How YouTube Viewership Is Ushering In TV 3.0

Inside the evolution of TV consumption

Marketers have loved TV’s combination of reach and quality, but its lack of precision targeting and data reporting pale in comparison to digital. TV 2.0 extended viewership through owned and operated viewing apps, but audience targeting still fell short. Today, we’re about to enter the next phase: TV 3.0, where YouTube programming promises to provide brands with the advertising trifecta: Quality network programming of traditional TV, the measurable audience targeting we expect from digital, and reach that goes well beyond linear and O&O distribution.

At ZEFR, we just published a new report on TV 3.0, exploring the shifting nature of how consumers are watching and engaging with TV content on YouTube—and the opportunities that shift presents for both content companies and marketers. Consider this: The most popular shows on television typically attract audiences of 10 million viewers or more, but ratings are only a small fraction of the story. Network television content has seen 36 billion—yes billion— lifetime views on YouTube, along with 284 million audience engagements (such as likes, shares and comments). The cultural value of content is clearly far greater than the ratings suggest.

Our findings point to a shift that will turn the television business inside out by placing the consumer at the center of the ecosystem and creating new opportunities for both content owners and marketers to align quality, reach and data. Here are some of our findings.

Television is increasingly democratic

Your fans are watching your show on YouTube, whether you program it or not. In analyzing network shows on YouTube, two clear viewership patterns emerge. Content owners can either program a library of snackable clips, or they can let their fans run with the content, leveraging their passion to create and upload the content in their own way. If you’re wondering which strategy is appropriate, you need to consult your fans.

The content on late night comedy shows lends itself to clip-centric programming that lets viewers cherry pick the moments they love. By asking celebrity guests to play games, sing songs, and participate in skits that align with pop culture, The Tonight Show has created more than 8,800 on-air moments that double as programming for YouTube. The show’s social video success has contributed to NBC’s digital leadership, seeing more than 13 billion lifetime views and 100 million lifetime engagements on YouTube.

Television content drives views and engagements beyond the TV set.

Dancing with the Stars, on the other hand, leverages fan culture by inspiring viewers to recreate the dances at home and post reaction videos on YouTube. Of the 727 million views attributed to Dancing with the Stars, 59 percent come from fan clips. But YouTube fandom isn’t limited to the reality format. In fact, scripted dramas represent an enormous opportunity for fan engagement because viewers naturally look to YouTube to dish on their favorite characters and plotlines—an activity that continues to drive viewership of television’s longest running procedural, NCIS. Nearly three quarters (74 percent) of the 184 million YouTube views attributed to NCIS come from fans posting character tributes and classic scene recaps.

Television is now experience shifted

For more than a decade, television has grappled with time shifting. But in consumer-centric TV 3.0, watching digitally creates something new: experience shifting.

Not only does YouTube connect viewers to an endless well of clips in whatever formats fans can dream up, it also serves as the primary conduit through which fans participate in television. Soon enough, YouTube will also be the access point for television because the platform has begun rolling out a streaming service to rival basic cable. For $35 per month, YouTube TV subscribers will get all four networks, plus basic cable stars like USA, FX, and ESPN, among others.

The launch of YouTube TV proves that consumption habits have changed and that broadcasters and brands need to be mindful of a new era in consumer choice, where viewers dictate both content and experience. As the experience evolves, at least one thing remains the same—TV content drives viewership, regardless of where viewers find their favorite shows.

Television content is social

When you tally up TV viewership, you’re measuring a linear event. But the value of that content extends far beyond what can be measured by Nielsen, because clips and associated videos live in the infinite social video ecosystem, where consumers are seeking it out.

The distinctions between “TV,” “digital video,” and “mobile video,” are blurring, and will likely evaporate as YouTube continues to grow and platforms like Facebook and Snapchat ramp their video offerings. Inside that blur, marketers still think in terms of audience, not considering the content they run against. That’s a mistake.

Television content drives views and engagements beyond the TV set, proving something content owners and advertisers have known since the earliest days of television: What you watch matters. Video is our most powerful medium because the combination of sight and sound evokes emotion in ways other mediums cannot. In order for advertisers to tap into that emotion, they need to understand the content, not as a show broadcast inside a linear model, but as individual pieces of the cultural zeitgeist whose value and meaning now lies in the hands of viewers.

This is what we mean by Television 3.0. It’s a shorthand for a new world where quality content matters even more than it did before because viewers have the power to watch anything, anywhere, anytime, on any device. That’s a daunting proposition for advertisers, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity. When advertisers locate the value and meaning of television content on platforms like YouTube, they aren’t just extending their linear reach, they’re opening up a new world of consumer engagement.