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In-Depth: What should be YouTube’s approach after facing netizens’ wrath for ‘long, un-skippable ads’?

While the ads on YouTube earlier used to have a skip button, the situation has changed drastically now. And it turned so bad that multiple threads on microblogging platform Twitter slammed the platform

Video sharing platform YouTube has recently been at the receiving end of netizens’ wrath for the ‘long, unskippable and multiple’ ads that the platform presents to all users using the basic non-subscription mode for viewing.

While the ads on YouTube earlier used to have a skip button, the situation has changed drastically now. And it turned so bad that multiple threads on the microblogging platform Twitter slammed the platform.

Netizens went all out blasting YouTube Ads on June 22, and one of the tweets went so viral that YouTube was forced to respond. In the tweet, the user said that the platform was acting ‘insane’ by forcing users to watch three ads before a video could be played.

Viral tweet:

YouTube response:

The issue of YouTube Ads had largely been doing the rounds on social media platforms after Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s comment on the issue. Musk had said, "YouTube seems to be nonstop scam ads", which netizens readily agreed with. Following this episode, there was a lot of online ranting against YouTube commercials, its premium subscription, and Elon Musk in particular.

Elon Musk’s tweet: sat down with advertisers to understand their viewpoint and what YouTube should do next to enhance the audience experience.

Tanish Shah

Tanish Shah, Associate Director, Influencer Marketing and Video Production, White Rivers Media, said that YouTube is currently testing options so as to settle down on whether it should play multiple or longer ads.

“YouTube has to show ads to generate revenue and keep on providing free content. And as it produces more original content, it has to increase the ads. Now the question is whether it would increase the length of the ads or the frequency. YouTube keeps on testing and trying different customer behaviours. I think this series of un-skippable ads is just a testing phase of YouTube as they must be trying to study how people react to this. The thought behind this is instead of showing long ads that need an action to skip, it is showing smaller un-skippable ads just a bit more frequently. This definitely creates more impact for the advertiser but has mixed reactions from the users,” Shah said.

Roy Menezes

Roy Menezes, Partner and Chief Creative Officer, at Centrick, meanwhile, sided with the video-sharing platform and said that customers who don’t like ads have an option to opt for YouTube Premium (the subscription model). He said that the platform too needs to earn revenues to stay afloat, and therefore, slamming it for running ads is not a good approach.

“YouTube has come up with a premium plan with no ads. So, they're pushing subscriptions on that. So, if you don't like it, subscribe, everything has to come at a cost. From the YouTube side also, they are justified in running un-skippable ads because from somewhere the money has to come to run the platform, if you don't like the (free) app, then pay for it, which is the subscribe version and carry on. But it's wrong to penalise the brand for un-skippable ads,” Menezes said. 

Kaizad Pardiwalla

Kaizad Pardiwalla, Founder at Spring Brand Solutions, said that the one thing that YouTube should definitely do is not cram advertising in every 30 seconds. 

“The reason people are there is to watch content and appreciate the content, and whatever content they have chosen to watch if it’s like a 20-minute clip or a 20-minute episode. You can't have 20 ads running through that. Then you're really going to be killing it, you are shooting yourself in the foot because that just becomes too tiresome to watch. So, if one has enough of the content that they’re watching and then interspersed with a few ads which may then be un-skippable. That would be a better format than breaking the chain of the content,” he said.

Last month, YouTube revealed the addition of weekly frequency capping for video ad campaigns as well as an upcoming live-stream shopping enhancement.

“I think frequency capping should be personalised to every user. We all react differently to different kinds of ads. Blanket frequency capping could lead to inefficiencies as some users could relate to a particular brand more and are more likely to be receptive and vice-versa. Capping can be a very powerful tool to balance the user experience and ad revenue but should be used effectively,” Shah said while commenting on frequency capping.

YouTube Premium subscription - Ad-free YouTube

The Premium membership of YouTube has multiple plans. Without auto-renewal, the subscription typically costs Rs 139 each month. However, the monthly subscription would cost Rs 129 if you decide to use the auto-renewal option. Additionally, YouTube offers annual and three-month subscriptions. The pricing for the three-month plan is Rs 399, and the cost of the annual subscription plan is Rs 1,290.

In addition to the above, there is one more plan designed just for students. This has a monthly fee of Rs 79. However, a student will need to present legitimate identification as a student.

India is moving towards the subscription model but is not completely ready yet, as per Shah. According to him, he recently came across data that said 79% of users watch only free content on YouTube. People don't want to pay to watch content, especially on platforms like YouTube which has always been free. “It is very difficult to change the perception of people for a particular brand, and I don't think the majority of India is ready to change that for YouTube. But this is just a matter of time. Things will change,” he said.

Menezes agreed and said that all things cannot be free for a lifetime and gave an example to prove his point. He said, “How does Reliance launch Jio? They gave it for free to everyone and today how much are you paying for the bills? So, that is a part of Indian culture. Hence, everything can’t be free for life. Somewhere down the line that place has to make money. So, they're making money by running ads.”

On the other hand, Pardiwalla believes that YouTube is a really useful content platform and should not become a subscription only, because it is democratic, meaning anyone could create content and put it up on YouTube. It was of the people, for the people and by the people when it started.

“I see it is an extremely uphill battle for YouTube to drive the subscription model there. They will need to have tremendous, outstanding original content if they want to succeed in this entire subscription space,” he said.

AdBlock vs YouTube

Adblockers filter out the ads on a webpage by comparing it to the pages it was built to work on. On YouTube, adblockers import a list of domains that belong to advertisers and then block those domain requests by the browser. Though it looks like ad blockers are the solution to YouTube ads, they are not, according to Shah.

He said that adblock filters are not accurate in detecting ads. So even if one has an adblocker, there are about 20% chances that the person will see ads that it fails to detect. Also, they often have malware and are known to hack your data. It is even more fatal to the advertisers as they don't get enough impressions compared to what they spend. It's a direct financial loss to them.

Challenge for advertisers

The advertising model of YouTube is not the simplest, and the major challenge the advertisers face is to figure out what kind of ad is the best for them, according to Shah.  

He said, “YouTube offers skippable in-stream ads, non-skippable in-stream ads/bumper ads, video discovery ads, non-video ads and display ads. I’m not going into the details, but if I do, it is a bit confusing. The advertiser has to choose from the type best suited for their product and budget, and then provide the creative.”

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