When is choice a bad thing? When the choice comes from YouTube, that’s when. Over on Technologizer, Jared Newman discusses a new advertising model that YouTube is trying out on a limited basis. Let’s get one thing out of the way- ads aren’t going away. The streaming of online video is expensive. One report predicts that YouTube is on pace to lose $470 million in 2009, thanks largely to bandwidth costs that exceed $1 million a day. It is only natural that YouTube needs to find a better way to monetize its service. The Technologizer article indicates that you’ll be able to "select from two advertisements to watch at the beginning, or intersperse a grab bag of ads throughout the video." Depending on how YouTube implements it, this could be an annoyance for tech-savvy users and busy users, who would be better off having no choice in the ads that are fed to them. Why?
If you use YouTube in the same way that I do, you typically like to scrub through a video instead of watching it from start to finish. For this reason, I often will open a video in another browser tab, and immediately pause it. While it buffers, I then switch to another tab and go about my business. When enough time has passed for the video to fully buffer, I come back to its tab, and scrub through it, jumping to the parts that interest me. With YouTube’s new ad model, there may be additional steps added to this process. This comes down to one main question- will the selected video automatically buffer and play after the ad is finished, or will you need to manually start your video? If the latter, here is how I would end up watching videos under the new ad model: I would need to open the video in a new tab, select one of the two ads to play, tab away while the ad plays, tab back to play/pause the main video once the ad is done playing (assuming the video doesn’t automatically start), tab away while it buffers, and then tab back to watch the video. And this presumes that YouTube will let the ad still play when I’m on a different tab, which might be a big assumption. Of course, I think I have yet to see an ad on YouTube at all, so I can’t say whether the single ads that may be served now even will play in an unviewed tab. Can anyone comment on this? If so, then the new model will be less of an annoyance. If this is a change, though, then YouTube may have subtly lessened the likelihood that viewers will be able to ignore ads. Was this YouTube’s true motive? We’ll never know, but with the bandwidth costs that YouTube racks up, you can’t fault them for trying. A site that is losing huge amounts of money won’t stick around forever, so an annoyance is better than the alternative. We had better get used to it.