Agencies Need to See YouTube as TV if They Want to Survive

Dan Meier 15 May, 2023 

Last week, brand suitability specialist Pixability announced the appointment of Cadi Jones as Managing Director for EMEA, leading the company’s UK office. VideoWeek spoke with Cadi Jones and Pixability CMO Matt Duffy, to discuss the role of brand safety on YouTube, the perception of short-form content for advertisers, and the impact of user behaviour on brand spending.

Where are we in terms of brand safety on YouTube? 

Cadi: The way we think about it is we’re really past brand safety now. Google has done a brilliant job cleaning up YouTube. If we look at a recent report from GARM (Global Alliance for Responsible Media), YouTube is now 99 percent brand safe. That means there’s no content that can serve ads that would be super violent or unsafe because of profanity, sexual content, all the things you don’t want to put an advert on! But it’s the internet, so just as anywhere else on the internet, you need some kind of brand safety, it’s table stakes, it’s hygiene, you’ve got to have it. So that same GARM report showed that about one-third of the content would be unsuitable for your average advertiser.

Matt: Exactly, the difference between safety and suitability, is safety is just something that would not be okay for any advertiser, no matter how risk averse they are; whereas suitability is very advertiser-specific. A video game company might be fine with sort of edgy content that has profanity, and a Rolex may not. So over the last five years YouTube has seen a huge change where basically an ad is going to be running on content that’s safe 99.9 percent of the time. Suitability is different though, because YouTube is not going to not let channels monetise themselves just because they have some profanity; say a Beastie Boys video that has profanity in it is not going to be stopped from serving ads. So it depends based on advertiser, but on average, only about two-thirds of your content is going to be suitable if you don’t take the right measures.

Are there specific brand suitability concerns for the UK market? 

Cadi: I think there are probably two things to talk about here that are quite interesting and really specific to the UK. I think the first one just comes down to our legislation. The law is different here, we don’t have global governance. So if we take the high fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) legislation for example, it has a huge impact on where advertisers can comfortably display their ads. And if you look specifically at YouTube, the onus is on creators to label the content they’re uploading to YouTube. They have to label it with a flag saying Made for Kids. Creators are humans and human error creeps in. Not every video that is made for kids is labelled Made for Kids. And that’s something that Pixability has as an offering, and something where we do quite a lot of work with our brand and agency partners in the UK. Because in that scenario, if the content is aimed at children, but it’s not been flagged with that label, we can add that label to it, and the agency or brand can effectively use our intelligence to avoid that content.

The other point of difference is really around programmatic adoption through the buy side, through the agencies. The UK is now a programmatic market. It’s an advanced programmatic market. And many teams within the agencies are buying YouTube for themselves. And so for me joining the business, with my programmatic background, it was important that I wanted to have a good understanding of how we were going to empower agencies who did want self-serve access to YouTube to still be able to layer our intelligence. And that’s something that’s newer within the Pixability suite, but really important to me, and I think it’s going to be important as we continue our growth path in the UK.

Has the migration of content onto CTV driven TV ad spend to YouTube?

Cadi: Absolutely. If you go back a few years, there wasn’t a perception of YouTube as a CTV location, but user behaviour has changed so much through the pandemic, through the scale of new devices that have come into the market. YouTube is now the go-to channel that people put on, whether you’re having it on in the background, whether you’re actively viewing, it’s the go-to channel on a CTV device. There’s always a lag with user behaviour and then brand behaviour, but I think from the second half of last year, brands are really catching up with that user behaviour journey.

Matt: In the UK and in the US we’re seeing the more traditional TV buying community is slowly moving towards understanding that when someone is engaging with something on YouTube, that’s a show today. It doesn’t have to be a 30-minute, produced-by-a-production-company show. So if I’m a beauty company in the UK, and my audience is watching Samantha Maria, a UK beauty creator on YouTube, and they’re more engaged with that than they are with a sitcom that is on the TV screen, then I want to be there. But frankly, not everyone sees it that way. Whether you’re in the UK or the US, the more traditional, older media buying folks are still having trouble grasping that that’s the same as advertising on a show. But the more forward-thinking agencies that frankly are going to survive are saying, if this audience is watching more of this thing over here than this thing over here, as long as I can pick the examples of that that are safe and suitable, then that’s where we want to be.

Cadi: I think there’s also the element around different teams within agencies. To Matt’s point, there can be lots of different teams within one agency who are making these decisions. And I think we’re generally seeing a slight move towards consolidation of partners in the space, with the agencies so focused on outcomes that the advertiser wants to deliver. It’s now more about the quality of the partners our agencies are working with and perhaps less about quantity. Again, looking back to the last few years, it might have been normal for an agency to be working with a couple of handfuls of different partners to access supply with the right controls in place. And now I think they really are looking to pick based on, how are they going to be accessing their BVOD? How are they going to be accessing their YouTube? And making sure they’ve got the right partners in place for that. And that’s why it’s an exciting time to be joining.

Are there more brand suitability issues around Reels and Shorts, compared with more TV-like content?

Cadi: It’s a tough one! Potentially yes it’s less like TV, but also it’s Gen Z, right? So I feel like this is super dependent on the brands; where you have brands who are trying to reach the younger audiences, that’s the format that people are often engaging with.

Matt: Brands advertise on TikTok in the US and in Europe, not under the premise that it’s going to be on TV screens, but just under the premise that there’s huge reach digitally. YouTube created YouTube Shorts as a way to address this high demand for quick-hit vertical video. And frankly, when they first did it, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work for them, but actually the way they did it was super smart, and it’s built right into YouTube, so as you’re looking for things to watch, you’re very easily moving between them. And so they’ve had huge growth, it’s around 1.5 billion monthly users now and growing. I still don’t think any of these short vertical video products are going to be thought of as a TV product anytime soon, but there’s a huge demand for it.

Right now YouTube hasn’t made it so that you can cleanly target these short videos on YouTube, that’s coming very soon; we are one of the handful of companies that are part of the YouTube Measurement Programme (YTMP). They’re releasing an alpha to us and the other YTMP members that lets you actually target shorts on YouTube as an advertiser. Right now you can end up with an ad on Shorts, but there’s no way to do it. And we’re getting a lot of advertisers asking for it. But they’re not advertisers that are looking for a TV screen. If we start being able to target ads on Shorts, we’ll be able to have data ourselves that shows how many of the Shorts are being watched on TV screens, and it’ll be super interesting – I’m assuming it’s still going to be mostly mobile, but TV might be bigger than we think.

Has the way people watch YouTube changed? What does that mean for brands?

Matt: When you just look back a few years ago, in the US it was about two-thirds of all the views on YouTube were on mobile phones. It’s now basically 50/50 with TV and mobile phones. So there is this rise in watching YouTube in a ‘leaned back’ way where you’re not just in line at a store, but you’re in your home, and there’s actually content that’s important enough to you to watch that you want to see it on the big screen, and it’s very easy to do that now. I think there’s always going to be the people that watch YouTube on their mobile device, they want a quick hit, they’re in line, maybe in a car…

Cadi: In the back of a car being driven home! But when we’re talking about performance, watching on different devices opens up this amazing array of targeting, where you can be really quite specific about who you’re reaching. Because you’re logged in, they know that you’ve watched half a video, then you watch the rest on the TV at home. That ability to follow up and have these brands have these long engaged conversations with users but on the biggest screen in the house. It’s quite cool.

Matt: It opens up TV advertising to people who used to think it was reserved just for the very biggest brands. An advertiser in the UK who’s been doing digital advertising on YouTube can now specifically say, someone in the UK has searched for my product on Google, I can serve them an ad the next time they’re on YouTube on a TV screen. It’s very exciting to them.

Cadi: There’s a limitation on scale there, just to point that out.

Matt: But they could be searching for anything that’s relevant to them. It could be searching for their product category or for their competitors or whatever. It’s a flipping of what the perception of TV advertising is, which used to be having to very specifically pick a show and a time slot. Now it doesn’t matter when it happens, as long as I’m reaching that audience member that I want to reach on a TV screen watching content they care about.

Cadi: It’s kind of the reverse of the question around Reels and Shorts, it’s the flip side of that – it’s the advantage of bringing so much of that online mobile digital piece to the actual TV device. We’re living in the future!

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