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Almost half of YouTube viewership happens on TV screens

The news: Nearly half (45%) of all YouTube viewership takes place on TVs, according to internal figures, up from below 30% in 2020. The fast growth has propelled YouTube from a digital-only platform often left out of the conversation of broader entertainment and TV advertising to a direct, major competitor with the world’s largest streaming services.

  • Time spent watching YouTube on TVs now exceeds any other individual network or streaming service, according to Nielsen data cited by The Information.

A TV powerhouse: YouTube’s viewership on TV screens likely increased as a result of pandemic lockdowns, but it’s far from a fad. The company has been making moves to capture a greater share of connected TV (CTV) audiences, and even before the pandemic, viewership was on the rise.

  • In March 2020, YouTube viewership on TV screens was up 80% from March 2019, and ad spend was similarly rising. Since then, YouTube has launched a number of quality-of-life features to make the viewing and search experience on TV screens easy, such as allowing the YouTube mobile app to be used as a remote.
  • Growth isn’t just being driven by YouTube TV, the company’s pay TV offering. In fact, the majority of TV user growth is coming from YouTube’s free, standard service.
  • User acquisition is extremely costly for streaming services, requiring spending on original content. But that’s an expense YouTube doesn’t have to spare since it’s a user-generated content platform.

Zero to hero: YouTube was often left out of the discussion by advertisers and analysts when comparing streaming services, but a notable change has happened this year. Advertisers expect to spend a larger share of their budgets on YouTube, both across its standard service and YouTube TV.

  • Though “standard” YouTube is the main driver of growth, even YouTube TV is attracting significant attention. YouTube recently spent a reported $14 billion to acquire the rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket, driving an enormous share of the country’s most-watched sport to YouTube TV (YouTube’s pricing makes the weekly game more expensive to view, but it’s cheaper if you subscribe to YouTube TV).
  • That’s a chunky purchase at a time when streamers are reeling in spending, but the cost is offset by YouTube’s massive overall advertising growth ($15.1 billion in 2019 to $29.2 billion in 2022) and the fact that advertisers are already paying to get on board.
  • YouTube TV was ranked second (48%) behind Hulu (74%) in an iSpot survey asking advertisers which platforms they planned to allocate spending to during upfront season. According to reporting from The Information, YouTube could land $7 billion in ad commitments during the upfront season.

Our take: It’s a tough time for streaming, but YouTube’s unique benefits like user-generated content make it exempt from the challenges competitors are facing like slower revenues and a major writers strike.

  • But while YouTube is soaring, its ever-growing share of TV ad spending may catch negative regulator attention. Its extreme price hike on NFL Sunday Ticket and already-huge share of the overall ad market could spark regulator inquiries.