Sorry, Google, but I was expecting more from the big YouTube redesign that launched just over a week ago.
Admittedly, I don’t visit the YouTube homepage often. Most of my visits come from links on other websites. But I was hoping that would change with the redesign, which emphasises content ‘Channels,’ shared videos from social media and a customisable home page feed.
As someone who cut the cable cord and currently runs a home theater PC to my living room television, I’m a prime candidate for YouTube’s new redesign – starved for original web video to watch on the big screen. Sadly, the new design doesn’t deliver, and neither does the new content. Here’s why:
Earlier this year, rumour had it that Google was spending as much as US$100 million to compete with broadcast TV. Turns out, this original programming isn’t very different in format from the stuff we’ve been watching on YouTube for years. It just has more polish and more pre-roll advertising. I want more long-form content instead of three-minute clips, but finding it isn’t easy. The channels that are available now, such as Machinima and Jay Z’s Life and Times, consist mostly of short videos.
Channels aren’t really channels
To evoke a feeling of watching television, YouTube is putting an emphasis on ‘channels,’ each of them a collection of videos from a single source. But the analogy doesn’t work well, because these channels aren’t producing enough content on their own. If you tune in to a channel like DanceOn on a daily basis, you’ll be watching the same content over and over. And although you can subscribe to multiple channels to keep a steady flow of content coming in, that’s a lot of work and TV is supposed to be effortless. YouTube should curate themed channels that draw in content from multiple sources, ensuring that there’s always lots of new stuff to watch.
No leaning back
The great thing about television is that it’s passive. You turn it on and let the content come to you. On YouTube, it’s the user’s responsibility to decide what comes next. Why not add a toggle to automatically deliver one video after another? At least that way, YouTube’s reliance on short video clips wouldn’t be so bothersome. (I know, there’s YouTube Leanback, but that doesn’t have the social media feeds and suggested channels you get on the main site.)
YouTube’s Robert Kyncl has written that the “defining channels of the next generation” – the successors to MTV, ESPN, CNN and so on – are being born and watched on the site. But unless YouTube makes it easier for people to tune in to all that content and watch it for hours at a time, the old television networks have nothing to worry about.