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Video Stars: How Advertisers Can Tune into the New Age of Music Video

Trends and Insight 168 Add to collection

YouTube’s Jonathan Tesfamariam talks to LBB’s Laura Swinton about why music video content is deeper, more diverse and data rich than ever

Video Stars: How Advertisers Can Tune into the New Age of Music Video
Music and video - like Liam and Noel or Simon and Garfunkel - are an iconic duo that’s seen rocky lows and transcendent high notes. From the heyday of Thriller and the explosion of MTV to the bleak days of the early and mid 2000s where music channels replaced music videos with reality TV. But over the past decade and a half, the music video has pulled itself out of the doldrums, and evolved into something that transcends the eye-catching pop promo designed to shift a few records, and that has fractured into multiple formats. It’s a way to connect fans with artists; it’s an album-length narrative short film; it’s a live streamed gig; it’s an exclusive award-show performance; it’s a fan-created reaction vid; and in many cases it’s a revenue generator in its own right. 

YouTube has been a significant driver behind this evolution. Its monetisation model means that music videos are no longer just a marketing tool for record labels and artists. Formats like YouTube Live and Shorts are creating new avenues for fan connection. And a wealth of data is helping artists and labels learn more about the audience and tailor their content.

But perhaps what’s even more exciting is the music-related content that comes not from the official channels, but from fans themselves. Reaction and lyric vids, dance or guitar tutorials, creative covers mean that, for fans, there are deep rabbit holes to explore.

It wasn’t always the case, though. YouTube was founded in 2005, and in the early days its relationship with music wasn’t so straightforward. Ad-funded monetization wasn’t a part of YouTube until 2008 and labels’ most pressing concern was copyright infringement. Therefore, in response, the platform was focused on developing tech that could identify and block.

However, the platform listened to the labels, developed monetization streams that means the music companies generate revenue both from official content and from fan-created content. In 2021, YouTube says it contributed $4bn to the music industry - and 30% of that came from non-official, user-generated video - and that number has continued to grow exponentially. Between July 2021 and June 2022, it contributed a whopping $6bn to the music industry, and again around 30% of that came from user generated content.. That has flipped attitudes right around, allowing music to flourish organically on YouTube.

“That’s evolved quite a lot - now we definitely see that audience insights and even just my own usage of YouTube,” reflects YouTube’s Jonathan Tesfamariam. “You may start with an official music video and then find yourself watching a bunch of reaction videos. Or, you know you’re going to see that artist’s show on the weekend so you go to YouTube just to remind yourself of the lyrics, so you’re watching a bunch of lyrics videos. That’s possible because of the fact that artists are no longer blocking other people from uploading versions of that song on YouTube.”

There are, says Jonathan, 80 million songs on YouTube - that’s up from 70 million in December 2021, to give you an idea of just how exponentially music content is flourishing - but in his day job as YouTube Music Content Sales Lead, he finds that brands and agencies often don’t understand quite how vast and deep YouTube’s music content is.

“I think it’s kind of under-appreciated. You kind of have to really remind them of the magnitude of music on YouTube, first and foremost, and then when compared to other art forms, the significant consumption and reach that we have on the platform,” he says. 

New formats on the platform also mean that fans can engage with music-related video content in a greater variety of ways. There are visual radio stations like the iconic Lofi Girl, the studious, looping anime with over 11 million subscribers and whose ‘lofi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to’ live stream hosts tens of thousands of viewers at any one time, and has spawned countless imitators. Another example is music festival, Tomorrowland, which has historically used YouTube as a place to share performances from its events and has, since January this year been hosting a 24/7 stream of EDM music to background visuals of festival footage.

On the flip side, YouTube Shorts, a TikTok-competitor vertical video format launched globally in July 2021. For musical acts, they present a new way of connecting more directly with fans, but for labels and artists used to presenting a more polished, filtered image they take a bit of getting used to - but according to Jonathan they’ve been proving a useful way to build hype ahead of new song or album launches for the likes of Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran,

“Where the longer form content would be the official music videos and performances, award show and other recordings of live performances, short allows them to essentially continue that connection with their subscribers and their fans in between all of that,” says Jonathan. 

“We’ve just done some analysis looking into when artists are both creating short content and longer form content. The watch time of their channel overall and the subscriber base is growing at a faster rate than when just committing to uploading long form. The ones that are getting ahead of the curve and really leaning into both formats are benefiting in terms of the appetite for both forms of content.” 

Data is also unlocking other surprising reveals, challenging some of the long-held assumptions of the music industry - and of advertisers looking to tap into music audiences.

“There’s this kind of old school notion of ‘premiumness’ when it comes to content. It  historically had been judged based on the quality of the production whereas actually what the audience care about is how relevant that content is to them. That’s why things like reaction videos are so popular now. It doesn’t matter that it’s not HD content. It’s ‘a song has just been uploaded to YouTube and it’s doing amazingly well - how do we capitalise on that’,” says Jonathan.

Where data is helping brands navigate the music space is in understanding audiences’ rich and overlapping interests and passions.

“Sometimes brands can be a bit linear in terms of ‘this is what we are as a brand and these are the products that we sell, therefore this is our audience, this is what they’re consuming,” says Jonathan.

As an illustration, he turns to an audience the team calls ‘Beauty Mavens’, people who love fashion, beauty and self-care. The obvious placement for beauty brands may be makeup tutorials or beauty unboxing videos… but the Beauty Mavens, like all of us, are into more than one thing. And one of the things they love is hip hop and rap.

“The assumption is that when they’re on YouTube they’re exclusively watching beauty content. Using our data, we were able to show that category of brands that their audience is also watching rap and hip hop music, and the likes of Lizzo and Cardi B. They have a high affinity to that audience,” says Jonathan, “It’s just opening up their minds to exactly what YouTube is to that audience and therefore what it should be to that brand if they want to connect with their target audience when they’re really connecting with content, when they’re leaned in and highly engaged.”

Another significant misconception limiting brands’ ability to connect with their desired audiences has been a narrow-minded view of certain music genres, an attitude which also limits the diversity of the audiences they reach and artists they support. In the past, some brands had implemented blanket brands against genres like rap and hip hop, drill and grime - meaning that they were missing out on the most viewed music video content on the platform. Last year, six of the top ten most watched music videos on YouTube were rap and hip hop, and the number one song, Body by Russ Millions and Tion Wayne was the first drill track to reach number one in the traditional charts and YouTube charts. It sits on the GRM Daily channel, with over 5.5 million subscribers and five billion views, it has become a go-to channel for people looking to find the hot new grime and drill artists. 

However, YouTube has been investing in developing tech and policies that benefit both artists and advertisers.

“We’ve done a lot of work to listen to advertisers and be a lot more rigorous in terms of the policies and guidelines that we have to ensure the content on the platform meets certain guidelines and policies. And then there’s an additional layer when it comes to monetization. So we want creators on the platforms to thrive both financially as well as the watch time and viewership and fan base - but they have to do it in a responsible way,” says Jonathan.

“We have the technology to be able to identify specific channels and videos that infringe our policies as opposed to having this blanket exclusion of all that content, which is not what we want. We want creators to be rewarded for great content.”

As YouTube cracks this conundrum, it continues to dismantle the boundaries and gatekeeping surrounding music video and music-related content. The traditional music video was very much a limited format - limited in length (notable epic exceptions aside), but also limited in terms of the genres and artists audiences could watch. As Jonathan points out, some of the most popular genres are Afrobeats and K-Pop - a far cry from the days when viewers had to rely on music channels’ curation, when you couldn’t move for wall-to-wall Britney and Backstreet Boys.

“Back in the day, with TV and radio, there were restrictions in play in terms of video and also what we would call gatekeeping in terms of what music was then exposed to the masses through mainstream TV channels and radio channels. Whereas YouTube is very open. It’s very democratic,” says Jonathan, before reflecting, “the gatekeeper now, or the commissioner, is the audience. They get to decide what becomes popular based on what they decide to watch.”

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Categories: Online Media, Media and Entertainment

LBB Editorial, Tue, 20 Sep 2022 07:00:00 GMT