It came to my realization that YouTube is spawning videos that are passing the hundredth-million views mark with extreme ease these days. Scroll through some of your most liked commercial music and you'll find that probably each and every one of them has passed with relative ease that mark - and things are happening at such a pace that the first 100 videos in the list of content passing their 100 million viewer achieved such a performance in a little over 3 months, each.
A careful look on the entire list yields that the large majority of these videos are music clips, with the odd exception of an ad packed with celebrities or home-made videos going viral. It turns out that the large majority of YouTube usage is strictly related to music – could it be that, in order to achieve such great numbers in an ever-decreasing time, a result of continuous play and repeat by a strong group of “early adopters” is required? Based on YouTube statistics, it’s difficult to see what is the average number of views per user per day, but the theory could stand if we think about the situations in which people take to YouTube – or any other music streaming service for that matter – to listen to music: while at work, at the gym or strolling through the park, a large majority of users have playlists that get them through the day.
You may have noticed that I’ve referred to YouTube as a music streaming service, and it’s hard not to see it as one, given the large proportion of music found on the site. This categorization poses a serious threat to any streaming service out there, since YouTube has passed the 1 billion users per month mark in October last year, and the question if this may be surpassed by any type of streaming service, in reality, should be on everybody’s lips. A caveat could be pointed out on the mobile usage section. Since YouTube celebrated their 10th anniversary last year, they’ve been around long before smartphones were a thing, and in theory incumbents are more easily displaced as innovation spurs on. But, as was the case with Facebook, being a clear leader in field and benefitting by and large from revenue makes it improbable for YouTube to be sidestepped so easily, even in terms of mobile usage – as a result, the same October 2014 statistics show that the one in two YouTube views happen on mobile. And if there was any doubt left, my bet is that YouTube, if wanted, could easily export an audio-only version of its service and, as happened with Facebook Messenger in the case of Facebook, users would sooner or later accept the new service.
Going back to the initial point, YouTube seems to be, or to have become all about music. Sure, there are scores of YouTube stars that have amassed followings in the tens of millions and which generated important revenue – but it’s still only the case for English content creators. In the long term, does any type of specific video stand a chance to make an as lasting impact to how content is consumed as does music? Judging by the ratio of non-music videos reaching the 100 million mark, it’s a race against what seems to be the norm. Could, for example, a conference, or a TED talk, have a chance it reaching that mark over a weekend? In my opinion, the question that we need to ask is: do conferences, interviews, recorded workshops need video input to be better consumed?
We’re crowning video as the go-to type of content in the next half-a-decade or so, and this is clearly the case (although the timeframe of that affirmation will be diminished in practice). The attractiveness of visuals cannot be contested, and it has allowed other startups such as Snapchat to create a very strong userbase by capitalizing on the real-time impression that video leaves on our retina. But where audio loses, on attractiveness, it gains on an ability that no other type of content gives us, and one that is most desperately sought by more and more individuals nowadays: seamless multitasking. Audio content is the least engagement-intensive type of content existing today, and this is again shown by the number of people listening to music while doing their daily chores. Take out the portion of such chores that require us to be focused (i.e. working, learning) and we are left with an important class of activities during which we cannot – and should not – consume any type of visual content, but we may very well engage with audio, from working out to daily commute, from taking a shower to cooking.
My bet is that the future of content relies on audio, exactly because it’s consumer-intensive. TED talks may gain a strong following on YouTube and other video services, but will explode once more and more podcasts manage to step out of the dark. I have been listening to podcasts for less than a year – coincidentally when Serial became the first break-out hit of podcasting. And scratch even those numbers in CNN’s article: I remember receiving an e-mail from them earlier this year saying that they have had at least a listener per country, in each country of the world with two exceptions. Starting with Serial, I have been caught, day in-day out, by the sheer simplicity and usability of a podcast – listening to a tech news show or a bundle of TED talks while being at the carwash tunnel, or while driving actually, has provided me with an enriching experience.
So download a podcast listener of your choice, put your headphones on, and immerse in a world of hands-free, eyes-free and, even, attention-free content. Be ahead of the pack and bet on audio to make a truly lasting impact five years from now on.