Why YouTube Really Killed Video Responses

/ Sep 30, 2013


By David B. Williams

The recent demise of video responses on YouTube has some folks a little upset  —  notably YouTube mega-star Ray William Johnson. But, enough people just weren’t clicking on the video-fied comments to justify keeping them around. So says YouTube anyway. Its blog post explaining the change cites a .0004% click-through rate as the reason.

By itself, this explanation doesn’t make much sense. First, it completely ignores the other side of the equation, which is how often video responses were actually submitted. And second, if the click-through rate is the problem, there are other options to try before dumping the feature outright.

Let’s think, what does a company usually do when customers aren’t clicking enough on something that’s important to its business?

Oh, right… MAKE IT BIGGER. Or, in YouTube’s case… at least make it redder.

Or a hundred other things. So, it’s pretty safe to conclude that video responses were simply not important to YouTube’s business.

Here’s why: YouTube wants videos that are a) monetizable via advertising; and b) engaging and shareable to drive usage. Video responses simply don’t serve those ends. They just sit there taking up space  — because they’re mostly unwatchable.

In case you’re not in the elite .0004% club and haven’t clicked on any of the video comments, all you need to know is that most video responses were unplanned, unwritten, unedited, under-lit, webcam-based monologues of indefinite duration. Sure, YouTube is littered with regular videos that fit this description, but the signal-to-noise ratio among video responses was exceptionally painful.

It turns out there’s a good reason: Unlike most people who upload videos to a channel, video responders were not particularly motivated to make their videos good (i.e., monetizable, engaging, and shareable).

YouTube works because of a simple set of interconnected value propositions. Consumers get good videos to watch. Advertisers get consumers viewing their ads. And uploaders get a chance to build an audience and make money. Because the uploader is motivated to build an audience, she cares about making her videos good. But, a video responder is an uploader who doesn’t care about building an audience. So, the whole thing falls apart. The uploader isn’t motivated to make her video good. The consumer sees a lame video and stops watching. The advertiser loses a chance to have an ad viewed. And YouTube doesn’t get anything out of the video while still paying to host it. Everyone loses. Except maybe the responder… and I guess Ray William Johnson.

YouTube says the solution for someone still driven to post a video response is to just upload a video the usual way, then give it a title, hashtag, and description that matches the original. This shifts video responses from the sideshow of the comment stream back into the big tent of someone’s channel and the business of audience-building (and being good).

But as much as that makes sense, one suspects there might be yet another reason YouTube dropped this feature. Perhaps there’s a companion service that’s better suited to helping fans connect socially with creators, via video or otherwise; a service with increasingly blurred boundaries between itself and YouTube.

Yes, don’t be surprised to see video responses rise again phoenix-like, promoted as part of Google+. And when you think about it, isn’t that where they really belong?

davidbwilliamsDavid B. Williams is a 20-year veteran of the digital media frontier, building influential businesses and producing innovative products and content. As principal at Volectro, he helps top brands develop strategies and build video-centric mobile apps to own their distribution and ride the next wave of media engagement. He also co-founded and provided key leadership at the company that became Take180 and was sold to Disney in 2008.

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