… 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 …

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.

YouTube channels McDonalds: “Billions and billions served.”

YouTube logoIn case anyone doubts the significance of YouTube as a media platform … the video sharing service just announced that it is now serving in excess of 2 billion video views per day.

For an entity that’s barely five years old, this statistic is pretty incredible. But it becomes easier to believe when the full extent of YouTube’s video inventory is understood.

In fact, these days nearly 24 hours of video footage is being uploaded to YouTube every minute. That’s more than 34,000 hours of video each day.

Plus, there appears to be no end in sight to the growth of YouTube’s video library, as the rate of uploading has increased by nearly 20% over the past year.

The fact that the vast majority of YouTube videos are hardly worth the time it takes to watch them makes little difference. Far more than Yahoo Video or Hulu, this site has become the “go-to” place for finding everything from old TV commercials to short clips from movies or shows. Or to engage in the guilty pleasure of browsing around and viewing everything from news anchor bloopers to boring college commencement speeches and embarrassingly bad student dance recitals.

Actually, the number of people who visit YouTube to “channel surf” is astonishingly large. It’s become the new pastime that TV watching once was.

And the “social” aspect of YouTube is important as well, as people love to pass links to their favorite videos on to their friends. Or to “broadcast yourself,” as the site’s tagline states. YouTube makes that process easy and effortless, contributing to the burgeoning inventory of new video material.

When Google acquired YouTube in 2009, more than a few industry observers wondered about the rationale behind the purchase and questioned the effectiveness of YouTube’s business model. Looking back one year on, it’s hard to understand what the fuss was all about!

And just yesterday, Google announced ambitious new plans for YouTube. It’s begun converting the entire library of videos to its new WebM video format that incorporates VP8, special codec compression software that facilitates the delivery of smooth, high quality video images.

In yet another swipe at its rivals, Google is offering VP8 royalty-free, in a bid to knock Flash (Adobe) and H.264 (Apple) platforms off their current top perch. Will they be successful? Well, based on history …

What is YouTube’s Business Model?

The information is starting to trickle out. YouTube is hemorrhaging red ink. Credit Suisse estimated recently that YouTube will make approximately $240 million in advertising revenue – revenue that has come from a cavalcade of different forms of advertising, licensing and partnership deals.

Balance that income against estimated costs of over $700 million and you get a loss of more than $450 million.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Advertising Age magazine has just reported that YouTube is now selling advertising against 9% of its video views. That’s up from 6% a year ago. But those figures are still paltry. And it’s really no surprise since so much of YouTube’s content is user-generated, devoid of any significant interest and thus not really “monetizable” for advertising purposes.

No one – not even parent company Google, with a market capitalization of over $100 billion – is going to put up with such a scenario forever. The question is whether YouTube will ever be able to generate enough ad revenue to offset the huge bandwidth and storage costs associated with managing a humongous repository of video material. It’s a question that, even if Google’s own senior management doesn’t ask, the company’s shareholders should.

Paid subscriptions, anyone?