YouTube jumps into virtual reality with Cardboard support

YouTube is breaking into virtual reality.
The service announced today that its application for Android smartphones now supports Google’s Cardboard headset. This means YouTube users will be able to select a virtual reality video, stick their smartphone into the headset, and kick back as the future of video consumption appears before their eyes.
“If we’ve learned anything in the past 10+ years at YouTube it’s that capturing and sharing videos is a great way to bring people there with you,” YouTube says in a blog post, adding that it’s supporting virtual reality because it “makes the experience of being there even more awesome and immersive.”
The service dipped its toes into virtual reality content earlier this year with 360-degree videos that allowed users to swipe their way around whatever was happening on-screen. This update, combined with the capabilities inherent to the Cardboard headset, promises a more immersive virtual reality experience.
But there’s another, larger change in YouTube’s announcement: The service has made all of its videos available to view in Cardboard. “You can now watch any video using Google Cardboard,” it says, “and experience a kind of virtual movie theater.” This gives YouTube the largest virtual reality content library.
It will face competition, of course. Facebook introduced 360-degree videos to its service earlier this year, and if its $2 billion acquisition of Oculus, plus its increasing efforts to provide all the media its users could ever want right from its website, it won’t take long for a full-on virtual reality experience to appear.
Video producers are just as excited about virtual reality. The New York Times introduced its own virtual reality app (which also relies on Cardboard) early this morning. Jon Stewart is reportedly working with Otoy, a startup known for its 360-degree video technologies, as he develops a new series for HBO. The Associated Press also released a virtual reality film with RYOT earlier.
All of which means that some of the world’s most influential publishers are racing to embrace virtual reality while the most popular video service and social network duke it out for control of the new market. If that doesn’t portend a momentous shift in how we watch videos, I don’t know what will.

Why ‘ad-free’ YouTube Red will actually be filled with ads

Zach is a media analyst at Fabric Media.
YouTube Red, Google’s $10 per month ad-free subscription tier, has finally arrived. And when you look at the pure volume of content and consumer demand, it’s easy to see that Red is justifiably the sensible next step in the video service’s evolution.
The move to launch YouTube Red, however, is also about a viewer’s preferences for how that content is consumed, according to Juan Bruce, CEO of Epoxy, which helps YouTubers market and measure video across social channels. “Every platform entering the video space gives viewers another option for how they want to interact with content, whether it’s traditional YouTube, live streaming, a Vine feed, Facebook’s social experience or paid services.”
It’s also a potential cash cow, is it not? There’s an OTT land grab right now, so why wouldn’t the platform with (arguably) the most loyal video community on the web make a go of it?
In addition to its new premium features, Red will offer premium content, created specifically for the platform and available only through its service. Creators like The Fine Bros, PewDiePie, Joey Graceffa, Lilly Singh, and Rooster Teeth are just a few of the individuals committed to creating original material for the newly launched service.
The alleged draw of the new premium content from PewDiePie and others will be twofold: 1) the subscription revenue will help pay for content exclusively produced for Red customers; and 2) the content will be uninterrupted, or ad-free. The problem with the latter is can you truly call it uninterrupted ad-free content if you have native advertising involved?
Call them native ads, brand sponsored content, or what you will, the point is, ads are pervasive and baked into the actual creative of so many top tier YouTube channels. Even the TV industry is incorporating native ads in-program, so are we to expect the YouTube market to change when it has been incorporating branded content into videos for years?

‘Ad-free’ threatens YouTube’s business model (and consumer trust)

The above calls into question two things: what does ad-free mean to creators and digital networks on YouTube who rely on brand deals? And, assuming YouTube doesn’t bite the hand that feeds it, is Red really delivering consumers an ad-free service?
Considering the economics of legacy YouTube — YouTube channel sponsorships, in-video brands integrations — there’s a lot of questions surrounding how the existing native advertising model fits into a premium “ad-free” YouTube subscription service. For YouTube creators and multi-channel networks (MCNs), integrating branded content natively in videos is a key revenue driver. In fact, we’re seeing these types of branded integrations popping up all over the Internet — from the gaming industry and its sponsored levels in Zynga to the music industry and its branded pop-up stations like the Halo 5: Guardians station on Dash Radio.
Frank Sinton, CEO of Beachfront Media, knows the industry intimately, having worked with over 100 YouTubers to deploy apps across connected TVs and mobile phones. He points to a specific YouTube native advertising example from Dude Perfect, saying: “The ads in his content are part of the video. If it’s supposed to be an ad-free platform, it should be completely. But how does that happen?”
YouTube is saying it’s sharing new subscription revenue with creators, but what about brand deals? Where does YouTube stand on native brand integrations being a part of YouTube Red?
There’s no need to guess. Google-owned YouTube already informed the market where it stands earlier in the year. More specifically, it happened when YouTube made moves against brand-sponsored videos, requiring creators and MCNs to work Google’s sales team for deals.

Go forth, and question

At an initial glance, the premium features of YouTube Red are enough to sway a portion of the population over to the subscription-based model. Especially with the promise of premium content from top creators in the not so distant future, but the term “ad-free” has been brushed over, and applied to the platform without any real concrete details. With all of the new features YouTube Red is offering, it’s definitely worth a shot,  just don’t be disappointed when “ad-free” turns out to be “pre-roll ad free” and a lot of branded content.

‘YouTube Red’ is Google’s master plan to take on rival media subscriptions

After months of speculation, YouTube has announced today that it is indeed launching yet another monthly subscription service called YouTube Red.
The service will run $9.99 per month and allow you to access regular YouTube videos ad-free, while also providing some premium content produced by creators well-known to the YouTube audience such as PewDiePie. Additionally, your $10 per month will also give you access to YouTube Kids, YouTube Music Key, Google Play Music, and Twitch rival YouTube Gaming. YouTube will also give subscribers premium features such as the ability to save videos for offline viewing.
So, it’s a decent enough value, provided you watch a lot of YouTube content regularly.
The combination of streaming music and premium video is likely to attract at lease some degree of attention from younger consumers, as well as those that really don’t like ads. I think YouTube is also going in the right direction by attempting to differentiate itself from the other major players in streaming video, specifically Netflix and Hulu. And if YouTube Red does take off, my guess is that it wouldn’t be that difficult for Google to negotiate more premium TV content to give those other services a run for their money.
The most interesting thing about Red, though, might be how it’ll affect YouTube/Google’s ability to generate ad revenue. If YouTube is now pushing its users to pay for an ad-free option, the thinking is that it would limit how much money can be made by its creators. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be a concern for YouTube Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl, who told The Verge’s Ben Popper that the new subscription option has potential to do the opposite. If that does end up being true, it would certainly keep YouTube creators from hopping away to a growing number of streaming video players vying for content that appeals to a younger generation of viewers.
The new YouTube Red service is set to debut Oct. 26.
h/t Engadget

YouTube Gaming adds mobile capture, ‘Fan Funding’ option

Game streaming platform YouTube Gaming is getting a boost with new features that may strike fresh fear into the heart of its major competitor, Twitch.

YouTube announced today that creators on it’s gaming platform will now be able to stream mobile play and accept “Fan Funding” and sponsorships, meaning that users can back their favorite creators financially and unlock access to premium perks like exclusive live chats. Along with new financial and mobile streaming capabilities in the YouTube Gaming platform, the new update improves search capabilities, adds simpler Watch Later bookmarking, and allows users to import existing YouTube subscriptions into the YouTube gaming app.

Mobile streaming is already live and ready to go in the YouTube mobile app–creators will simply hit the “Go Live” toggle that’ll begin the stream, and their phones will tap into the camera and microphone for the picture-in-picture display of their faces as they provide commentary.

Fan Funding and sponsorships, however, are only open to select group of beta creators for now. Theoretically, Fan Funding will look similar to the feature YouTube announced for its creators last year under the same name. Creators who have the Fan Funding feature enabled were able to accept payments via a “Support” button on their channel pages. Sponsorships behave a little bit differently, with recurring monthly payments that give backers access to the aforementioned premium features.

Earlier this year, Twitch teamed up with ChangeTip to allow users to exchange money within the platform, so Fan Funding on YouTube Gaming is something like catching up. But it’s important to understand where the Twitch/YouTube Gaming is likely to be won, and that’s creators. Viewers will probably follow their favorite creators from one platform to another despite interface differences, but creators will likely end up making platform decisions based flexibility, performance, ease-of-use and payment methods.

While the new financial components of YouTube Gaming are brand new and it’s a little early to tell how, exactly, they stack up against Twitch’s in-line ChangeTip commands, YouTube’s effort to keep improving the gaming platform is a pretty clear indication that they intend to keep up the attempt to wrestle viewership away from Twitch. And if YouTube’s release accompanying the update announcement is anything to go by, it’s working pretty well so far. According to the release, YouTube is the most-watched platform for games, with users streaming over 144 billion minutes of gaming content every month. Of course, this includes gaming videos and live streams combined, but the message is clear: YouTube Gaming is serious about winning the game streaming wars.

Facebook beefs up its video platform to take on YouTube

Facebook wants people to watch more videos on its platform, even if those videos aren’t discovered within your news feed. In other words, Facebook wants to be more like YouTube. And today the company announced a set of video-related updates aimed at doing just that.
Facebook’s interest in video consumption first ramped up nearly two years ago when it began auto-playing video within a person’s news feed, and recently expanded to include live video streams from celebrities as well as immersive 360-video. That worked fairly well in terms of serving interesting content you’re likely to enjoy, but the engagement on those videos doesn’t really compare to YouTube. Part of that is because people don’t come to Facebook to watch videos, making viewing times shorter or limited to a single video at a time.

Facebook's new Suggested Videos feed.

Facebook’s new Suggested Videos feed.

Today’s updates want to fix that with the debut of a new “Suggested Videos” feature, which is already being tested for mobile users. When you open a video on Facebook, you’ll now see it playing as part of a new video discovery feed. Once you finish, the basic idea is that you’ll scroll through and perhaps watch a couple more related videos. It’s sort of like how YouTube is successful in getting me to watch 10 minutes of puppy videos when I only intended to consume a single 30-second clip. Whether people will actually find Facebook’s version useful is another question entirely.
If Facebook can increase the amount of time people are spending purely watching videos in a single sitting, it’ll help drive revenue from video advertising. It’ll also help justify the video ads Facebook plans to run in between the suggested videos.
Facebook also announced that it’ll soon give people more options for how to watch video content on its platform. You’ll soon be able to navigate to a new video section that keeps track of any video links you’ve saved for later. And on the opposite side of the viewing spectrum, Facebook is catering to the casual crowd of video watchers, allowing them to push the video player into a smaller floating window that continues playing while you navigate other parts of the social network. I could see this being extremely valuable, as people spend lots of time just lounging on Facebook during the day. (This is already how I watch most linear TV.)
But of course, Facebook’s success in stealing people away from YouTube will largely depend on the quality of content being uploaded. Therefore the company is also rolling out a new set of tools aimed at helping publishers target and grow its audience. In the past, web video creators have criticized Facebook for the poor level of legitimate engagement it brings to their uploaded content. My guess is these new video-related updates are intended to fix that.

March Madness is coming to YouTube with a new NCAA channel

YouTube viewers are getting their dose of March Madness this year in the form of short clips of game highlights as the action unfolds and video recaps of all 67 games, which will be made available as part of a new NCAA March Madness channel. The channel will also feature live streams from press conferences, as well as game previews and news and analysis clips. The one thing missing: Live streams of all the games. For that, users will still have to rely on streaming from CBS and Turner, some of which will once again only be available to pay TV subscribers.

Surprise: Cable viewers really like YouTube on their set-tops

Looks as if cable subscribers really like online video, especially if they can access it on their existing boxes: UPC Hungary’s experiment to add YouTube to its set-top boxes has been a big success, according to a new case study by cloud virtualization provider ActiveVideo, whose technology is bringing the video service to Hungary’s TV viewers.

UPC started to make YouTube available to 200,000 of its 910,000 video subscribers last summer, and brought it to another 320,000 subscribers in the following months. Sixty-eight percent of those subscribers have since tried the YouTube app on their set-top box, and 83 percent of those who tried it have turned into repeat users. All together, these subscribers view more than 1 million minutes of YouTube content a day, with sessions averaging 45 minutes.

What’s impressive about these numbers is that UPC isn’t actually using any kind of special next-generation set-top box hardware. Instead, it is transcoding YouTube in the cloud, and presenting everything from the clips to the app menus as a single video stream that can be displayed by any plain old set-top box. And yes, you can take “plain” and “old” very literally, in this case: Most of the 320,000 boxes that were added to the mix in recent months are standard definition only.

ActiveVideo’s technology even makes use of existing remote controls by translating each key press to a command that is sent to the cloud to instantly change the stream for a subscriber, making it look as if he is browsing an app installed on the set-top box itself. This kind of cloud virtualization technology is similar to OnLive’s cloud gaming technology or the way Android Auto uses in-dash displays as extensions of your handset.

UPC Hungary, which is part of the Liberty Global family, isn’t the only TV provider experimenting with online video services on pay TV boxes. Netflix struck a partnership with Dish late last year to bring its app to Dish’s Hopper DVR, and is looking to sign similar deals with other TV operators in the U.S. and beyond. And Comcast has been looking to launch its own online video service on its X1 set-top boxes.

YouTube’s app just for kids on the way (updated)

There are lot of great professionally-made videos for kids on YouTube buried in an avalanche of decidedly inappropriate content. Soon, parents won’t have to filter the millions of videos themselves: On Monday, Google is launching a new free Android app aimed directly at kids, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thusrday.

The app will be called YouTube for Kids, according to Google, and you’ll be able to download it from the Google Play app store for Android phones and tablets on Monday. (Originally, Google was not expected to also release an iOS version at launch, but it did.)

YouTube Kids Screenshot

The free app has several family friendly features, including a simple and colorful design, parental controls and ways to set limits on screen time. But the most important part of the app will be its curated roster of kids shows, including videos from popular series such as Sesame Street and Thomas the Tank Engine.

Companies contributing content include Jim Henson TV, DreamWorks TV, Mother Goose Club, The Jim Henson Company, National Geographic, and Reading Rainbow. The mix of content appears to center be mostly shorter web videos as opposed to full episodes — LaVar Burton, host of Reading Rainbow, for instance, will be contributing an “exclusive original series” called uTech. Shows like Sesame Street offer full episodes on YouTube, but those usually require a subscription.

It’s unclear whether Google will be serving advertisements in the YouTube for Kids app, although the Wall Street Journal reports that Google is paying its content partners to to produce original shows. Google will have to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, so it will have to notify parents before collecting identifying information.

A YouTube for Kids product has been a long time coming. Netflix and Amazon Prime Streaming both offer kids sections — Amazon sells a kid-oriented subscription — and there are lots of third-party apps that have tried to fill the child-oriented gap left by YouTube. But the children’s video market is too important to be left to startups, so Google is doing it itself.

Update 2/23: Google launched YouTube for Kids, and in a bit of a surprise, there is an iOS version on the App Store in addition to an Android version on the Google Play app store. This post has been updated to reflect availability for Apple devices.


YouTube experiments with multiple camera angles for performances

Multiple camera angles are coming to YouTube, if only as an experiment: YouTube added a first live music performance with four camera angles to its site Wednesday, allowing users to switch back and forth between the different angles while the audio track keeps playing. The video itself, a performance of Madilyn Bailey, is pretty short, and was apparently recorded at the YouTube Space L.A.

youtube multiple camera angles

The experiment is currently only available for users accessing YouTube with their desktop browser, and for some reason it’s also U.S.-exclusive — my guess is that is more about the music being used in this instance, rather than the technology used to switch camera angles. But YouTube is already reaching out to musicians to look for volunteers for similar experiments.

YouTube’s multi-camera-angle playback has been made possible by the site’s use of HTML5 for video playback. Recently, YouTube said that HTML5 has now become its default approach to playing video on the web, essentially sidelining its legacy Flash player as a fallback for older browsers.

Google to give all users clearer information about data use

Google has vowed to revise its privacy policy and account settings, in order to make it clearer to people what it does with their data and give them more control. This comes as part of a settlement with the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, announced on Friday, but the changes will apply globally.

The ICO and other data protection regulators across the EU have been coordinating a crackdown on Google’s practices since 2012, when the company introduced a new unified privacy policy. The unified policy allowed [company]Google[/company] to mix and match personal data across its various services – between YouTube and Search, for example. However, many people did not, and still do not, appreciate what this means in terms of user profiling.

Google has faced repeated fines over its refusal to change the policy in countries such as France, Italy and Germany, but the sums involved were chickenfeed for a company of Google’s girth. The U.K.’s ICO hasn’t fined Google in this way, but has repeatedly said that Google’s settlement proposals didn’t go far enough.

Now this long-running drama may be drawing to a close. On Friday the ICO triumphantly brandished an undertaking in which Google said it would do the following things during the next two years:

  • Make its privacy policy easier to find, and be clearer in that policy about what user information it processes and why.
  • Provide users with “information to exercise their rights” and launch a redesigned account settings version to give them more control.
  • Add two provisions from the Google terms of service to the privacy policy, regarding email data and the “shared endorsement” feature.
  • Add to the privacy policy information about “the entities that may collect anonymous identifiers on Google properties and the purposes to which they put that data.”
  • “Take several measures” to tell passive users – those using third-party services that are plugged into Google services, such as advertising – more about what’s happening with their data. Those running the third-party services will also need to “obtain the necessary consents” for this data collection.
  • “Enhance its guidance for employees regarding notice and consent requirements.”

Google also said it would continuously evaluate the privacy impact of future changes to its services and keep users informed, especially where the changes “might not be within the reasonable expectations of service users.” Particularly significant changes to the privacy policy will be “reviewed by user experience specialists and with representative user groups before the policy and associated tools are launched as appropriate.”

The changes will make sure Google is compliant with the U.K. Data Protection Act, which is based on European law. It is not yet clear whether this is the end of the matter as far as the other EU data protection authorities are concerned — I understand that the changes will apply in all countries around the world, though.

Here’s what ICO enforcement head Steve Eckersley said in a statement:

Google’s commitment today to make these necessary changes will improve the information UK consumers receive when using their online services and products.

Whilst our investigation concluded that this case hasn’t resulted in substantial damage and distress to consumers, it is still important for organisations to properly understand the impact of their actions and the requirement to comply with data protection law… This investigation has identified some important learning points not only for Google, but also for all organisations operating online, particularly when they seek to combine and use data across services.

Although the list of commitments is fairly comprehensive, some terms are vague and the proof may lie in the implementation. For example, the EU privacy watchdogs previously demanded that users get the opportunity to “choose when their data are combined, for instance with dedicated buttons in the services.” That’s not merely a matter of giving users “information to exercise their rights”, so it will be interesting to see what the redesigned account settings entail.

So far, Google has merely said:

We’re pleased that the ICO has decided to close its investigation. We have agreed improvements to our privacy policy and will continue to work constructively with the Commissioner and his team in the future.

Even if this does indicate a conclusion to the unified privacy policy saga, then Google still faces major regulatory headaches in Europe. These include the big search antitrust case – tied in with digital agenda commissioner Günther Oettinger’s apparent desire to extend a version of the “Google tax” copyright levy across Europe – and a potential second antitrust case over Android.

Still, one at a time, eh?

This article was updated at 8.15am PT to note that the changes will apply globally.