YouTube Surpasses 1 Billion Hours of Daily Video Views

Poses a direct threat to TV viewership as well as Facebook and Netflix

Global video-sharing website YouTube, owned by Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) Google, has surpassed its earlier target of more than 1 billion hours of video views per day globally in late 2016, fuelled by its rapid adoption of artificial intelligence to recommend videos to viewers, as reported by The Wall Street Journal on February 28th, 2017.

YouTube has indeed managed to grab the most eyeballs on its platform, with its viewers worldwide now watching more than 1 billion hours of videos a day, posing a direct threat to US television viewership that lack similar sophisticated tools and algorithms. YouTube recent milestone represents a 10-fold increase since 2012, when the platform started building algorithms that tap user data to give each user personalized video lineups designed to keep them watching longer. Along with YouTube’s unmatched video views per day, its unique collection of content is rapidly growing: 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube each minute, or 65 years of video a day.

As the corpus of content continues to grow, machine-learning algorithms are being used to surface the content that an individual user likes, according to YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan. YouTube’s unmatched video views per day is seen to be miles ahead of Facebook Inc.’s (NASDAQ: FB) 100 million hours and Netflix Inc.’s (NASDAQ: NFLX) 116 million hours as of January 2016. According to Nielsen, Americans watch on average roughly 1.25 billion hours of live and recorded TV per day, a figure that is steadily dropping in recent years.

YouTube rides on Google’s reach

YouTube benefits from the enormous reach of parent company Google, which handles about 93% of internet searches, according to market researcher StatCounter. Google embeds YouTube videos in search results and pre-installs the YouTube app on its Android software, which runs 88% of smartphones, according to Strategy Analytics.

Needless to say, YouTube earns most of its revenue from running ads before its videos, but it also spends huge money on technology and rights to content, including deals with TV networks for a planned web-TV service. Using its tailor-made video lineups, YouTube is now looking to reshape media consumption into narrow categories of interests, which is seen to be a worrying trend by industry observers.

YouTube’s aggressive adoption of artificial intelligence to recommend videos to viewers has also helped drive new users to its platform. About 2 billion unique users now watch a YouTube video every 90 days. YouTube, which last disclosed its user base in 2013, said that it surpassed one billion monthly users. YouTube is now likely larger than the world’s biggest TV network, China Central Television, which has more than 1.2 billion viewers.

YouTube increases user engagement and retention

YouTube earlier configured video recommendations to boost total views, but that approach rewarded videos with misleading titles or preview images. To increase user engagement and retention, YouTube in early 2012 changed its algorithms to boost watch time instead. However, clicks dropped nearly 20% partly because users stuck with videos longer.

Soon after, YouTube unveiled a goal of one billion hours of watch time daily by the end of 2016. At that time, YouTube projected that it would reach 400 million hours by then, and retooled its algorithms using machine learning techniques to parse massive databases of user history and thereby improve video recommendations.

Previously, the algorithms recommended content largely based on what other users clicked after watching a particular video. Currently, YouTube engineers have deepened their understanding of what is in a video and what a person or group of people would like to watch, mainly through the usage of artificial intelligence. Engineers tested each change on a control group, and only kept the change if those users spent more time on YouTube.

Another strategy that YouTube used was to find new areas of user interest. For instance, YouTube could suggest a soccer video to users watching a lot of football, and then line up more soccer videos if the first clip was a hit. However, the algorithm did not always deliver the correct recommendation. YouTube engineers then realized that there were certain “single-use videos” to ignore as signals of user interest. However, to mark them, they had to think of each example, such as certain health and how-to videos.

In 2016, YouTube partnered with Google Brain, which develops advanced machine-learning software called deep neural networks. This has led to huge improvements in other fields, including language translation, since the Google Brain system was able to identify single-use video categories on its own.

YouTube spruces up tech support

As a means to increase its user base, YouTube also revamped its customer service function in the face of intense competition from social media companies like Facebook, Snap Inc., and microblogging site Twitter Inc. (NYSE: TWTR). With user support gaining importance in recent years, the number of people making internet videos for a living is increasing each day. Given this scenario, social media companies are pursuing the right talent and paying them to make videos. This in turn has prompted YouTube to spruce up tech support for video creators last year.

YouTube plans to introduce customer services that creators can use to open production facilities and learn how to make more money from their channels. The brainchild of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, the new initiative is also offering one-on-one support for creators who upload videos to the site. YouTube will also offer emailed answers to questions within 24 hours. By offering best-in-class service and tech support, YouTube is betting that it can zoom ahead of its online video rivals.

As part of its plans to revamp customer support and humanizing it, YouTube has built production facilities around the world to give its creators sound stages, editing rooms and other tools to use free of charge. It is also funding original programming from creators who have become popular enough to make shows for media houses, through increased support with account management.

In another effort to squash competition from Facebook and Twitter, YouTube has launched 360-degree live streaming features on its mobile app. While YouTube allowed live video streaming from a computer since 2011, it did not have a mobile app for this function so far. Users will now be able to broadcast live footage from a smartphone, a function already available with Facebook’s Live and Twitter’s Periscope. Smartphone users will now be able to stream live video directly via the YouTube mobile app for Android and iOS.

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