How YouTube’s updated platform has successfully embraced emerging consumer behavior

When the latest YouTube redesign was launched in December 2012, it was greeted with surprisingly little discussion. A vocal handful of users complained about the revised search and increased importance of subscriptions, while restrained welcome was given to the cleaner design. But conversation quickly faded, and few questioned the motivation for the update and who stands to benefits most—users or brands?

The last five years have seen seismic changes in viewing habits—not just the rise of streaming and on-demand content, but the diversification of devices on which content is consumed. The evolution of traditional viewing and how we now engage with video content is the clearest indication of why Google radically updated YouTube, changing not just layout and content discovery, but brand hubs and subscriptions.

It’s no secret that people are using their TVs differently. Less time is spent watching scheduled traditional broadcast TV and more time watching time shifted recordings, streaming video and other online services. These changes highlight a more fundamental shift: TVs are now interactive and act as a hub for multiple streams of our digital lives. These changes have led to many asking if TV networks will go the same way as a once-thriving, now on-its-knees newspaper industry.

The simple answer is no. People still read newspaper content, but we want to access it in different, more convenient formats. The same is true of TV. Consumers want the shows they enjoy, but we want them on our terms. This isn’t new, it isn’t niche, it’s just not yet dominant. While Netflix and Hulu have long embraced this behavior, one of its original instigators, YouTube, had until recently risked being left behind.

Just as TV sets evolved, so did the content and the channels through which people watch video content

No longer is it just desktops, laptops and even tablets; TVs are now a major hub for online browsing. By the end of 2012, one in four YouTube views was on a screen over 30 inches. And although not a bad experience, YouTube wasn’t optimized for such large canvases. By redesigning the layout to embrace and make efficient use of big screens, the refresh addresses this very issue, and YouTube is now positioned to succeed in its goal of becoming a viewing channel destination, in the very place where people are used to watching for long periods: the TV set.

A more necessary improvement is the mobile experience. A quarter of all YouTube views are on mobile devices, a figure that will undoubtedly continue to grow. As Facebook struggles to deliver a mobile experience that is both user and brand-friendly, the new YouTube delivers on both fronts. Particularly beneficial to brand pages, the refresh automatically scales branded layouts to the screen dimensions, creating a more consistent user experience and maintaining the clarity of a brand’s presence whether it be on mobile or on larger screens.

Users should welcome the improvements, but a more robust mobile and TV service also positions YouTube to better serve its brand partners, and ultimately create a more profitable platform.

Brands embrace YouTube with less hesitation and greater consistency than almost any other social platform. Its broadcast format is less intimidating than platforms such Twitter, where consumers increasingly expect real time dialogue with the brand, and yet the YouTube brand experience, until now, has been less than perfect.

Inconsistent brand visibility, content easily lost in the clutter and platform variations has led to many brands seeing YouTube as little more than a video dumping ground and a true social community. This approach has always been shortsighted, but with the average US user now spending an astonishing 500 minutes a month on YouTube, brands which fail to embrace and cultivate their YouTube audience are missing out on cultivating a rich and rewarding relationship.

If brands are to rethink YouTube strategy what are the main benefits of the new design?

YouTube’s new look for brands has just gone live. Few major brands have rushed to opt in, something sure to change over the coming weeks. Perhaps the best current example is Channel Intel. To fully experience the update, be sure to view the channel through different devices.


The new homepage bears an uncanny similarity to both Google+ and Facebook – not a bad thing. Brands benefit from a consistent look and feel across platforms—regardless of watching on a cell, laptop, tablet or 60” TV.

Encouraging subscriptions is at the heart of the new YouTube, and for good reason: those who subscribe watch twice as much. For brands, subscriptions should be a priority. Once a user subscribes, the brand channel can be a single click away anywhere within the platform. Brands do need to be aware that subscribers will see when their subscriptions update, increasing the importance of regularly publishing new content.

Smart brands already invest time and effort creating playlists that encourage and aid discovery. The new YouTube places even more emphasis on Playlists, making them easier to view, edit and share. The benefit to the brand is simple, the better the playlist, the easier it is for consumers to lose themselves in the brand experience, watch and hopefully share the content.

The new-look YouTube is available now, however most brands are taking their time before opting to switch. The hesitation is understandable. While many have custom built units within their page, others are keen to observe the experience of others and learn from their growing pains. The upgrade must be made (migration will be mandatory by summer) and should be embraced. While not perfect, YouTube has updated its platform to embrace emerging behavior, enhance brand channels and put the channel back at the heart of film content consumption.