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Dominic Mills 

YouTube prepares another assault on TV // More trouble for VW

YouTube prepares another assault on TV // More trouble for VW

YouTube might think it is "remaking TV", but its strategy is missing a crucial component, writes Dominic Mills - plus: VW's misleading ads cause more headaches for the car manufacturer.

YouTube's latest bid for glory (aka another attempt to park its tanks on TV's lawn) was detailed in a flattering piece in the Sunday Times Culture section from 11 April, headlined 'How YouTube will take over the World'; not much room for equivocation there.

Writer Jonathan Dean travelled to YouTube HQ (on the News UK pound, you wonder, or the YouTube dollar?) to hear direct from CEO Susan Wojcicki about the upcoming launch in the UK of YouTube Red.

Red is a monthly subscription service, priced in the US at $9.99pm. It's ad-free and its proposition includes: original, YouTube commissioned content; the facility to download and watch offline for up to 30 days; and to consume content when other apps are open. So far, so (sort of) normal.

Here's a fuller list of the benefits, but scroll down to see them all, including a free sub to Google Play Music.

The main thrust seems to be a convenience offer, probably best suited to long-form content including TED talks and concert broadcasts. After all, this stuff is already available for free, albeit with ads.

Wojcicki claims this all about "remaking TV" for the next generation of video viewing such as "on-demand and the ability for it to be social, global." She adds: "The next generation are never going to say 'It's fine. I was used to having everything on demand, but now I'll wait for my show on Wednesday, 6pm.' The world is going to have to adjust to them."

But here's the issue. Later in the interview, Wojcicki admits she has no audience strategy. "We don't focus so much on audiences as: how do we make the platform overall better?"

Hmm, well, I don't see how YouTube can genuinely claim to reinvent TV without an audience - or audiences plural - strategy.

It reminds me - going back 25 years - of early cable in the UK, an egregious failure for exactly the same reasons. Cable took an age to take off because the cable companies were run by engineers, whose favoured activity was digging up pavements and sticking pipes in the ground rather than thinking about programmes and audiences. That's why, the NTL, the company that later became Virgin, effectively went bust.

Wojcicki is not an engineer by training (she's an economist), but I suspect that the dominant culture at YouTube is more about engineering than it is about corralling and segmenting audiences.

There are no figures yet on Red subscriber levels, but this piece from February by Digiday suggests take-up is underwhelming.

According to one insider, YouTube is generating just 7 cents per minute watched by Red subscribers, versus 33 cents per minute on ad-supported content.

So unless Red ups its content offering, and the starting point for that must be some sort of audience/s strategy, the revolution it is chasing ain't coming any day soon.

Kapow! Thinkbox hands YouTube a bloody nose

Meanwhile, back in the UK, YouTube has got itself into an unseemly spat with Thinkbox, and is currently nursing a bloody nose for what Thinkbox won't call - but I will - statistical malfeasance.

It all goes back to a claim by YouTube last year that advertisers targeting millennials should give it 24pc of their TV budgets.

Naturally this went down like a cup of cold sick with the establishment broadcasters, promoting Thinkbox to take a close look at the stats, and publish a rebuttal last week. According to Thinkbox, YouTube has 10.3pc of video viewing by millennials, but just 1.4pc of time spent watching video advertising. That's a long way short of 24pc.

One way, of course, for Youtube to avoid such unseemly public spats would be to join Thinkbox. After all, if it claims to be part of the future TV landscape, joining the TV marketing body would be a good way to demonstrate its commitment.

Yes, the other members of Thinkbox might blackball YouTube, but the real reason it can't/won't join is much more simple: you have to submit your audience figures for independent auditing by a JIC (ie BARB) where statistical fun-and-games can't happen.

Meantime, maybe it should develop an audience strategy for millennials.

More trouble for VW

This Thursday (21st), VW will, like a naughty child trying to dodge homework, finally meet a US court-imposed deadline to submit its proposals for fixing its cheating cars.

Meanwhile other problems - not the least of which is an ongoing slide in sales - pile yet more pressure on it.

One of the most interesting of these is the decision at the end of March by the US Federal Trade Commission to sue VW for false and misleading advertising.

Over eight years, including SuperBowl spots, VW claimed, the suit says, its cars were "low-emission, environmentally-friendly, and would keep a high resale value".

Could such a thing happen here? Clearly not through the ASA, which is a self-regulatory body and can't take legal action.

In any case, had the ASA asked VW to substantiate its environmental claims, it would have been deflected because VW's cheating was sufficient to make it look as though it was passing all the tests.

The answer, I think (and I'm still seeking views from the wise and the experienced), is that any such action would most likely come from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), rather than Trading Standards.

One of the CMA's remits is to deal with issues that affect customer choice, and it has powers under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 where it can take criminal proceedings against any breaches.

The problem, as my legal expert tells me, is that it is typically disinclined to do so.

Nevertheless, it's an interesting legal and ethical issue. Yes, the ads effectively told a lie. But it was what you might all a secondary lie, since the over-arching lie took place at a higher level. On that basis you might say it was unfair and unnecessary.

Nevertheless, by causing more cars to be sold than would have been otherwise, the ads have contributed to, and the made the problems - pollution, health damage and so on - worse.

As I say, it's complicated.

Meanwhile, the ambulance chasers, in form of lawyers Slater and Gordon, are on the case.

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