The VOD generation: why video platforms are beating traditional TV for relevance

Massive survey of 10,000 Brits reveals that YouTube, TIkTok and Netflix are doing a better job at relevance, inclusion and access to ‘hard to reach’ audiences, than traditional TV counterparts.

More than seven in 10 consumers feel that on average, the UK’s most prolific media ‘brands’ or platforms are performing well when it comes to fostering a sense of inclusion with their content.

But what is evident is that linear TV is struggling to match perceptions of diversity in content, and allowing viewers to dig deep into what interests them compared to streaming or digital counterparts.

Almost eight in 10 of respondents told the survey that they could find content that was relevant to them personally on YouTube, with Netflix and TikTok slightly behind at 77% and 74% respectively. By contrast, just 61% agreed with this statement concerning the BBC, along with 56% for Channel 4 and 55% for ITV. Social media platforms Twitter and Facebook were also lower down the relevance scale, at 60% and 50% respectively.

So does this mean that the ‘democracy’ of channels such as YouTube offers performance marketers the opportunity to perhaps ‘go out to’ traditionally harder to reach audiences, given that with these once niche mediums turning mainstream, output from all walks of content creator life have a level-playing field when it comes to distribution and revenue generations.

Representation and ‘cultural fluency’

The Mirrors and Windows report from Google Insights UK and MTM, launched at this week’s YouTube Festival in London, features a survey of more than 10,000 UK citizens alongside interviews of media advertising representatives and secondary research.

As part of the survey, participants were asked about the performance of 10 UK media brands – YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC, Channel 4 and ITV – when it came to fostering a sense of inclusion.

Across all 10 brands, the average that agreed UK media represents a wide range of voices, people and perspectives was 71%, while 75% agreed that UK media showcased content that came from the globe. But there was definite room for improvement, according to these content consumers.

Just over four in 10 of those surveyed said they felt young people were well represented in UK media, compared to 29% agreeing the same for older people. Only 38% felt that ‘working class’ audiences were well represented, while only 35% felt the same for Asian audiences and 32% for people with a disability.

The report found not only anxiety about inequality and discrimination – but notable concern for making a misstep in speaking about it for fear of “saying the wrong thing”.

While across the board more than 8 in 10 of those surveyed revealed they were concerned about inequality or discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics like gender, sexuality, disability and religion, thiis was more prevalent across younger age groups among the survey’s respondents, and across those who identified as black, Asian or mixed/multiple ethnicities compared to their white peers.

However, when asked if they felt they couldn’t express their real opinion for fear of being labelled racist or sexist, 62% of those with a disability said they agreed, alongside 62% of men in the survey, 65% of respondents aged 55 or above, and 59% who identified as heterosexual.

The report concludes that the UK public will continue to challenge perceptions of identity. Coining the phrase ‘cultural fluency’ – familiarity with cultures and the ability to communicate in different contexts – interviews with advertisers and agencies revealed that open platforms (YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, to name a few) were “important democratising forces that remove barriers to content creation, ensuring more authentic diversity behind the camera.

Identifying ‘me’

Google’s Senior Director, Marketing, UK Nishma Patel Robb points to a lot of media practices leaning on “quite dated means of segmentation” and how the sense of “profiling with a lot of media who conform to broader tastes” will not necessarily serve the needs of the audience marketers are trying to reach – with ads or content.

And those advertising representatives interviewed as part of the research highlighted similar concerns – with many fearful of “a simplistic approach to representation and relying upon reductive stereotypes”.

Some spoke about a lack of consideration for dimensions of ‘identity’ such as socio-economic diversity, people with disabilities or religion, and others pointed to a need for more considerations on the role of shared value for determining identity and media choices. “The interest-led piece is really critical. When you’re looking at how you invest into advertising and reaching those audiences on YouTube, there’s a lot more flexibility in how you purchase and how you talk about the curation of content,” Patel Robb said.

“Rather than necessarily tracking ‘me’ as an individual, it's actually tracking interest and likes. You don't want functions about individuals, but you can make assumptions about content and interest. And it's the surprising ‘interest neighbours’ that I think is really brilliant.”

“It’s about interest profiling, which is a much more modern way of thinking of marketing than something that was more demographic- led, almost autocratic in some respects how we’re bundled and pushed into that way.”

Almost eight in 10 (79%) of the consumers surveyed said that they had unique content they couldn’t find anywhere else. But in relation to the profiling of interest, while broad audience appeal is clearly importance, the research also showed that those YouTube videos with fewer views often had the highest level of “personal meaning” to their viewers. Across videos with fewer than 10,000 views, 15% were said to have a high level of personal meaning to their viewers, compared to 7% of videos with more than 500,000 views.

Patel Robb said: “There is a lot more fragmentation and change in the media marketplace. I think it's just having a deeper understanding that goes beyond reach. Reach is significant and important. But what is reach and where is the attention and what happens? I think that's critical when you look at understanding the diversity of creators and how that connects with modern, diverse Britain.”

YouTube: The creative entrepreneur – and why brands pay attention

Also launching at the YouTube Festival was Oxford Economics’ ‘The State of the Creator Economy’ report, looking at the contribution of YouTube to the economy and society, alongside the opportunities the channel presents for content creators and businesses in terms of audience growth, engagement, and even sales.

The research concluded that YouTube’s creative ‘ecosystem’ contributed more than £1.4bn to UK GDP in 2021, while at the same time creating more than 40,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs.

YouTube in numbers

Key stats from Oxford Economics’ research ‘The State of The Creator Economy’

£1.4bn – contribution to UK GDP in 2021

40,000 – full-time equivalent jobs created in the UK by YouTube’s ‘creative ecosystem’

75% – of UK small to medium businesses with a YouTube channel agreed that YouTube helped grow their customer base by reaching new audiences

87% – of creative entrepreneurs agree that YouTube helps them export their content to international audiences they wouldn't otherwise have access to

The evidence of the creative entrepreneur also arose from the findings – it’s not hard to make a leap from the opening up of opportunity for creating content to the creation of opportunity for brands to reach wider audiences with more targeted interests.

Eight in 10 creative entrepreneurs agree that YouTube provides an opportunity to create content and earn money that they wouldn't get from traditional media, while 68% of creative entrepreneurs said the revenue they receive from advertisements being placed on their YouTube content is an important source of income for them.

Small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) agree, according to the findings, as 68% of SMBs with a YouTube channel agree that YouTube played a role in helping them grow their revenue, and three-quarters cited YouTube as playing a role in growing their customer base by reaching new audiences.

YouTube ‘TV’

It’s perhaps not a surprise that YouTube has come a long way from a mobile/tablet only medium watched for ‘lolz’ to a content ‘channel’ in its own right. In fact, the growth of people viewing on YouTube on TV is such that it now reaches 30 million people on connected TV in the UK.

“It is the mainstream, it is the TV we watch, it’s not something that’s on the phone or the laptop, it’s on the big screen as well” said Patel Robb. “I think that connected TV points at behaviour and usage of YouTube in that very mainstream sense, and the breadth of content; it moves from bite sized information to documentaries.”