YouTube ‘time watched’ search algorithm update unmasks original programming bias


There’s been evidence that YouTube is evolving its suggestion algorithm to take time watched into account, and today the platform has made it  official. YouTube has updated its search algorithm to rank videos based on the amount of time watched, indicating its focus on engagement. While this should offer viewers content that we’re (hypothetically) more likely to spend time watching, it could adversely affect content creators.

The move comes just after YouTube released an update that displays metrics in YouTube Analytics of the time that viewers have spent watching a video. 

In the YouTube blog post discussing the evolution of YouTube, Eric Meyerson, head of content partner marketing communications at YouTube, made YouTube’s dreams of taking over the living room quite clear. “YouTube viewers watch a lot of video – over 4 billion hours a month at last count. But the average household also watches several hours of video per day on their TVs. So for YouTube to become the most important media in more people’s lives, we’ve got a lot of growing to do.”

YouTube’s interest in original programming is common knowledge. The video sharing platform wants to compete with television, which is a huge challenge. The average television owner watches TV for approximately a fifth of their day, so to remain competitive YouTube realized that it needs to invest in quality programming – shows that will make you return week after week.

YouTube recently announced over 60 new channels that it’s invested some $200 million. Its 100 existing channels that were a part of the $100 million initiative from last year await their fate as their first-year contract with YouTube expires shortly. Those channels that haven’t met YouTube’s expectations will be axed.

Until today we haven’t witnessed YouTube “taking sides” between the two types of creators that are publishing content to YouTube. As we’ve discussed earlier, there would be backlash from some of the very content creators that helped grow the community to where it stands today. But it appears that YouTube is cautiously hinting its favoritism for original programming. Original programming content or an episodic show spans anywhere between five and 15 minutes or even longer. Short form content on the other hand is anything shorter than three minutes. With that in mind, original programming has a greater chance of ranking higher in YouTube’s search engine given the new algorithm.

We reached out to a YouTube spokesperson to confirm that it was time spent that would factor into the algorithm and not the ratio of time spent. The spokesperson verified with Digital Trends that the algorithm will in fact take into account the amount of time spent watching a video.

These changes will also eventually diminish the chances that aspiring YouTubers (and even existing ones) can get a jump start on their Internet video career, knowing that the bulk of views come from YouTube recommendations.