Bending to the will of advertisers, Google's video site will take a cue from Hulu and go for a more TV-like experience. But content freshness remains an issue.
YouTube will soon unveil a redesign that clearly separates its premium and long-form programming from the user-posted videos that account for most of its activity.
According to two sources familiar with Google's plans for YouTube, the new design will do away with the current navigation scheme -- which funnels users into "videos," "channels," and "community" categories. That layout will be replaced with a tabbed navigation with clearly defined sections for professional content.
The new design will offer four tabs: Movies, Music, Shows, and Videos. The first three tabs will display premium shows, clips, and movies from Google's network and studio partners, all of which will be monetized with in-stream advertising. Meanwhile the Videos channel will house amateur and semi-pro content of the sort major brand advertisers have shied away from.
"They're putting up walls between all the UGC stuff, which will live within the video channel,...and the brand safe content," said one senior agency exec who was briefed on YouTube's plans.
The redesign also touches YouTube's video player. The new player interface closely resembles the video experience on Hulu, the News Corp.- and NBCU-owned video portal that's grown by leaps and bounds since its launch last year. Like Hulu, the new video player displays visual markers in places where ads are scheduled to play. Also like Hulu, the YouTube player allows users to "dim the lights," reducing the brightness of screen real estate outside the video frame.
"It's totally a Hulu approach, but that's best practices right now," said the exec.
According to another agency source, Google is not selling whole episodes to a single advertiser or brand. In that respect it will differ from NBC and ABC, both of which offer advertisers exclusive presence on any given episode on their own sites. CBS, meanwhile, sells to multiple sponsors within a single episode. Hulu, for its part, offers a blend of single-sponsor and multi-sponsor episodes.
The planned launch date for the overhauled site is April 16. According to sources, the original plan was to roll it out next week, but YouTube pushed the date back for unknown reasons. YouTube has been pitching launch packages to agencies for approximately six weeks.
While agency execs enthused over the new design, they said content freshness is an issue. YouTube's offerings to date include mostly older fare from partners like CBS, Lions Gate, MGM, and Sony. Shows like "Beverly Hills 90210," "MacGyver, and "Star Trek The Original Series" are available through those deals, but current series are markedly absent.
Google has hinted to advertisers that it's working to sign new deals to syndicate more recent shows and movies, but offered no specifics. Meanwhile Hulu has steadily ramped up its popular programming, and is now rumored to be in talks with Disney-ABC Television Group to carry their programming -- perhaps in exchange for an equity stake in the site.
Separately, Google said it's now experimenting with ways to offer YouTube ad inventory through its Google TV ad buying system for broadcast and cable TV spots. As part of the limited test, some Google TV advertisers are now able to buy ads on YouTube and Google partner sites.
"We are currently testing a feature of Google TV Ads that would let you place commercials into the ad breaks of online videos," said YouTube spokesman Aaron Zamost. "This is a part of our ongoing commitment to help Google TV advertisers connect with users across multiple video platforms, including YouTube."
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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