Monetizing YouTube Without Being “Evil” – Opportunity Abounds for a “Next Gen. AdWords” on YouTube

January 31, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Social Media

Today, I read an interesting article on Pocket-Lint, which summarizes a recent Harris Poll, which questioned 2,309 people back in December 2006:

Of all frequent YouTube users, two-thirds (66%) claim they are sacrificing other activities when on YouTube. Although their visits to the site are most likely to have been at the expense of visiting other websites (36%), time spent watching TV is next most likely to have taken a hit (32%). YouTube also cuts into email and other online social networking (20%), work/homework (19%), playing video games (15%), watching DVD(s) (12%) and even spending time with friends and family in person (12%).

According to the article, 3/4 of respondents would be less likely to visit YouTube.com if ads were placed in front of videos.  Interestingly though, that same group of respondents, was okay about TV network websites airing commercials during on-line showing of television shows.  Almost as many adults (41%) have watched a video on a TV network website as they have on YouTube (42%).

Pocket-Lint takes a unnecessarily negative view of what these survey results mean for Google’s monetization of YouTube, saying: “It seems like TV networks can get away with advertising more easily.” I don’t think this is necessarily true, and I take a much more positive view of the survey results than Pocket-Lint.  While additional research would be required to confirm my thoughts, I suspect that people are more willing to see ads on material that cost money for networks/studios to produce because there is a high likelihood that this content will be entertaining vs. seeing ads on material that had little production cost and may or may not actually be entertaining.

The thing with home videos on YouTube is that users have to sift through material to find the really funny/ interesting/ good stuff.  That’s part of the excitement and charm of the site, but it may also make users reluctant to accept watching ads, if they feel those ads “waste their time.”  This isn’t to say that users won’t accept ads on YouTube, but if YouTube goes, choses to implement ads, to be successful, ads will need to be both relevant to the user and offered in formats that don’t annoy users.  Another issue, which I think impacts users willingness to see commercials, is the quality of the picture.  When copyrighted content is illegally posted on YouTube, it is often not very high resolution footage, which impacts the viewing experience.  When a user watches copyrighted content on a network’s website, the footage is usually very clear and higher resolution.  I think it goes without saying that if YouTube were able to legally secure content from the content owner (e.g. movie studios/networks), resolution wouldn’t be an issue.  But, why would a Studio or Network want to “give” YouTube their content?  I’ve got a few ideas…

If YouTube users are, as the Harris Poll suggests, really sacrificing time elsewhere in order to spend time on YouTube, there should be plenty of revenue generating opportunities for Google.  First, there are the conventional options worth exploring:

  • Conventional Ads –  Additional studies would likely be required to determine what type of ads could be run without causing YouTube user attrition.
    • It might not be a good idea to put ads ahead of every user-generated video on YouTube, but video ads or splash print ads may be tolerated by users in front of or behind highly ranked home movies or videos that networks and studios post (if YouTube is successful as signing licensing agreements with content owners).
    • Targeted banner ads on Youtube.com, or short video or splash ads put in front of YouTube videos that are fed through to other websites (say VOX blogs, etc.) may be more tolerated.
  • Subscription services – Perhaps users who aren’t willing to see ads would be willing to pay a subscription fee to watch videos.  While those who are happy to watch ads, could do so, in lieu of paying a subscription fee.
  • Free to stream X number of times – Pay to watch more than X times or to download the video to your PC, Phone, iPod, etc..

If, however, Google wants to make serious money with YouTube (without being “evil” in the process), there is plenty of room to innovate…  As I mentioned in an earlier post, YouTube recently announced that it would soon incorporate an audio engine that recognizes songs laid on top of home videos that appear on YouTube. At the end of videos, YouTube will give viewers a chance to legally purchase those songs.  This technology could be used to allow users to buy/download videos from studios/ networks as well.  However, I see  enormous possibilities to innovate and create revenue generating opportunities, which would allow Google to extend the advertising empire it started with AdWords into a whole new generation of interactive advertising.

Google could power a next generation advertising platform on YouTube that works like this for consumers:

  • Watch a video on YouTube
  • If you’ve liked anything you’ve seen/heard about in this video, buy it now or get a discount to buy it.
    • YouTube could suggest products to purchase that appear in the video that users have just watched.  Advertisers already pay to get rappers to mention products (cars, booze, etc.) in songs, and they pay for subtle (or not so subtle) product placement in films and TV shows… I imagine these same advertisers would LOVE the opportunity to immediately capture customers by either enabling them to buy (or providing them coupons to buy) products featured in YouTube videos.
  • If you like what you’ve just watched, check out these other programs X,Y,Z (this already exists on YouTube, but it could be enhanced/expanded to more closely mirror the system on NetFlix, which recognizes a users’ interests and behaviors in combination with the behavior of users with similar profiles).


TV Networks and movie studios may be more likely to allow YouTube to use their content, if significant revenue sharing opportunities are involved.  A great way to generate tons of ad revenue (without bothering the consumer) is to work with advertisers who pay for product placement within movies and TV shows, allowing them the opportunity to capture new customers who are exposed to their product placement via watching movies/shows on YouTube.  YouTube could either allow users to click-to-buy (or express interest in) products within videos (a possibility if the videos are uploaded directly by the studios/networks) OR offer viewers the opportunity to purchase any of the featured products at the end of the video.

For those of you who are wondering why networks/studios would want allow YouTube to reap the rewards of this idea, versus just implementing it themselves on their own websites, that’s a great question.  In order to make this model work, Google/YouTube would have to make a multifaceted and compelling case, which could include the following points:

  • YouTube has the ability to bring new viewers to network’s/studio’s content… When a user goes to YouTube, they often go to explore/discover new content.  Whereas, users that go directly to a network’s or studio’s website go with the intent of discovering content they already know about.
  • YouTube could easily maintain multiple years of content, bringing back to life ad opportunities that studios and networks thought long gone (see Reese’s Pieces example a few paragraphs below).
  • Google is an advertising machine and has the ability to share revenue with studios and networks. (YouTube/Google would need to make this case strong enough by offering enough of a revenue share to discourage networks from thinking it is worthwhile to expand their own IT staff and infrastructure to implement the idea themselves.)

In addition to enticing networks and studios, YouTube could easily entice individual contributors (home video producers) to upload quality video content.  One way to do this is by maintaining a list of products and songs that have the potential to generate extra revenue sharing opportunities for uploaders.  For example, I mentioned earlier that advertisers are willing to pay rappers to mention products in their songs.  Why wouldn’t those same advertisers be willing to pay YouTubers for playing those songs on top of their home movies IF they could prove that doing so increased customers?  If viewers had the immediate opportunity to purchase the product they just heard about on YouTube after watching a video, YouTube would have the case to get ad (and commissions) revenue off of the advertiser.   To prevent gross over commercialization and “pimping” of products, YouTube could require videos to get a certain number of page views and high rankings from viewrs before agreeing to share the revenue.

Taking this a step further, if, someone were to upload a video with a rap song overlaid on the top that mentioned say “Sprite” and PepsiCo didn’t want to pay to have viewers “click-to-buy” (or print off a coupon) at the end of the video, Google could offer that opportunity up to a Sprite competitor, like “7-Up”.

A few use cases to illustrate my point…

  • Watch the movie, ET, and at the end of the movie, have the option to buy Reese’s Pieces or get a manufacturer’s coupon for 10% off.

  • Watch Grey’s Anatomy, and at the end of the show, download songs from the soundtrack from the record labels or a Gray’s Anatomy t-shirt from ABC.

  • Watch someone’s home movie with Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice” laid over the top, and at the end of the movie, buy the song and/or download a coupon that allows you to get a 10% discount on your next Segram’s Gin purchase at BevMo. (When viewers use these coupons, there is even an opportunity for revenue sharing with YouTube, The Record label, and the person who posted the video and chose the song.

In summary, ad revenue and user enthusiasm potential is far from lost for Google and YouTube.  In fact, the world is very much Google’s oyster.  There are infinite revenue generating possibilities for Google, content owners, and advertisers, which, if executed properly, benefit the consumer.  The trick is thinking creatively and getting buy-in from both advertisers and content owners. If anyone can do it (without being “evil”), Google can.

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  • The problem with coming up with a ‘video Adwords’ is that Google’s prime ‘cash cow’ relies on helping people find something that they were searching for.

    People tend to expect entertainment when they are delving into video streams.

    I think Google’s got the right idea if they are closely targeting special interest (such as skateboarding) or tie ups with merchant sites (such as cartoons do with toy manufactures.)

  • [this is good]

    Very nice summary and analysis. I need to get onto broadband and cruise some more media sites, but for now, what I have been able to dl and see points me in the same direction you have posted. Nice integration of content and ads.






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