As viewing habits move from the small screen to even smaller screens, from TVs to a host of digital devices, a fierce battle for audiences and advertisers is taking place.
The successful broadcast networks of the future aren’t national, terrestrial TV channels. They’re probably not even international media conglomerates. It’s the internet giants who are using their massive reach to become gatekeepers of video content, and crucially tie digital video ad spend to their own platforms. The two biggest platforms likely to decide the future of online video consumption and monetisation are YouTube and Facebook.
YouTube is currently the biggest hitter when it comes to online video. It has the edge in both views and revenue. Over 300 hours of video are uploaded to Google’s video service every minute of every day, and the site has over one billion monthly users. YouTube’s ad revenue is estimated at $4bn a year. According to eMarketer, it makes up around 20pc of all US-based digital video advertising revenues.
But Facebook is one hungry challenger and it’s on a concerted charge to take YouTube’s title. The social network is packing its users’ feeds with video – you’ll see nearly four times more video in your feed than one year ago. And videos now auto-play in users’ timelines, which inflates the number of video views. Around 3bn videos per day are now viewed, or more accurately played, on Facebook.
Facebook isn’t stopping there. It recently announced its videos would soon become embeddable on other sites. It has also unveiled a swanky new API, which will give publishers greater control over their video inventory.
But there’s something missing from the social network’s armoury. As of yet, there have been no soundings about how the social network will help users make money from the content they upload. This is in stark contrast to YouTube, which has a partner programme to crow about.
Over 1m channels earn revenue from the YouTube Partner Program, with some even making six-figure sums. To improve its platform and attract more advertisers, YouTube invests heavily in its content creators; it helps them to make better programmes and reach bigger audiences. Facebook does none of this.
YouTube has also spent tens of millions of dollars on a copyright management system, which has paid out over $1bn to YouTube partners since 2007.
So what’s the big deal? Why is video viewed as such a hot property for these digital giants? Why aren’t they happy to leave it to the traditional broadcasting powerhouses; the 21st Century Foxes, Time Warners and BSkyBs?
“Where there’s this level of data there’s dollars, so it’s no wonder that YouTube and Facebook are at loggerheads.”
Because it’s growing. And size – especially gargantuan size – matters. US audiences watched 38.2bn online videos in the second quarter of 2014, according to Adobe. That’s a year-on-year increase of 43pct.
What’s more, smartphones and mobile devices account for the majority of that growth. Networking giant Cisco predicts that global mobile video traffic will grow from 1.4 exabytes per month last year, to over 24 exabytes per month by 2019. To put that in context, all the words ever spoken by mankind would add up to about five exabytes.
Where there’s this level of data there’s dollars, so it’s no wonder that YouTube and Facebook are at loggerheads. But just to make things interesting there are other challengers.
One of the more intriguing of those is Snapchat. The app which sends Mission Impossible style self-destructing photos and videos only served its first ad in October of last year. But despite the fact that it’s a newbie -actually maybe it’s because of it – it has become a serious player in online video.
What Snapchat lacks in scale, it makes up for in demographics. The majority of its users are younger; research from Comscore shows that 45pc of Snapchat’s users in the US are 18 to 24 years old – and Comscore doesn’t track under 18s. This elusive young crowd, which has no affiliation to traditional media, is proving increasingly difficult for advertisers to target. Enter Snapchat with its Discover news platform. It’s a video channel featuring media brands like Sky, Vice and Cosmopolitan. Publishers can set their own rates, but guarantee a minimum number of views to media buyers. The revenue is split differently, depending on who sells the advertising.
If the publisher sells the ad it’s a 70:30 split in their favour. It’s an even 50:50 split if Snapchat sells the ad. One report claimed that Discover ads are generating a CPM as high $100. That would be almost five times as much as Facebook and YouTube. Not bad for a platform that launched in January.
So what’s going to happen next and what does it mean for advertisers and publishers?
Well, despite the challengers nipping at its heels, YouTube will more than likely retain its status as top dog. It has the edge over its rivals in terms of audience, and inventory. Snapchat needs to prove that its Discover channels are enjoyed by its younger users – and not an irrelevant news dump a few swipes from where the real action is.
Facebook, for its part, will to continue to aggressively increase mobile views. Nomura recently forecast that the social network would triple its share of global online video advertising. That would meant that Facebook would own 11pc of what will be a $34.4bn market by 2017.
However, the big question is whether Facebook can marry its massive user-base with cash for content creators. If it figures out how to successfully court publishers with some sort of revenue sharing proposition, it may well strike a definitive blow in the battle for online eyeballs.