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How YouTube became must-see TV: Shorts, sports and Coachella livestreams

Wendy Lee – Los Angeles Times (TNS)

When YouTube launched nearly two decades ago, its first clip was a grainy video of co-founder Jawed Karim speaking to the camera while standing in front of the elephants at the San Diego Zoo.

Not exactly must-see TV.

Since, then the online video giant has increasingly been the entertainment of choice for billions of people. And while the Google-owned service is still often thought of as being the destination for people watching funny short videos on their smartphones, the way that Americans watch it has changed in a big way.

People are increasingly choosing to watch YouTube on their connected TVs rather than on laptops and mobile devices, treating it more and more like a regular television destination.

The San Bruno, California-based video giant said more than 150 million people in the U.S. are watching YouTube on connected TV screens every month, citing December 2022 data. That’s up 11% from 2021. YouTube is consistently the most watched streaming service in the U.S. on a TV in the U.S. every month, even beating Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video since February 2023, according to Nielsen. The service accounts for nearly 10% of television viewing, the data firm said.

According to research firm Emarketer, U.S. adults spend 36 minutes each day watching YouTube, with 17 of those minutes on a connected TV, four minutes on a desktop or laptop computer and 15 minutes on a mobile device.

A variety of content is driving the company’s evolution. YouTube said TVs accounted for more than 50% of the watch time for its Coachella livestream this year, which is higher than ever before. Views of Shorts, clips that are 60 seconds or less, on connected TVs more than doubled last year, YouTube said.

“We’ve invested in making sure that YouTube really captures the totality of the experience that people want,” said Christian Oestlien, YouTube’s vice president of product management for connected TV. “What we hear from our users is they want to be able to watch their favorite creators but also highlights from their favorite sporting events, listen to their favorite artist and watch their favorite podcast and do it all in this one contained experience.”

At a time when consumers are choosing between multiple streaming services, YouTube has an advantage of having a wide variety of options, from live sports to user-generated videos. The company said the increase in TV watch time comes as connected TVs are becoming more widely available.

TV screen time can be helpful to streamers wishing to court more advertising dollars. This week, television networks and streaming services Amazon and Netflix made gala presentations to advertisers, showing off the programming they have coming up.

YouTube on Wednesday presented to advertisers new features such as branded QR codes and non-skippable assets on connected TVs.

“YouTube is wanting to position themselves not just as a digital advertising option, they want advertisers to see them on the same advertising footing as any other streaming service,” said Brett Sappington, founder of Dallas-based media and insights firm Sappington Media.

YouTube has introduced features to improve the television viewing experience, including the option to watch Coachella performances through a four-way split screen. The company also has shopping options.

“This isn’t my dad’s TV or my grandma’s TV,” Oestlien said. “This is TV rethought for a new generation.”

YouTube video creators have also embraced TV viewing, Oestlien said. In the last three years, the number of top YouTube creators who receive most of their watch time from TV screens has quintupled, YouTube said.

YouTube has also gotten a boost from its deal to become the home of pro football’s “NFL Sunday Ticket” game package. Fans will watch live games on YouTube on Sunday, then come back and watch clips through its video library or commentary from its creators, Oestlien said.

“It really becomes this surround-sound experience where, as a football fan, you can come to YouTube any day of the week,” he said.

YouTube and other streaming services have been competing for sports league rights in order to increase viewership. Amazon has the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” games and has bid for a package of NBA matches. On Wednesday, Netflix announced it had secured two Christmas NFL games for 2024.

©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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