<videovortex> YouTube TV

Cecilia Guida cecilia at networkcultures.org
Mon May 31 20:15:25 CEST 2010


YouTube Wants You to Sit and Stay Awhile
Published: May 28, 2010

TWO weeks ago, YouTube celebrated when the number of videos viewed daily
on its site reached two billion, a milestone.

But it also used the occasion to express its envy of television’s
continuing hold on viewers: “Although the average user spends 15 minutes a
day on YouTube, that’s tiny compared to the five hours a day people spend
watching TV,” the company observed on its blog. “Clearly, we need to give
you more reason to watch more videos!”

YouTube, however, faces a huge obstacle: very short videos are unlikely to
hold interest when watched in long sequences. It remains to be seen
whether viewers will ever be interested in watching hours and hours of
typically two-and-a-half-minute videos, even if produced professionally
and well matched to individual tastes and moods.

The end of a program — whether it has lasted two minutes or two hours —
invites consideration of doing something else. In YouTube’s case, of
course, the end comes often. Jamie Davidson, a YouTube product manager,
says that the 15 minutes of daily viewing by a user typically involves six
videos, with the conclusion of each presenting “a decision point, and
every decision point is an opportunity to leave.”

“We’re looking at how to push users into passive-consumption mode, a
lean-back experience,” Mr. Davidson says.

Margaret Stewart, chief of YouTube’s user experience team, says the site
is not only striving to “sequence short-form content seamlessly,” but is
also building up “long-form content,” television shows, professionally
produced Webisodes and movies, as well as live sporting and music events.
She says YouTube has 7,000 hours of movies and shows to offer.

But an embarrassingly visible portion seems to be of a type that fails to
be even entertainingly bad. In January, the critic Joe Queenan inventoried
in The Guardian the contents he found: “Tons of schlock, cult films,
trash, direct-to-video overstock and tongue-in-cheek vanity projects.”

“The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism” and “Cheerleader Ninjas” were among
the YouTube titles of which Mr. Queenan said: “All sound great. But they
are not great. Not, not, not.”

This fall, YouTube says it will introduce a radically different,
uncluttered look, with YouTube Leanback. It will have a separate Web
address and will start playing a video the moment a user clicks on the
site. When one video ends, another will start automatically, eliminating
those dreaded “decision points” that invite abandonment. Viewers will be
able to select channels, but the flow of programs, whether short or long,
will be continuous.

“There’s no browsing, no searching, no clicking. It behaves like you would
expect television to,” said Hunter Walk, a YouTube program manager who
provided a brief peek this month at Google’s developer conference.

Google, YouTube’s corporate parent, now sees the living room as
strategically important terrain for the entire company, and isn’t waiting
for YouTube to win the beachhead. The big announcement of the recent
conference was the introduction of Google TV; it seeks to enlist hardware
manufacturers and cable service providers in adopting Google-supplied
technology that will make it easy to simultaneously navigate television
programs, online video and TV-friendly Web sites on the living room set.

Google says YouTube Leanback will be introduced in coordination with the
release of Google TV devices in the fall. But Google TV, the larger
initiative, is designed with the assumption that viewers will do quite a
bit of searching with a keyboard on their lap, a sit-up-straight,
think-about-what-you’re-doing form of engagement. Significantly, it’s
called Google TV, not YouTube TV.

To lean back and enjoy an endless stream of YouTube videos now, before
YouTube Leanback arrives, a viewer can visit the Web site of NowMov, a
start-up in San Francisco that offers an instant-on YouTube experience.
Using Twitter feeds to determine which YouTube videos are appearing with
the greatest frequency in Tweets, NowMov starts playing a YouTube video as
soon as a visitor arrives at its site. In the background, it is
downloading other oft-Tweeted videos. If a user isn’t interested in what’s
playing, a click of a “Next” button starts another one instantly.

“If too much of your brain is occupied with the process of choosing, it
takes you out of the experience of watching,” explains James Black, a
NowMov co-founder.

It’s fun to sample the NowMov experience — briefly. It’s hard to imagine,
however, leaning back for hours, watching a stream of short videos that
have nothing in common other than shared popularity in the moment.

NowMov opened its service only this month, and Mr. Black says he cannot
yet talk about how long the average user session lasts. But if NowMov
succeeds, it will fulfill Mr. Black’s ambition to free users from what he
calls “the tyranny of choice.”

IN the 1940s, early television also offered what we would now call a
comfortable lean-back experience in the living room. It, too, started in
“autoplay mode,” serving up a continuous sequence of programs by default.

With Zenith’s introduction in 1950 of the first television remote control
— the “Lazy Bones” — the lean-back position could be preserved for long
periods. (Staying put was prudent; the cord that tethered the control to
the set was easy to trip over.)

Today, watching NowMov requires nothing of the user, not even a click of
the Next button. That’s leaning way, way back.

Was the television viewer in 1950, who at least selected channels, really
a lazy bones?

Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of
business at San Jose State University. E-mail: stross at nytimes.com.

Cecilia Guida
Video Vortex
Institute of Network Cultures

t: +31 (0)20 595 1866
f: +31 (0)20 595 1840

At INC on Wednesdays and Thursdays

cecilia at networkcultures.org

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