Review: YouTube’s New Premium Shows Design

We’d worried that YouTube’s redesign to promote premium content would crowd out the site’s homegrown stars. But now that YouTube has launched its site refresh, we see we might have been overly concerned. The new shows and movies section is well-contained within a little header tab. The premium content is highlighted so marginally that I’m not sure people will even find it unless they read the news reports.

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A lot about the premium content design could change, and probably will, but here’s my review of what’s available today:

  • Content selection: Bad. After the new Harper’s Island (CBS’ web-integrated show made with the YouTube-savvy EQAL folks), the second-most-recent episode on the front-and-center most-recent list is from Oct. 25, 2007. There does seem to be some other new stuff from Current TV, but another item on the most-recent list is Sherlock Hound — with the most recent episode from Nov. 6, 1984! Suffice to say, this “recent” labeling is a placeholder at best. This content is old and the only occasion I can see myself trolling through it is if I were home sick in bed and bored.
  • Ads: OK. In a 25-minute episode of The Addams Family, there’s a 30-second pre-roll for ITT Technical Institute, then the duration of the program, and then the same ad as a post-roll at the end. In the 1:34 documentary 7 Days in September there are 10 ad slots, and commenters complaining about seeing the same ad over and over.
  • User response: Mixed. Some sample comments on that Addams Family episode: “I love The Adams Family! Only if Youtube puts on good shows I could care less about Fred or Smosh.” “youtube you are not hulu. Your moto is BROADCAST YOURSELF. You guys are going to destroy the community!” “Dude, I probably love Hulu as much as you, but youtube is costing google TONS of money every day.” “ads, oh hell no, you tube has sold out completly.” “loooooong aaaaddddssss. But i do like the addams family :)”
  • Search: Unclear yet. If you search “The Addams Family” on the site, the premium content isn’t pushed to the top. The “relevance” algorithm hasn’t surfaced it yet, probably because it has so few views. A bootleg copy of the show’s theme song turns up first, from an unofficial uploader with nearly 1.5 million views.
  • Spreadability: Poor. Lots of content holders are disabling embeds. Hulu has them beat here.

I can imagine Harper’s Island is a little bit more of the implementation that YouTube is hoping for (though I personally am not sure I can keep watching if they don’t tone down the soap!). It’s a new show, it allows embeds, it has seven ad slots. (Though I think they must have messed up the windowing from last night’s episode because when I just refreshed the page the video was taken private. Hopefully they don’t push YouTube back too long because it looks like the same episode is already available on CBS’ site.)

Overall, I think Hulu still handily beats YouTube as far as premium content goes. It has better selection, fewer ads, and more sharing potential through embeds. What YouTube has going for it is the big audience — 10 times as many unique viewers as Hulu by Nielsen’s last count. It’s too early to say whether YouTube’s unwashed masses will show up to watch premium content in this new venue — from what I’d seen, numbers for full episodes from providers like CBS were pretty small before the redesign.

The wild card is whether juxtaposition with YouTube’s original fare will be a positive and unique thing because of its community and proximity to virals, mashups, fan reactions, etc. Or if the juxtaposition will make copyright holders too anxious to even give YouTube good enough content and terms to have a fair shot.

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