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YouTube algorithm change will reward teasers

Coming up in a few paragraphs, news of a change to YouTube’s algorithm which will rank videos by time watched rather than the number of views.

But first, put yourself in the scruffy tennis shoes of the cable TV producer.

You have sixty minutes of air to fill, a handful of fleetingly dramatic home video footage and a host of fickle viewers with their fingers hovering over the remote control.

It’s time to tease.

Few words will better ensure viewers don’t go changing than, “After the break… crazed monkeys terrorise a neighbourhood.” Throw in some promising footage of a baboon loitering with intent and the cameraman’s frightened cry of “GET IN THE HOUSE!!” and you might just keep them on the hook ‘til the end of “When Animals Fight Back”, at which point it doesn’t matter that the footage doesn’t get any better than what you’ve already shown.

The tease has been frustrating fans of weird television for years and now, thanks to YouTube’s fiddling, we can all look forward to something similar.

YouTube’s decision is, on the face of it, completely understandable. You’d have to have your black hat jammed firmly over your eyes not to have noticed the push to reward quality content.

Quality website content makes for a better user experience and, not happy with people watching 4 billion hours of video a month on their site, YouTube has identified time viewed – analogous to viewer retention/bounce rate – as a far more reliable metric for quality than the number of people who have clicked on a link.

Here’s what YouTube themselves had to say:

“We’ve started adjusting the ranking of videos in YouTube search to reward engaging videos that keep viewers watching… The experimental results of this change have proven positive — less clicking, more watching. We expect the amount of time viewers spend watching videos from search and across the site to increase.  As with previous optimisations to our discovery features, this should benefit your channel if your videos drive more viewing time across YouTube.”

It should certainly put an end to outrageously mistitled videos, and the “sophisticated” use of semi-naked women on video thumbnails to lure viewers. It should also reward people who make great content.

But from Tipp Ex’s bear hunting masterpiece to double rainbows, it’s hardly as if great content was harshly treated under the old system.

The other type of content that will be rewarded is the kind that can string along viewers for as long as possible, keeping them interested with the promise of a big reveal, and that will only lead to a much poorer viewer experience.

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