in Japan, where a British bloke called Chris Broad discovers, deciphers and explains Japan’s culture, and My Self Reliance, where a Canadian chap called Shawn James documents his off-grid life, building projects and cooking habits.
Apart from Abroad in Japan, no traditional TV producer would commission this type of content – unless Shawn was doing all of his woodwork by the side of a canal, which, admittedly, would make prime-time viewing in Britain.
News media is also booming on YouTube. More than a quarter (26%) of Americans said they got their news from the platform in 2020, according to a PewResearch study. A more up-to-date survey from UK media regulator OfCom found that YouTube was on the rise amongst news-watching British households, with a third of all 12-15-year-olds using it in this way just behind BBC One and Two at 35%.
Similar findings were also recorded in the 2021 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, where it should be said that although consumption was high, YouTube was treated with care and caution compared to traditional forms of news media.
Even with that said, and with its myriad of content – long, short and everything in between – in mind, the average time spent on the platform’s website per day is an impressive 13.25 minutes. Amazon’s Twitch, meanwhile, is around half of that at 6.31 minutes per day.
Then there is the YouTube app. Available on smartphones, smart TVs and, somewhat ironically, via Amazon Firesticks and similar plug-in devices for older TVs, it means it’s extremely hard not to be exposed to YouTube. The only tricky business is sifting through the mass amount of content, and finding what suits you and your household best.
This does take a bit of leg-work and your tastes, and subsequently your subscriptions, will change over time as does YouTube’s own algorithm which has seen creators gone from creating long-form content to short-form and back again. And if you’re a fan of gore, YouTube isn’t the place for you. Even when it comes to educational cooking shows, its censors are super-sensitive.
But the prize, much like the trials and tribulations found navigating Wikipedia, is often well worth it. With its peers and competitors feeling the heat and mass digital adoption catalysed by Covid-19, the stage is now set for YouTube to dominate the media world.