Opinion: Finally, there’s money in your destination videos

Simon FergusonLet’s start with a bold prediction: within two years Google won’t be the world’s largest search engine.

Bold it might be, but Google themselves are complicit in supporting it. The search giant acknowledges that YouTube is the world’s second-largest engine, and growing enormously in terms of content and usage – 35 hours of video are currently uploaded to YouTube per second.

Combine this with the staggering prediction from British Interactive Media Association (BIMA) that by 2013 90% of content on the web will be video, and it’s not hard to evisage a future where more search queries are performed on YouTube than on the core Google engine.

The advent of keyword search within video content will enhance this, as will refinements in Google’s text search (such as Google Instant) which will drive greater query efficiencies.

However there’s a bigger picture underlying the pre-eminence of video, and one that could have far-reaching consequences for the travel sector. 

At a recent BIMA Summit at Google’s Victoria HQ, YouTube dropped a couple of bombshells:

1. People don’t watch much UGC: Whilst the great volume of video on YouTube is user-generated content (UGC), it represents only 9% of views. Short-form ‘premium content’ accounts for 65% and long-form premium content 20%.

2. It doesn’t make much money: YouTube can only sell advertising within and against clips whose uploader has certified that they have the copyright to all the material. So a clip of me dancing round my bedroom miming to Lady Gaga may have my friends in stitches, but it’s a commercial wasteland.

Did Google really spend $2.6 billion on YouTube, underpinned by the promise of UGC, only to find that no one wants to watch it and it can’t be monetized? The short answer is yes. But the problems don’t end there – premium content has its own set of issues.

In the US the big TV networks have clubbed together to form Hulu, a web distribution site for broadcast TV. While there is no European alternative, the BBC and the UK’s commercial channels have been investing in players that look likely to become the defacto online viewing mechanisms for their programmes. 

So Google faces an awkward dilemma: premium viewing erosion at the ‘quality’ end and barriers to monetisation at the UGC end.

Enter the YouTube partner programme, which will allow brands and individuals to have official channels. The channel owner certifies that they have copyright ownership, then YouTube sells advertising on the channel and promotes in search results.

Thus the channel owner gets revenue and the opportunity to utilise Googe’s sales and distribution channels, and YouTube gets a source of official/independent content which it can legitimately monetise. There are roughly 20,000 YouTube partners in the US, but only a few hundred in the UK.

The opportunities for the travel sector could be huge. Underpinning the YouTube partner programme is a wider trend towards web TV, which is seeing independent programme producers generate audiences that are outstripping traditional ‘premium’ broadcasters.

Check out the most popular YouTube partner channels in the UK:

 >Top Gear: 571,000 subscribers
 >Britain’s Got Talent: 232,000 subscribers
 >Panacea81: 900,000 subscribers and growing

Panacea81 isn’t a traditional media brand. It’s Lauren Luke, a beauty therapist from the northeast who films weekly beauty and make-up tips in her bedroom. She became a YouTube partner in 2007, and has been so successful she has launched her own make-up line.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Yet again the web is allowing niche specialists with strong followings to eclipse traditional providers. But the travel sector has a unique advantage when it comes to riding the video wave: while premium destination footage remains expensive to produce and largely outside the scope of amateurs, travel brands have reams of great content at their disposal.

Up until now that content has been used to boost conversion rates, and as consumers have come to see it as ‘part of the furniture’ on travel sites its ROI has become unclear – if it was ever clear in the first place. By bringing those video assets into a YouTube partner channel travel companies could suddenly start to monetize them, whilst increasing consumer awareness and loyalty to boot.

The Internet has made us all media companies, to paraphrase former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. The advance of video should make brands think of themselves as web TV broadcasters, and travel businesses should be leading the charge.

Simon Ferguson is general manager of Travelzoo’s desintations and network business. He is a former publisher of Travolution.

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