… And then there were two: Facebook is nipping at YouTube’s heels.

Facebook “grows up great” to challenge YouTube for video supremacy online.

FB vs YTOnly few years ago, YouTube was pretty much the only game in town when it came to online video.  And Facebook wasn’t even in the picture.

Today, the online video landscape looks far different.

In fact, Facebook is on track to deliver more than two-thirds as many video views as YouTube this year.  And both services have a comparable number of monthly users overall.

Recently, market forecasting firm Ampere Analysis surveyed ~10,000 consumers in North America and Europe.  Approximately 15% of them had watched at least one video clip on Facebook within the past month.

While Facebook hasn’t exactly caught up with YouTube, its rise has been pretty stunning — especially when you consider the massive head-start YouTube had.  More than five years, in fact, which is a lifetime in the cyberworld.

Undoubtedly, one reason for Facebook’s success in video is its “autoplay” feature which snags viewers who might otherwise scroll by video postings.  Facebook reports that it has experienced a ~10% increase in engagement as a result of adding this functionality.

And there’s another big advantage for advertisers that Facebook possesses.  Since its viewers are always logged in, Facebook has the potential to collect far more demographic and behavioral data on its viewers that advertisers can tap into to target specific demographics.

For now at least, Facebook doesn’t offer the option for ads to run before video clips begin playing (the ads appear after the content).  Also, Facebook’s ad charges kick in after just three seconds of the ad being shown, compared to YouTube which sets the bar higher for ad charges to take effect.

[Incidentally, Twitter has the same 3-second policy as Facebook, whereas Hulu charges only for ads viewed all the way through.]

Another difference is that Facebook charges for every ad view, so if a viewer watches a video twice — even if it’s the same video in the same viewer session — Facebook counts it as two views.  On YouTube, that would be considered one view, regardless of how many times the video is watched.

Of course, these kinds of differences can be adjusted — and there’s no reason to think that Facebook won’t do just that if it determines that making those changes are in their best business interest.

Besides, advertising rates are already similar between the two platforms, which suggests that advertisers have come to place a high value on Facebook’s robust audience targeting.

Autoplay features have raised some questions as to what constitutes a true video “view.”  If video ads are being autoplayed, views are easier to get, but are they worthwhile?  Also, the fact that autoplay videos are running without sound until such time as the viewer chooses to engage is causing some advertisers to create content that “make sense” even on mute.

But the bottom line on Facebook’s foray into video seems to be that the demographic and psychographic audience targeting Facebook can deliver is of important value to advertisers.

Add the fact that YouTube is no longer the only major online video platform, and it’s easy to see how significant competition from Facebook risks the loss of advertising dollars for YouTube, along with damaging YouTube’s growth prospects over time.

This is getting interesting …

Coming Attractions: A Newly Sanitized YouTube

YouTube Cleaning up its ActThe YouTube phenomenon has been one of the biggest success stories of all in cyberspace.

Over the years, YouTube has gone from being a weird corner of the web made up of curious, strange and often forgettable video clips, to a site that attracts millions of viewers every day – some of whom have essentially ditched all other forms of video viewing in favor of mining the vast trove of material YouTube carries on its platform.

In the years since Google acquired YouTube, traffic and usage have exploded, even as the video fare has become more varied (and also more professional).

But there’s one holdover from the early years that continues to bedevil Google: YouTube is a repository of some of the most inflammatory, puerile and downright disgusting commentary that passes for “discourse,” posted by all manner of rabble.

But now, Google is signaling a strategy that has the potential to clean up the crude comments on YouTube – and in a big way.

YouTube is now strongly encouraging users to post their YouTube comments using the name identity associated with their Google+ account.

In fact, if you decline to do so after being prompted, you’ll be asked to state a reason why, underscoring the nudge away from “screen name anonymity” and towards “real-name identity.”

The notion is that people will be less likely to post flaming comments when their “true” web identity is known – that people will exude good behavior in “polite cyber-company,” as it were.

Of course, one needs to possess a Google+ account in order to link his or her identity on YouTube. But that’s for today only; some observers see YouTube’s move as just the first step toward hiding – and eventually eliminating – all comments coming from anonymous accounts.

So the new bargain will be something closer to this: “Open a Google+ account and link your YouTube account to your Google+ account … or else forfeit your ability to post any comments at all on YouTube.”

The likely result will be a much more “sanitized” YouTube – less edgy, but also less red-faced embarrassing. And that’s just what many brands, businesses and advertisers would like to see happen.

Of course, YouTube’s moves may well spur the launch of an alternative site that seeks to preserve the (nearly) anything-goes environment of the YouTube of yore.

Perhaps it could be called “YouCrude,”  But, as it happens, that handle’s already been nabbed — by a fellow WordPress blogger!

YouTube’s Big Accomplishment

YouTube logoHere’s an interesting milestone that YouTube has just achieved: In May 2010, it surpassed the 100-video mark in the average number of videos shown monthly to its U.S. viewers.

Data released by comScore, a marketing research company that collects data for many of the Internet’s largest businesses, show that ~183 million people watched online videos during May. (By the way, that’s nearly 85% of the entire U.S. Internet audience.)

With YouTube accounting for ~14.6 BILLION videos served, it translates into 101 videos for the average viewer. The duration of the average online video shown was a little over four minutes.

How pervasive is YouTube? The May comScore stats show that it accounted for far more activity than any other video site, charting ~43% of all videos viewed. Hulu ranked second, with the various Microsoft video sites ranking third.

And the contest isn’t even close: Hulu’s second-place ranking was good for only ~4% of viewership!

The average number of videos seen monthly per viewer as recorded by comScore were as follows:

 YouTube: 101 average number of videos per viewer
 Hulu: 27
 Microsoft video sites: 16
Viacom Digital: 10

If there were any continuing questions as to who is the 500-pound gorilla in online video, these statistics appear to be putting that debate to rest.