Wolk’s Week in Review: How YouTube got on your TV, Cookies are so 2023

Wolk's Week In Review

1. How YouTube Got On Your TV

Whenever Nielsen’s monthly The Gauge ratings come out, the entire television industry likes to pretend that the first item on the list isn’t really there.

That would be YouTube and the fact that more people watch YouTube on their actual television set than watch Netflix or any other streaming service creates such a high level of cognitive dissonance that most simply tune it out.

Which they can only do for so long.

Google has been making noise for some time now that YouTube is really TV and that advertisers need to look at it as such.

The industry’s response—other than to ignore Google—has been to insist that “TV” is just long form content and that YouTube’s skippable ads are in no way the same thing as the (non-skippable) ads that run on linear and streaming TV.

They have a point, though only up until a point.

Because while it is easy to paint YouTube as the home of make-up tutorials and cat videos, the reality is a lot more complicated. There are full on TV series and movies on YouTube (and not just the illegal bootlegged ones with Portuguese subtitles.) There are also what we’ve been calling “Pro-Am” series, or “professional amateur” which are web series created by people who have done “real TV”, that last for around 15-20 minutes an episode and which, not infrequently, get picked up by a major media company and made into an actual series. (HBO’s High Maintenance being but one example.)

So there’s all that and it’s not going away, but it’s also worth looking into just how YouTube gets onto our TV sets.

Why it matters

Let’s start off with the obvious: it’s not all just people casting YouTube from their phones, though there is, no doubt, some of that. 

YouTube has managed to get its app on most smart TVs. Not the YouTube TV virtual MVPD app, but the actual YouTube app.

This, more than anything, seems to have pushed people to watch YouTube on their TV sets. 

It’s not the first time anyone’s tried it either. It’s just that in the early days of YouTube, the low res video that most people shot with their phones looked like crap on a TV set. But everything is in high res now. Which means that cooking tutorials, comedy videos and the like all look really good on a big screen TV. And that details which might be hard to see on a phone show up big and bold.

It’s not just the smart TV OEMs, however. 

The MVPDs have been pushing YouTube too. Comcast, Cox, Charter, Altice, Dish, DirecTV and Verizon all offer YouTube integrated into the set top box experience, with varying degrees of complexity.

Still, the fact that MVPDs have YouTube at all is notable, given its availability on streaming devices.

Several people I spoke to suggested that unlike Netflix, which they saw as a direct threat, the MPVDs saw YouTube as a value add—something they could offer their customers as a way of keeping them in the fold.

That sounds on target to me, though the “why” is not all that important. The fact that YouTube has multiple ways to end up on your TV is what’s important here, as is the fact that they are getting far more viewing hours than any of the subscription services touted as the future of television.

So the question remains though: is YouTube TV?

And the answer is that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

That’s not as big a cop-out as it may seem. As noted, there are actual TV shows and movies on YouTube and web series that feel a lot like TV. 

Though for anyone over 30, the rest of what is on there—the short comedy clips, the make-up tutorials, the travelogs—those all still feel like something else, something not quite TV.

Younger viewers? It’s hard to say. They may see it as all the same—video you watch on the big screen. Or they may see them as two different things, sort of how we read books and magazines but realize they are two different types of media.

What you need to do about it

If you are an advertiser, right now you need to put YouTube in its own special bucket. It’s not a 1:1 replacement for any sort of television, streaming or linear. But it’s also not social video. It is its own thing and that’s okay— clearly audiences like whatever it is. 

Just be aware that there's a broad-ranging array of content against which your ad might run. And that not all of it will be brand appropriate. And that until YouTube comes out with some stats on what exactly is being watched on TV and what’s being watched on a phone, you will need to keep that in mind. (It is also entirely possible that different people watch different types of YouTube content on TV and there is no “usual” but it would be good to know that too.) 

If you are Google, you need to accept that too—that YouTube is always going to be its own beast, and start embracing it. It does make it more difficult when your goal is to hoover up as many of those TV dollars as possible.

2. Cookies Are So 2023

Meanwhile, in another part of the Googleverse, plans are being made to do away with cookies.

And they mean it this time too. No head fakes. This is it cookies! And if you don’t believe it, there’s a test Google is running on around one percent of all Chrome users so they can figure out what that looks like.

To review, “cookies” are what brands use to retarget users elsewhere on the web. First-party cookies are what websites use to remember users so you don’t need to sign in every time you visit. Those are the benign cookies. The evil ones are the third-party cookies, the ones that, in their worst manifestation, allow a pair of shoes you once accidentally fat thumbed to follow you around the internet for weeks on end. What those third-party cookies do is allow someone to track you from one website to the next based on an action you’ve taken. They are, as you might expect, a privacy landmine (did users give consent to being tracked? Is their data being ill-used?) which is why Google is finally going to do away with them.

Why it matters

This kinda/sorta impacts the TV industry in that there are no cookies on TV. 

That said, the loss of cookies on digital means that all those millions that brands spend on digital targeting or retargeting may be up for grabs. Or at least a sizable portion of them.

The Wall Street Journal highlighted some of the problems in a rare cover story this week, which was filled with industry types arguing that this was all happening too fast and too soon, that no one was ready for it and that the only winner in this scenario would be (surprise!) Google.

To dig a little deeper here, Chrome, the Google browser that will be affected by all this, represents 65% of all web traffic—that’s double Apple’s Safari, its next competitor.

Safari and Firefox already have given up cookies and the prices of ads on those platforms have fallen. Though it’s unclear how much of that is just because advertisers are willing to pay more for those third party cookies on Chrome, or if prices will remain depressed across the board once Chrome goes cookie-less too.

But that is for the digital people to worry about.

TV has other issues with targeting and privacy.

There’s the fact that beyond geotargeting and a few very broad-based demos (“Men 18+”) there still isn’t a sizable enough audience to engage in digital-style targeting (or, to be more precise, Meta- and YouTube-style targeting) which is why contextual targeting is going to have a heyday this year.

Then there’s the impending replacement of IPV4 by IPV6, which will make any sort of IP-based targeting tremendously difficult and will force TV advertisers to rely on email addresses and other old school targeting techniques. 

Something else you will be hearing a lot about from us over the next year.

What you need to do about it

If you are an ad-supported streaming service and you want to grab some business from digital players, make sure you have your own privacy house in order.

If you are a digital player and you are going to complain about the loss of cookies, remember how frequently that technology was abused, how many times we’ve all been served up ads for products we just bought or didn’t want. Eventually, these things catch up to you.


Check out our 2024 Fearless Predictions

And this longer piece on how Amazon is going to shake up the industry next year.

Alan Wolk is co-founder and lead analyst at the consulting firm TV[R]EV. He is the author of the best-selling industry primer, Over The Top: How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry. Wolk frequently speaks about changes in the television industry, both at conferences and to anyone who’ll listen.

Week in Review is an opinion column. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of StreamTV Insider.