YouTube Takes Roadblocks, Takeovers and Fat Boys To Yahoo Level

YouTube puts Yahoo and even for the most intrusive ad campaign in the history of online-video advertising: Kung Fu Panda 2.

While it’s not exactly consistent with Google’s ad model (subtle and relevant) it wins a few points for creativity. And hey… What would YOU do to market this Dreamworks sequel?

AOL Homepage Gets Video Centric

AOL debuted a revamped homepage this week, with a greater emphasis on video. Says PCMag:

The new site is also very video-heavy. “AOL Daybreak” is a hosted morning news round-up, and “The Light Box” is an in-page video player featuring content from AOL and its partners. In the “Editor’s Picks” section, the site showcases the most buzz-worthy videos each day. The site will focus on a single important viral story in a two-minute video called “The One” that will include commentary from experts, celebrities, and comedians.

I’m presenting today at Ad:Tech with AOL’s Director of Product Management, Video. So more news as I get him, and rest assured he’ll be getting a Nalts pitch for those “editor picks.”

Dumbest Lawyer in Healthcare Marketing

One day I'll work as a lawyer at Medimmune

Take a bold YouTube homepage-takeover advertisement like today’s “Flu Has Cooties” campaign then toss in this ridiculous disclaimer: “MedImmune has no control over the video content on the YouTube homepage.” What do you get? Shit. Without that insulting disclaimer, I might have sailed right onto the Flumist page, learned about a flu vaccine that comes in a handy nasal spray, and maybe even “asked my doctor about Flumist today.”  Alas, I had to clear the vomit from the back of my throat first.

The gratuitous disclaimer insults human intelligence, reveals the sorry state of pharmaceutical marketing, and sucks the mojo from this campaign like Dr. Evil to Austin Powers.

The stupidest disclaimer ever in health marketing

I can just hear the company’s medical/legal review meeting, as some poor bio marketer tries to explain: “Well, sir, a YouTube homepage advertisement doesn’t, in fact, make the advertiser responsible and liable for the videos that appear around it.” Then the thick-headed attorney, who recently stapled his tie to his wall accidentally, charges back with something like:

The FDA may think we’re responsible for those bosom films and cat viral movies. What? Well you call them videos, but I call them talkies. You know, we’d  better not advertise on YouTube. DDMAC hasn’t come out with its position on social media. YouTube is social media, right? (Insert wet fart sound). Well- I’ll approve it as long as you put a disclaimer on the masthead button. What? Okay on the banner. What if there’s a flu video near our banner? We might get a letter from the FDA. People might think our sponsorship implies editorial oversight of the entire YouTube library. I’ll have to consult outside council.

Seriously I’d like to meet this attorney and give him/her a wedgie. I hope this moron is requiring Flumist magazine ads to disclaim “Medimmune has no responsibility for the articles or letters to the editor in this magazine.” Better stay away from television, because it’ll take a good 15-seconds to explain that “adjacent shows are not the responsibility of Medimmune, AstraZeneca, its employees, or its shareholders.”

I think the ad would have been more effective if it just said “Flumist side effects (adverse reactions) include runny nose, headache, muscle aches, cough, tiredness, weakness, chills and muscle aches (no I didn’t make that up). I swear I’d rather get those side effects AND the flu than deal with this type of legal mindset.

Feeling sympathetic to the attorney? Good- go work there. They’re  hiring. By the way, I tried Flumist and it made me fart. Now if that attorney reads this he’s gotta report it. It’s a Flumist adverse event.

YouTube’s “Yahoo-Like” Homepage Makeover: More Ads, Professional Content

I’ve often said that you need to logout of your account to see what YouTube really looks like, since that’s what the majority of viewers are seeing. Let’s look at one of last year’s last homepage screen shots of YouTube, and compare it to today’s.

Some differences:

  • 2008 has lots of white space and simplicity like Google. Today’s homepage features a film ad that dominates almost the entire “above the fold” region.
  • The content featured on 2008’s page is mostly consumer-generated or amateur. Today it’s Crackle content and yesterday was FunnyorDie.
  • Last year’s page featured new functionality. Today’s features a “house-ad” for YouTube/Google’s store (watch out for those Lava lamps… they sometimes forget the logo).
  • The featured videos, like on, were new each day and remained constant. Today we see a variety of videos rotating, and many are popular amateur videos (mixed with some advertised content). We’ve shifted from homepage featuring to “mini-featuring” via “spotlight tagging.”
  • The biggest change is not evident on the homepage. Now the power-engine behind YouTube views is “related videos,” which can account for a significant portion of views.

Again, YouTube is behaving less like parent Google and more like or a media company. Perhaps the price it can fetch for a homepage takeover is too tempting to resist. It’s a great way to get a film “top of mind” awareness to jump-start a weekend box offices, or a television debut (and I was especially impressed with V’s custom YouTube ad unit). And who can fault YouTube, which bears the bandwidth cost of so much unprofitable consumer-generated content to lure mainstream users with semi or pro content that can be better monetized?

Still, it’s remarkable what a difference a year can make. From where I sit, the biggest flaw in the user-interface is that it’s not entire inviting to visit the most-popular or genre-specific videos. One tends to use the homepage as a search engine, or be drawn to whatever thumbnail or title that happens to appear below the ad-du-jour.

I’ve suggested before that the day of the YouTube editor is behind us, because the sub-page featured videos don’t seem to garner significant views. However I’d suspect “spotlight” videos are driven not just by algorithms (most-viewed, longest average viewer duration, highest rated, related) but by editor preferences. If I’m right, the editors still have an active hand in deciding what YouTube amateurs find audiences. Interestingly we tend to see a few dozen of the same Partners with the most active rotation, which suggests editorial favor-ability or content favored by “crowdsourcing” as defined by the engineers.

YouTube 2008

youtube homepage 11/09

YouTube’s Homepage Not as Important as Google’s “Secret Sauce”

There’s been a fascinating and widespread reaction to YouTube’s redesign, which was based somewhat on superficial changes to YouTube’s homepage (phase one referenced in YouTube’s blog, and a broader change is planned per NewTeeVee and ClickZ).

But the fate of YouTube’s partners, professionals and user-generated content is driven less by the homepage than the “secret sauce.” What, you ask, is “the secret sauce”? Hang with me for a moment first. I promise we’ll get there, and I’ll even give you tips for giving yourself a competitive advantage.

In this horrifically long post, I’m going to analyze the homepage, show why most reactions are missing the point, explore how a video gets “love” on YouTube, and give you some tips for getting views.

Since the redesign, we’re seeing the homepage’s vitality wane. Those homepage videos fetch fewer views than they once did. Where a featured (now “spotlighted” video) once got 100,000 to 500,000 views, the YouTube homepage is less of a driver than before. In case you missed the memo, here’s the latest vernacular.

  1. Spotlight Videos: Highlighted videos YouTube thinks you’ll want to watch, and a “thematic” approach to showcasing the best of the community and partners.
  2. Promoted Videos: Those driven by advertising.
  3. Featured: Includes YouTube’s partner content, other popular content, or those previously spotlighted.

Compare these two screen shots as exhibit A & B: The first is a shot of today’s “Spotlight” videos (aka featured), and the view counts are perhaps 200K on average.


Now see YouTube (via about 2 years ago when “Farting in Public” was on it. This is not a scientific study, but you’ll see higher average numbers despite the fact that YouTube’s traffic today is exponentially higher than it was one or two years ago. We’d expect to see today’s YouTube homepage videos commanding views that are exponentially higher. So what gives?


The coveted YouTube homepage is still prime Internet real estate, of course, and the slippage of average homepage views isn’t entirely driven to the recent redesign — because this phenomenon is not new. A year ago I spoke with an interactive director of a popular company that had its video ad featured on the 2006 homepage, then again in 2007. Before asking him about his results, I told him I imagined far fewer people watched his most recent homepage-featured ad. He asked how I knew, and I explained that we regular YouTubers had grown immune to the large ad on the homepage.

Alas, the power of the YouTube homepage has become, and will continue to become, less important in influence, at least relative to other secret tools at the disposal of The Commercializers of YouTube. Why?

  1. First, only a small portion of daily YouTube visitors even actually see the homepage. They dive deep into YouTube for a specific video, and then out.
  2. Regular visitors (those who spend 20-60 minutes per day on the site) have largely customized their experience to give primacy to their favorite creators via “subscriptions.”
  3. That leaves only the people inclined to visit a homepage of any site, or those that are new and eager to explore. This is a minority, and the longer we spend on YouTube the less we care about the homepage.

YouTube, now behaving more as a division of Google than a standalone UGC/video sharing site, will continue to reward content based on two factors: relevance to viewers, and the premium of the ads they generate. Google prides itself on a legacy of innovation that is often instinctive and not customer driven — we didn’t know we needed Google search in a crowded market. And we didn’t know we needed Gmail, which has more traffic now than YouTube itself.

But most of us miss this fact. Let’s look at some comments about the redesign (from blogs/discussion groups, especially NewTeeVee and ClickZ). They’re focused mostly on the homepage and organizational principle, but are overlooking the more powerful dynamics driven by YouTube’s “secret sauce.”

  • They’ve been disenfranchising us more and more. Eventually we’ll migrate elsewhere and youtube won’t have an audience to advertise too.
  • I think the trend is going towards compartmentalizing video content 1. Quality + Professional free with the hassle of advertising 2. Mixed Quality + free between terrible and good UCG that can be found on sites like youtube and howcast with the hassle of advertising 3. Paid entertainment, video content that can be purchased through itunes 4. Paid, quality instructional content that can be purchased
  • I reckon that for four tabs.: Music-25% , Films-10% , TV-15% , UGC-50%
  • In effect, they are garden walling all the UGC on YT into a section so that if you want to ignore it you can.
  • I go to youtube because I *like* seeing good UGC (gasp)! I totally get that advertisers worry about what stupid crap their ads show up next to, but if youtube can’t patrol their homepage – why can’t they let their trusted users do it
  • I feel this change will marginalize UCG content, but it’s still a million times more democratic than the TV model.
  • The creation of a premium “sand box” for professional content will allow independent producers and large media companies to showcase and monetize their content more efficiently. Also, all content producers on the site will benefit from the inevitable increase in ad spends that are pushed to Youtube.
  • Hilarious! “Premium content” is just what the many millions of YouTube watchers don’t want!
  • I think this will give websites like Viddler and Vimeo a chance to grow their communities to the height of YouTube’s current level of success.
  • The UGC community on YouTube can succeed if they are able to monetize more easily and if established and rising “stars” are identified and receive promotion that positions them as “must-watch,” “YouTube only” content. They can be seen as complementary, and the more YouTube facilitates a parity the better.

Well you’ve made it this far, so it’s time to reveal “The Secret Sauce” of Google/YouTube. As I said, video content will rise/fall based on consumer relevance (duration of view, relevance by keyword, ratings, view counts, favorites, etc.), but the most vital aspect is “black box,” or confidential. We can deduce some things using “Google search” as a proxy. Google’s search results rewards advertisers who bid high prices for “paid placement,” and organic (natural) results based on whether the content is “relevant” (as defined by inbound links and whether we engage, or return Google to refine the search).

Not surprisingly, YouTube is replicating that Google model — giving “love” to content that either satisfied viewers and/or can be monetized via the Partners program. Unfortunately, YouTube is less transparent about whether a video receives primacy because of relevance or ad dollars. There isn’t a clear visual divide between paid and organic videos, even though the new labels (spotlight, promoted, featured) are a step in that direction, and this will continue to become more clear to even the naive surfer that still can’t distinguish between an ad or organic result on Google.

To consider how a video fails or thrives, consider the experience of a typical viewer navigating YouTube. They may choose to engage in the following ways:

  • Visit a specific video based on a link/forward from a friend. They may hang around, or dash.
  • “Hang out” with the community — and that segment continues to grow, but represents a smaller share of overall traffic. It’s also less important from a commercial standpount.
  • “Browse” related videos, and passively accept the “related content” YouTube serves after a video.
  • Dive into a favorite creator (and subscribe)- that could be a pro or an amateur.
  • More and more, visitors search for what they want — whether it’s the latest video gossip about a news figure, or “how to play a jawharp.”
  • Few, I believe, use the homepage design to delve into specific segments or such areas as “most watched” of the day, week or month. It’s possible that YouTube’s user interface (tabs, categories) can be important, but less so than most think.


The “secret sauce” is Google’s proprietary scheme for keeping the viewer engaged, and ensuring that the content continues to not just satisfy their curiousity, but more importantly “hook” them for more viewing (and it works based on average views consumed by a YouTuber relative to a Yahoo Video viewer). The “secret sauce” is, and will always remain, highly confidential and in flux. Otherwise we’ll “game the system” through various tricks. The algorythm that makes up that sauce will get smarter, and more difficult to fool.

We can complain about the “secret sauce,” or accept it and evolve. That means our video content needs to be relevant and captivating. Partners have a distinct advantage, because YouTube would be foolish to favor videos it can’t monetize. So we’ll see powerful and deep-pocketed commercial networks/producers (and advertisers) get an increasing “leg up” on amatuers by giving YouTube a financial incentive to show their videos “love” through paid buys, and favored placement. These entities can pay for “love,” or YouTube may give them free “love” to hook new audiences and mutually monetize their content long term. Recall how much premium placement PopTub had for a while. And sometimes an amateur gets lucky because their content gets “stuck” on the homepage (we saw that last month with CommunityChannel and a few others).

In the meantime, here are some basic tips, and some haven’t changed since last year when I wrote my free eBook (“How to Become Popular on YouTube Without Any Talent“).

  1. Create videos about content that is topical and searched. That’s how Buckley and Sxephil attracted a following that is now somewhat self sustaining.
  2. Build a distinct niche, and market your videos via like-creators and via properties (blogs) beyond YouTube.
  3. Continue to reply to videos that are already popular. The viewer will see the thumbnail, and your video will pick up “spillover.”
  4. Ensure the videos are tagged appropriately, but are also compelling, and engage the viewer. Otherwise algorythms will mistake those for spam. It doesn’t work anymore to tag your video with “sex” and expect that video to sail.
  5. Those thumbnails are as vital as ever. If a video is promoted, featured or spotlighted, the viewer will decide to engage based on the title, thumbnail and duration (we still want short videos).
  6. Here’s a doozy: Leave blank space after your video, so your viewers are less likely to “escape” via “related videos” served involuntarily by YouTube after the video plays (you want your viewer instead choosing a thumbnail for your own video, and those appear beneath the video).
  7. Finally, you’d better monetize your videos and become a YouTube Partner. Sponsored videos that aren’t monetized are not likely to thrive as well as entertaining videos that earn Google and its partners ad dollars.

It’s indeed harder to become an “overnight” success, especially when we have a “vicious cycle of fame”: it takes lots of views to qualify as a partner, and partner status to get more views. So the rich may get richer, and the bar is rising. But don’t despair! JeepersMedia is surpassing 100,000 subscribers, and had only had 4,300 subscribers 10 months ago. So there’s still room for new video creators who tap distinct audience niches, and manage (like Jeepers) to rank continually among the most highly-rated videos of the day.

And as long as the “subscription” model remains important to new YouTube addicts, your success breeds success. A good video can prompt a YouTube noob to subscribe (especially if you ask them to), and then your chances of that individual watching your future videos are much higher.

When Will Online-Video Advertising Evolve to “Buddy System”?

the haunting

This week we saw YouTube pushing its homepage advertising to a new level, selling Lionsgate (“The Haunting in Connecticut”) both the masthead and the standard right “box unit” for a new unit. It’s called the “cross talk” ad, which is a lovely name for it. It really does have a nice effect (from a marketer’s perspective). But what it gets in reach it’s missing in relevancy.

YouTube executives — according to AdAge— declined to say what YouTube charged, but one person with knowledge of the deal said the Lionsgate ad was part of a $500,000 integrated buy that included search and display across Google’s network. YouTube gets 30 million visitors to its home page daily, and delivers 56% (Neilsen) of all videos.

I find it frustrating that a disproportionate amount of the attention toward online-video marketing is on reach instead of relevancy. Let’s take an analogy —  if your buddy says you can’t miss new Haunting Film, that unarguably effects you more than finding a “Haunting” flier on your windshield for three consecutive mornings.


Naturally there’s still a vital role for the “fliers” of the medium: banners, Invideo ads, homepage takeovers and other forms of interruption advertising. They’re easy, scalable and get us lots of attention quickly. No video creator can reach 30 million people instantly. But the “buddy system” is also important (and yes I just coined that term, thank you). The online-video stars of YouTube have a “buddy-like” relationship with an audience who are influencing others.

Why are the online-video dollars (growing at 40% this year) still pouring mostly into old forms of promotion wrapped around a new medium? To me, it’s almost like seeing a 60-second television spot that’s a video recording of a print ad.

Uncle Nalts has an answer…The Digital-Marketing Mix is still driven by legacy media-advertising buyers who are cozy with CPM advertising. They know what they should spend, and how much it changes awareness (and maybe intent or purchase). They’re not yet familiar with the unique promotional properties of this online-video medium. The lower the CPM the better the deal. The lower the CPM the better the deal. The lower the CPM the better the deal.

George S., who runs the YouTube Partner program, adds below (see comments): “These decisions are typically made at the agency level, not by YouTube, and they will evolve as social media matures.” He’s right- YouTube can influence how advertisers leverage the medium, but ultimately require agencies to recognize the synergy with media and entertaining videos.

These big programs, initiated by well-meaning media buyers, fail to leverage more cost-effective and higher-impact options. Imagine dozens of known YouTube “stars” (popular characters, personality troupes, comedy troupes, and individual web shows) posting videos about the film in the week prior to its release. It would be fun to see unique creepy spoofs ala the Dr. Slasher video I did (not paid) for MySpace Dr. Slasher. The cost would be nominal relative to the media buy. And we’d see comments, replies, discussions and buzz… Of course we’d need pre-post or test-control research that proves the obvious… a “shout out” by Michael Buckley, para example, is worth more than dozens of ad impressions.

Please not, Uncle Nalts is not saying homepage takeovers are dead because those 30 million YouTube homepage visitors get us vital reach, and Buckley and his fellow creators are reaching only a fraction of YouTube’s daily audience. But the regular YouTube audience (who watch 10 plus videos, and are subscribed to some of the more popular stars) are arguably the ‘trend setters’ that are at the center of a marketer’s bullseye. So if a promotion gets them jazzed, there’s an important and often overlooked spillover.

More importantly, the combination of the homepage — driving people to engaging amateur videos by known personalities — is going to make that “Cross-Talk” work a lot harder.

Madonna: Not a YouTube Virgin

madonna does youtubeMadonna aint acting like a virgin on YouTube. While other stars have fumbled in their attempts at the largest online-video site, Madonna gets 5 stars for her homepage video. Why?

  • We imagine this video was featured by the advertising department (likely a paid promotion for her new album “Hard Candy”). And although YouTube editors may not have selected it … it was funny, short and self depricating. Madonna is seen vacuuming the set of her music video.
  • The style was relaxed and had an amateur feel. Stark contrast from Oprah’s apperance in front of television monitors.
  • She looks pretty good for her age, and that makes me feel young. After all, I was in highschool when I won her album by being the 10th caller at the New Orleans radio station. I actually won ten records (the old-fashioned black CDs that were bigger than a laptop). Of course I had made friends with the disc jockey and he rigged it so I’d win. But now I’m sounding like a blogger drifting off into meaningless blah.

So go get ’em Madonna. I may not recall any of your songs since I last saw you in a limo, but you’re like a fine wine. You age well. Anytime you wanna do a collaboration on YouTube, you just let Uncle Nalts know. But I’m married, okay?