YouTube Expands Beyond 10 Minutes – Adds Full Length Content

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Undoubtedly feeling the pressure from Hulu and other sites that have begun successfully streaming full length, professionally produced content for free over the web, YouTube over the weekend announced that it had begun testing full length content streams. YouTube kicked off their test with classic TV content from CBS, including full length episodes of MacGuyver, Star Trek, The Young an the Restless, and Beverly Hills 90210 (the original, not the new remake).

The new full-length content feature will allow YouTube to legally host professionally created, long-form content, and to monetize it with pre-, post-, and mid-roll advertising in the way that Hulu has been successful.

YouTube currently dominates online video, accounting for about 44% of all US video streams. But without access to professional, full length content, the site could see that dominance start to slip. Via the success of Hulu, users have demonstrated that not only are they interested in pro content, they’re also more open to monetization via in-stream video advertising when the content is television or feature film length.

Audiences are also now turning more often to the web to view professionally created television content. The recent comedic send-up of US Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin by actress Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live, for example, was viewed 66% of the time after the live TV broadcast on DVRs and the web.

“This is the first time we’ve seen delayed viewing numbers this big,” said Amanda Welsh, head of research for TV data firm Integrated Media Measurement Inc. “Usually it’s the other way around, with the overwhelming majority of viewing occurring during the actual broadcast.”

As Greg Sterling of Search Engine Land correctly points out, it was on the back of illegally uploaded commercial content that YouTube first rose to its current position of online video dominance. YouTube will be placed at a competitive disadvantage going forward if it isn’t able to provide access to the commercial, full length content that users desire.

On the experience side, YouTube’s full length content effort feels the way they’re labeling it — like a test. It’s not that the YouTube player is bad at delivering long-form content, it’s just not as good as what we’ve come to expect from Hulu, which set the bar pretty high. Ads feel more clumsily integrated, there’s too much going on on the page for a truly cohesive viewing experience (though the new “lights off” feature, helps), and the quality doesn’t seem up to par — though to be fair, that is harder to judge when the only full-length content they have available is from a decade or more ago.

The biggest omission, though, is that embedding is turned off, at least for the launch content. Embedding has allowed a ton of Hulu content to spread virally across the web. YouTube appears to be leaving the option of whether content can be embedded up to the publisher. Hopefully YouTube can convince publishers to allow their content to be embedded, or else their service will have a hard time competing with Hulu and other full-length content providers.

You can check out an episode of MacGuyver here.

Though not mentioned in the official YouTube blog announcement, commenters there seem to indicate that this test is for US users only.

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