YouTube is changing, but will it be enough to retain its online video crown?
A view from Mats Stigzelius

YouTube is changing, but will it be enough to retain its online video crown?

To maintain its status in the world of online video, YouTibe should learn from its social media rivals, writes the co-founder of influencer platform Takumi

It’s hard to believe that YouTube has now been with us for over 12 years.

The video sharing platform has risen to become a household name and an Internet giant, synonymous with video in the same way that parent company Google is with online search, and gave birth to the modern influencer movement with stars like PewDiePie, KSI and Zoella.

Its impact is obvious as the site has an estimated reach of more than 1.5 billion people every month, but as with any company, online or otherwise, it still needs to keep developing in order to sustain that growth and attract new users.

Understandably, YouTube hasn’t forgotten that, as the site recently announced some of the most major changes in its history, including a refreshed logo, revised colour scheme and brand new font. Visually, they’ve tried to give the site a fresh look and a revamp, and most users will be easily able to spot the differences, but behind the scenes there’s also a lot of work that’s been done to try and improve user experience.

On its official blog, YouTube revealed that suggested videos will now display when you’re watching on full screen on desktop, which the site claims will make it easier than ever to access content tailored to users’ interests.

On mobile meanwhile, users will soon have the ability to jump between previous and next videos by swiping, to speed up and slow down videos and to seamlessly change the shape of the video to match vertical, square or horizontal formatting.

YouTube is clearly working to ensure the user experience is as smooth and accessible as possible, while through the introduction of new tailored apps for different interests, including YouTube Music, YouTube Gaming and YouTube TV, it’s trying to better connect people with the content they love.

Arguably however, these sizable changes are driven by much more than a need to improve the user experience. They are also a clear and calculated response to the growing threat from other networks, which are vying for YouTube’s status as the de facto online video provider.

The expansion of Instagram with Stories, and Snapchat, have changed how we look at video on social media. These new platforms have diluted YouTube’s importance, especially when it comes to influencers, as there are now more readily accessible networks through which we can share content and there’s more of an appetite among consumers for short form video.

YouTube effectively created the modern influencer movement, with vloggers attracting millions of people to the site, as well as the attention of major brands and advertisers, but it now seems to have plateaued in some ways.

This first wave of stars have grown to become their own brands, reaching far beyond their YouTube channels. They stretch across almost all forms of social media and while in many ways they complement each other,  it means they simply don’t need to rely on YouTube in the way they maybe once did.

Alongside this existing talent there are of course new influencers coming through – but that’s predominantly on Instagram rather than YouTube, as it’s so difficult to break through and be seen on the site. It’s also simply easier to upload, edit and post a video on Instagram, which makes a massive difference.  

It’s now not uncommon for an Instagram user with 40,000 – 50,000 followers to start sharing videos on YouTube, but it’s generally a decision made on the success of their Stories. Their focus will remain on Instagram, but they use YouTube as an option for longer form content, which is a marked shift from what we’d have seen five years ago.  

Most significantly, though, is the audience acquisition. Users download Instagram and other apps because their friends are there, and they can also then follow influencers and engage with their content.

Discovery of influencer material and promotions happens because they are already on the platform, whereas on YouTube you have to seek it more actively or need a reason to go to the site, and that’s a huge disadvantage.

As a result, when it comes to influencers, it seems that YouTube is fast becoming limited to gaming, beauty, tutorials and unboxing videos. While of course these are still key target audiences for the site and a huge growth sector, it needs to reach as broad a spectrum of interests and audiences as possible in order to maintain its position.

No one would suggest for one moment that YouTube is in a weak position or that the site is struggling. The monthly reach and the 300 hours of content uploaded to the site every minute are clear indicators that it’s still holding onto the crown as the king of online video.

This latest wave of changes will help maintain that status for at least a little longer, and it looks likely that it will always be a leader in certain areas, whether it’s music, gaming or something else.

But as we see YouTube lose ground to Instagram in the influencer market, which has always been such an important area for the site, questions remain as to whether there could be a new coronation on the horizon.

Mats Stigzelius is the chief executive and co-founder of Takumi