YouTube & its content discovery paradox

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For years, YouTube has worked to shake the perception that it is all about amateurish user-generated content. It’s hardly just the home of dogs on skateboards and stupid human tricks anymore, as the amount of professional and semi-professional content being produced and uploaded increases. But now that it’s got the content, it needs to get better about helping viewers find it.

YouTube is betting big on original programming, reportedly spending more than $100 million on 100 channels of professional content. Those channels are mostly being focused on various verticals: action sports, for instance, or food or fashion. But while it’s investing in quality, Kamangar told the audience at the D:Dive Into Media conference this week that it’s still too hard to find the stuff people want to watch.

To fix this, YouTube also redesigned its website to highlight content that is relevant to its users. The idea behind the redesign, according to Kamangar, is that once users have selected channels that interest them, they will be shown the newest videos of interest to them. In the same way that viewers typically pick between a handful of favorite TV stations, allowing users to self-select channels could potentially keep them coming back.

It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not perfect. As I’ve noted before, the biggest issue is one of discovery: Once users have chosen the channels that they’d like to subscribe to, it’s difficult to find new content that might be relevant to their interests. Suggested channels — including its featured new channels — are hidden off to the side and below the fold.

Kamangar admitted Tuesday that discovery is still a problem for YouTube. “Google historically has been a search company, so for us to get the discovery and recommendations right, it’s a big challenge. But it’s the kind of challenge that the engineers at Google absolutely love,” Kamagar said.

YouTube is the second-biggest search engine in the world, behind parent Google. But it’s one thing to serve up the right video when a viewer searches for it. It’s a whole other thing to anticipate what a viewer wants to see and help them find it. That’s something YouTube will need to get better at, especially as it tries to increase the average session time that users are staying online for.

The site has a massive number of users stopping by the site every day, but few of them stick around for very long. That’s something the company has been struggling with since its inception. If it’s going to become a bigger competitive threat to traditional programmers, it’ll need to step beyond the hunt-and-peck process of video search and provide better discovery tools.

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