Is YouTube making a big mistake with ads in the middle of their videos?

YouTube is a free commercial entertainment platform, and like any other online free service they make money by displaying ads. And it’s not just the company itself, but talented and hard-working content creators who profit from this system. Watching a few seconds of ads before a video is, in my mind, an acceptable trade-off to be able to watch some pretty unique and interesting content.

But lately the ads have been moving from the beginning of a video to the middle of it. And I’m wondering if this is a mistake by YouTube. Sure, YouTube is making money this way, but what about the advertisers and content creators? Are they better of with ads in the middle of videos?

Of course, interupting content to display ads is nothing new – it’s how television has operated for decades. But there is a distinct difference in how it’s being done. On TV, ads are usually presented at standardized intervals. And they usually aren’t a surprise. Dramatic TV-shows are edited to create a natural break for ads, and other shows have narrators or presenters informing the audience that “we’ll be right back after these messages”. Most of us are aware of the oncoming ads long before they appear on screen, being in the bathroom or making a cup of coffee long before the first fast-food commercial is shown.

But there is no such natural breaks or smooth transitions to ads on YouTube. The commercials pop ut on screen more abruptly than a monster in a horror movie. They often start playing while the narrator or presenter in the video is in mid-sentence. They are abrupt and sudden breaks in the content you’re enjoying. And while YouTube makes money this way, I’m starting to wonder if the content creators and advertising companies are better off not having ads in the middle of any videos.

In behavioral psychology the term “negative punishment” refers to the removal of a positive stimulus, like a child having his toy taken away as punishment for a behavior. On YouTube, enjoying a video is a positive stimulus that is abruptly taken away by ads. In such a situation it’s easy for the human mind to make a connection between this punishment and the ad itself, or even the video.

This is part speculation on my part, but being an avid YouTube-watcher I’m starting to feel the effects of these ads. Certain companies, who’s ads have been shown frequently to me in this way, have been associated with something negative in my mind – including companies and products that I’m generally positive to. And while I haven’t experienced it myself, I’m wondering if the presenters in the videos I watch could end up suffering the same fate.

I don’t know how much thought YouTube has put into this business model beyond the idea of presenting more ads to earn more money. And to be clear: I’m not opposed to ads on YouTube – the company and it’s content creators have to make money somehow. But the advertisers who pay good money to have their ads shown should be confident that their ads are placed in such a way that they have the best effect. And content creators should be confident that the integrity of their productions aren’t affected negatively. Not to mention that there might be a point where the audience feels overrun with ads and start loosing interest in the platform – at which point everyone looses.

 

YouTube image by Esther Vargas

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