For the first time, Internet video pioneer YouTube has had to take into account that its dominance is being challenged, most notably by Facebook, Snapchat and Amazon. Now, YouTube has more than a billion users, an app audience of 18-to-49-year-olds that dwarfs that of any U.S. cable network, and an average mobile viewing session more than 40 minutes long. To keep ahead of the competition, YouTube has diversified, with apps devoted to specific niche audiences: YouTube Music, YouTube Kids and YouTube Gaming.
Wired reports that the kind of immersion found in YouTube Kids is “exactly what YouTube needs to stay competitive,” noting that Facebook’s addition of video has “proven its ability to command users’ time on mobile devices.” At the same time, the kind of “fleeting attention” that forms the basis of Google is “anathema to advertisers,” pushing Google-owned YouTube “to generate more views, longer watch time.”
“Google needs YouTube to be the place viewers don’t just go but also stay,” says Wired.
According to YouTube engineer John Harding, the company’s decision to create niche-oriented YouTubes “came out of breaking down which areas of interest had large, growing audiences with distinct enough habits to merit creating a separate space.”
YouTube’s success as a massive repository of videos has made it more difficult to find the right video, and the company is exploring machine learning to predict what users want to see, as well as in-app messaging that allows friends to share videos within YouTube.
In the meantime, YouTube’s creation of standalone apps for niche audiences is working. Horizon Media managing partner Sarah Baehr says that kids, music and gaming are good categories because these viewers “can’t get what they’re getting from YouTube anywhere else.”
YouTube shouldn’t be complacent, because other sites are also going after niche audiences: Amazon-owned Twitch specializes in online game-streaming; Spotify and Apple Music stream music and music videos; and HBO shows “Sesame Street.” But eMarketer senior analyst Paul Verna thinks YouTube’s position is solid. “I see YouTube as a company that faces a lot of competitive threats, but not existential threats,” he says.