Is Google trying to kill YouTube?

If you watch YouTube (as I do regularly) you’ve likely noticed a few changes. Specifically, you should be noticing a lot more ads. To me, the limited ads were one of its attractions, aside from the breadth of information you can find on the site.

Like many YouTubers I think, I have a short attention span. YouTube has catered to me, giving me lots of videos of ten minutes or less in length about really unique topics that interests me, often by very creative content creators. The site has to make money so it was acceptable to have to deal with an introductory ad, which I could usually skip after five seconds or so.

As you probably have noticed, the ads now tend to be longer (usually fifteen seconds) and it’s getting harder to skip the ads. Also, ads are now getting stacked. Sometimes you have to sit through two ads, fifteen seconds each, to watch a video that is usually ten minutes or less. Already I was getting an itchy finger. At least YouTube warned me how many lead ads I was going to get and if I found the video of marginal interest, I hit the back button and watched something else instead.

Now of course many videos somewhere around the ten-minute mark interrupt the video, usually in the middle of the sentence, to serve you more ads, generally one or two more fifteen-second ads. It’s just grating and spoils the whole experience. If the video is long enough, you’ll get another set of ads. In short, YouTube is becoming a lot like commercial TV, just inserting ads in a less elegant and more jarring manner. This is making me (and I’m sure lots of others) rethink just how much I want to watch YouTube anyhow. So I’m starting to look at alternatives or going cold turkey.

Content creators will usually hit the checkbox to show these ads, because they want more revenue from their content. Particularly with the pandemic and the shrinking economy, ad rates are down, so to make up the difference content creators are generally happy to tell YouTube to insert more ads. This is particularly true of the more popular content creators I follow. If you are getting hundreds of thousands of views for every video you create, and your subscriber list just keeps growing, why not milk them for all they’re worth? This has been true of people like Graham Stephan that I’ve been following. I notice I’m watching fewer of his videos now that he is filling them with ads.

It’s obvious to me that YouTube wants you to subscribe to YouTube Premium instead. Like other subscription services like Netflix, you can do away with these ads, in Google’s case for $11.99 a month. They share some of this money with content creators, but the skinny seems to be this revenue is less generous than what you can get from ads, or at least what you could get from ads before YouTube started bloating them with before video and mid video ads. If true, content creators should be leery about relying on this revenue because YouTube will get the lion’s share.

One of the reasons I am not also a content creator on YouTube is because they have a monopoly. They set the rules and can change it whenever they want to. Some strike it rich, but the revenue stream probably always feels problematic. Like Google’s search engine, you really never know when YouTube will change its algorithm, so suddenly you may be losing subscribers and views and there’s no clear way to regain them. As a profit making company, of course Google’s going to try to squeeze as much profit as possible, from viewers and content creators. And if you don’t like it, well, maybe get a site on Vimeo, pay its hosting bill and hope for the best. Good luck in getting people to follow you there.

It’s a game I don’t want to get into, so I won’t. But because of all these monetary changes, YouTube is also becoming a less interesting platform. For me, the hassle level just isn’t worth it. It’s easier to search the web for the content I need, even with the web ads and crap there too, than get it in a more leisurely and personal way from YouTube.

Or there could be a darker motive. Maybe Google has run the numbers and it has the long-range goal of killing YouTube. It must be bleeding viewers like me with limited patience for all the ads it is serving, who also are either too cheap or simply don’t find the service compelling enough to spend $11.99 a month for. It must cost a fortune for Google to host all that content in real time. Hosting centers don’t come cheap with all that technology to serve it all instantly and deal with the huge volume of content it gets. Whether that’s their plan or not, I suspect it’s where YouTube is going to end up. I’m increasingly doubtful it will be around five years from now. We will have simply moved on to some service that costs less and is less hassle. Clearly, Google is not interested in fulfilling either of these missions anymore.

As for content creators, by throwing ads into their videos I suspect that they are generating short-term profit but long-term loss of subscribers and income. I understand their greed and I understand Google’s greed. But this platform just doesn’t work anymore and I think greediness on both sides is going to be its undoing. It’s feeling like a house of cards that’s about to collapse.

I may be one of the first to leave and help bring it down.

So bad, it’s good … and mesmerizing

YouTube: a treasure trove of the good, the bad, the indifferent, the mediocre and the ugly. Actually, I rarely visit the place. The few videos I do watch on YouTube come as recommendations. This one appeared in my wife’s LiveJournal, posted by a friend of hers. I happened to peer over her shoulder and asked her, “What the heck is that?

If like me you don’t understand Russian, you end up going to Google Translate to figure out the title of the video, which is “I am very glad, because I’m finally back home”. If I had to guess the title it would be, “I ingested ten times more Prozac than the doctor allowed.”

I mean, wow! For me, not even The Wedding Dance video can come close to this 2:41 little gem from what appears to be the glorious era of the Soviet Union. I am guessing it was made sometime in the 1970s when the Cold War was still grinding on and Comrade Brezhnev was in charge. It just reeks of plasticity and phoniness, yet it is somehow kind of compelling. I dare you to stop watching it in the middle.

The “singer” here is apparently a Russian named Eduard Hill. Hill is apparently obscure enough in America not even to merit a Wikipedia page, but he does have a Facebook fan page. It was weird enough that even Huffington Post picked it up. A check of Google did not reveal much about the guy. Eduard Hill, whose real name is apparently Eduard Anatolyevich, is still around, apparently living in Saint Petersburg. You can see an updated picture of him here. From what little I can find of the guy on the web, he apparently does not sing. Rather he mimes. This is obvious from watching the video. He could have used more rehearsal because his lip syncing is poor, to say the least.

Still, Hill is mesmerizing. Is he alive? Are there little puppet strings coming down from the rafters directing him when to smile? He looks all botoxed around the eyes. His smile looks like a doll maker stitched it onto his face. Then there is that goofy gate as he saunters onto the stage, not to mention the very cheesy visual effects. Apparently, he is glad to be home, which for most Russians back in the 1970s probably meant a gray cinderblock apartment complex. I guess the proper way to return home after a long trip is to dress in suit and tie.

As for the music, I have no idea who actually sings it, but it too is hypnotic and catchy like a TV commercial jingle. You may find yourself humming it in the car. Lyrics? You don’t need to know Russian, such much of it is “La la la, la la la, la la la la la.” Then there is the staging, such as it is. Where did they get that weird iron latticework? Moreover, why are there only three colors: brown, beige and yellow? Who is he waving to? His neighbors? If my neighbor were greeting me like this, I would be running to get a gun.

In short, this is exactly the sort of weird officially sponsored “entertainment” you would expect from the world’s biggest communist state back in the 1970s. While Hill looks plastic, some tiny part of him looks like he is having a root canal or a high colonic. It’s like someone has a pitch fork to his ass and that’s the only reason he’s smiling.

Whatever this is, it’s a gem. YouTube had best never delete it. It deserves its own weird immortality.

Update 3/12/2010

Since this video was YouTubed, it has generated a lot of interest (as well as a lot of hits on my blog). I have also learned a few things about Mr. Hill. In fact, he does sing the song. In this case though he is lip syncing his own music and does a very poor job of it. I also found this “peppier” version on YouTube done in front of a live orchestra that you can enjoy. This one suggests the original video was made around 1984, still definitely in the Cold War period. This one is almost good, perhaps because it lacks the slower pace and the very odd staging. Moreover, Hill looks like he is having a little fun with it. Enjoy.