Back in November, YouTube launched a new channel-driven experience for logged-in users. This experience encourages users to subscribe and provides a feed-like experience when logged in. Ultimately YouTube is looking to build audiences. Not only do engaged audiences attract advertisers (at higher rates), but they create brand loyalty to specific channels. The long-term goal here is to be a real alternative to television, not a source for cat videos. (Unless you make a stream of incredible cat videos, of course!)
Given that goal, YouTube’s algorithms have also begun to change. The emphasis is coming off of overall plays (and we’ve all seen how those can change) while giving more importance to other factors. Combined subscribership, overall minutes watched, and number of videos watched were given additional weight over the last few months, and as a result traffic patterns have changed. Videos that may once have been holed off in the dregs of page 10 in search results and never popped up in suggested videos are suddenly trumping videos with more views or prominence.
The next step in this plan is to change the channel experience; this is where One Channel comes in. If you want to increase subscribers and float more engaging content to the top, a good place to start is providing an equitable experience across all platforms. The current landscape sees a desktop version, a differing mobile experience, and a plethora of app designs on diverse platforms ranging from tablets to Xbox.
One Channel addresses this by creating a layout which lives on the web and responds to the device upon which it’s being viewed. I wouldn’t call this a classic example of responsive design, but it does take it in another direction. In large part, the design works by basing all the visuals around a large image suitable for television viewing. When used in the other contexts, like mobile, tablet, or internet-connected television, the design crops the image used. Desktop has a large banner, with mobile and tablet having smaller versions. This experience prepares us as well for the change of the landscape as more internet-connected televisions come to market and more people watch YouTube through their television set.
All other content has shifted to side columns and what YouTube calls shelves. To the right is space to promote various sidebar items that were further down in the old design (like featured channels). At the left the user sees their subscriptions. In the middle are the new shelves. While The Orchard did get an early chance to use One Channel, I don’t yet have any best-practices recommendations for using these shelves. There’s an assorted number of features including activity, recent uploads, playlists… similar to what exists in the old layout, but seemingly more impactful. You can see a channel we’ve been experimenting with in our new metal property: Infernal Racket.
One feature of the shelves I do know will have future importance is the welcome video. Non-subscribed visitors will get this video when they visit a channel and we’re already seeing folks from Geek & Sundry and iJustine to MysteryGuitarMan using these to promote more depth of content on their channels. Once subscribed, your visitors (now subscribers) won’t have to see this video anymore and can see a feature of your choosing. There are a wealth of examples already on how to use shelves. So far my favourite includes DeStorm’s.
While I’m personally (and professionally) excited about these changes and how we might inventively use them going forward, I’m sure just like any change there will be complaints. In particular, the loss of image maps in headers on channels will likely be a big source of pain for many users, particularly artists and labels used to using this space to link to music and tickets for purchase. Some of this functionality has moved; in fact you’ll notice links have now been moved from below the ‘about’ section to a nice set of overlays on the header of the desktop version of the site. I also feel the real estate that now exists takes over where a lot of those links left off, making the channel functionally more robust.
Expect to be able to opt-in yourselves in coming weeks. As always I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments.
Update: You can now opt-in to the new One Channel layout! Here’s a One Sheet to help you get started.