Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) YouTube remains the undisputed leader in the realm of clip culture, but it appears to be on the wrong side of the velvet rope when trendiness is the bouncer. The vast majority of the videos making news these days -- including horrific but brutally relevant live broadcasts -- are taking place on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and to a lesser extent Twitter's (NYSE:TWTR) Periscope.
- The birth of "Chewbacca Mom" took place on Facebook Live in May when Candace Payne began laughing uncontrollably after trying on a Chewbacca mask. She went on to appear on talk shows and was bestowed with a ton of gifts and prizes along the way.
- The tragic aftermath of the police shooting of Philando Castile was captured by his girlfriend on Facebook Live, and the graphic video has now been viewed more than 5.7 million times.
- The arrest of Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson during a protest was broadcast live to his Periscope account.
The one common thread is that these events were being streamed live, even if they reached substantially larger audiences as archived clips on Facebook and Twitter. Alphabet's YouTube is still the platform of choice for video dissemination. It's where music videos, funny kitten clips, and aspiring web series creators park their hats. YouTube also has a live broadcasting platform, but it's been limited mostly to vloggers -- that's video bloggers, for those not down with the genre's lingo -- and more sensational one-time events.
Ease of access is the secret sauce
Alphabet points out that the ability to beam videos live through YouTube has been around since 2011, long before the birth of Periscope or Facebook Live. It was on YouTube where millions of people streamed the Royal Wedding in 2011 and the Felix Baumgartner leap from space a year later. Earlier this year 21 million people tuned in to catch a 360-degree live-stream during Coachella. These are significant events, but the reason why news-generating violence outbreaks or the next Chewbacca Mom aren't happening on YouTube is simply ease of access.
YouTube's platform to stream live has been limited to PC and laptop usage. It hasn't been a feature on the YouTube app, making it a challenge for mobile access. Chewbacca Mom could've recorded her video and eventually posted it on YouTube, but it was just so much easier to fire up Facebook and broadcast immediately. Periscope was an early player in live-streaming on mobile devices, and while it doesn't benefit from Facebook's 1.65 billion monthly active users, it's still a pioneer.
Alphabet wants to change that. It announced late last month that it will begin incorporating the ability to stream live within its smartphone app, and that functionality is now rolling out across app updates. Is YouTube too late? Until Facebook and Twitter figure out how monetize the process for its content creators YouTube still has a chance.
Show me the money
Payne, aka Chewbacca Mom, has generated more than 159 million views for her now famous mask-donning clip in less than two months. There are no ads on the video, and certainly not any that she can profit from directly. Unlike YouTube, which has a partnership program where those updating original video can get the lion's share of an ad revenue split with Alphabet, Facebook and Periscope users with viral videos need to find other ways to cash in on their overnight success.
This naturally gives YouTube a big advantage. If Payne had uploaded her video to YouTube and generated the same amount of views monetized through the site's AdSense program, she would have amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The flip side here -- and this is important -- is that the video probably would have fallen well short of that mark in terms of views. Folks would have clicked out of the video to avoid ads. The marketing would've gotten in the way of the whimsy. It's also far easier to share a Facebook video through Facebook than it is to pass along a YouTube or Periscope clip through Facebook, which has 1 billion daily active users.
There's also something to be said about sharing something immediately with your friends, without expectations for viral fame. I finally streamed my first Facebook Live clip earlier this month. It was the Fourth of July parade in Celebration, Fla. I had a choice. I've had a channel in YouTube's revenue-sharing partnership program since 2009. However, between the fear that I would generate a copyright strike for any music played by the parade's participants and the desire to reach my friends and family on Facebook right away I went with the leading social networking site.
It won't always be that way, but right now Facebook has the seamless integration with its sticky platform that will continue to make it the place where news breaks. If Facebook or Twitter's Periscope can drum up a way to reward its most magnetic content creators similar to the YouTube Partners program it could be "game over" for Alphabet in this booming niche. Until that happens, YouTube has a lot of ground to make up. Thankfully it has the monetization ammo to giving it a decent shot to make that happen.