Last week was dominated by the story of YouTube crown prince PewDiePie, who proved once and for all that online creators can be just as influential and successful as any other kind of celebrity. This week at the Fortune Brainstorm tech conference in Colorado, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki revealed that she isn’t at all fazed by the on-going efforts to poach YouTube’s talent by rivals like Facebook and Yahoo. Theirs is something of an open relationship, as it were; “Exclusivity would be nice, but I don’t think it’s necessary,” she says.
Wojcicki believes PewDiePie and his influencer peers will always see as home; “It’s where their fans were, where they were born. They know that medium. It’s where they’re connecting with audiences.” That kind of on-site community engagement is unique to their platform, she says. “We have a creator who stopped uploading as much as she used to… Her fans were like, ‘where are you? Why aren’t we hearing from you?’ These are the people who make them a star. It’s important for them to keep it up.”
And while Facebook makes strides in native video, Wojcicki asserts there is an important distinction between the ways that YouTube and Facebook measure their video views. Facebook’s videos auto-play in News Feed, and only three seconds of play are required to count as a view — this means that in the time it takes to scroll past a clip, you may have contributed to its stats regardless of whether it is relevant or not to your interests.
Meanwhile, YouTube monitors “watch time”, which currently amounts to hundreds of millions of hours each day. “Our watch time year on year is growing over 50 per cent,” she says, adding; “it is still accelerating.” She takes this as evidence enough that YouTube viewers are “more engaged” than Facebook’s passive News Feed consumers.
Music and mobile
When describing YouTube’s strategy for the future, Wojcicki simply says; “mobile, mobile, mobile.” Half of YouTube’s total views now come from mobile devices, and that number continues to grow. Wojcicki made no mention of whether vertical video is something we can expect to see more of on the site, but she did volunteer more information on the company’s new mobile streaming product.
Music Key is YouTube’s music subscription service, currently in beta testing, which enables users to listen offline and ad-free. Unlike the current YouTube app, Music Key can be run in the background, which will put it on equal footing with other music apps like Spotify. “YouTube has a really impressive collection of music,” says Wojcicki, who believes YouTube’s video capacity and creative community will set it apart from its competitors in this space. “Our corpus is different. We’re thinking about how to lean into that more… We have videos (with the music) and it’s really magical to see that. And we have user-generated clips and all the covers.”
Teenagers singing cover versions of your favourite pop songs in their bedrooms might not sound like enough to topple Apple’s wildly popular new music platform, but don’t dismiss Music Key just yet. After all, superstars like Bieber caught their break on YouTube by doing just that.