Google's Senior Vice President for YouTube and Video, Salar Kamangar, discussed the new direction the video provider is taking in 2012 at Dive into Media today: channels. He couched his comments by describing how YouTube can add additional "dimensions" to the experience of watching video (up to six of them, apparently). One dimension of watching YouTube that has been lacking is the "lean-back" experience. To solve that, YouTube is ramping up channels. The "channelization" is coming in two ways: YouTube is helping content partners create video content on the creation side and YouTube is presenting related content in curated channels on the user side.
To the first, YouTube is providing money for content creators instead of making partnerships to get existing television content. Kamangar claims putting traditional TV shows on YouTube would be analogous to putting radio on television, taking a "one-way experience and putting it on a platform that goes two ways." That seems like a handy excuse for not having to deal with the thorny issues that Hulu faces, but one of the obvious themes at the conference today is that Google is having a difficult time closing deals with media companies.
As for end users, Kamangar hopes that users will pick and choose favorite YouTube channels the same way that they pick and choose their favorite television channels, Twitter accounts, and blogs. The idea is to prevent users from having to jump from video to video but instead "lean back" and watch videos around a single topic. Kamangar points out that in the traditional YouTube experience, "you have to decide what do I care about and what do I want to watch every 3 minutes." The content will be "more niche [and] more interactive," and presumably more professional than standard YouTube far but much less costly to create than standard television. "We think that's going to increase minutes watched, we think that's going to improve the experience," said Kamangar.
Giving users a more television-like experience is all well and good, but YouTube and Google need to pay attention to its actual paying customers: advertisers. In that context, Kamangar says that YouTube's top channels can rank with the top cable channels in terms of total audience (but not total minutes spent watching). While watching a single video can command around $2CPM from advertisers, watching that same video in a curated content channel apparently can command ten times that, as channel-watchers are much more valuable eyeballs than random video surfers. Not coincidentally, YouTube is focusing on getting more in-video ads instead of text ads, which are more likely to be accepted by a video watcher in the context of a full channel.
Of course, the number one place to "lean back" and watch video is the living room couch, and in that room Google is not faring very well at all, if Google TV is any indication. Kamangar believes it's important to be in the living room battle with Android and expects to see more apps from cable companies for platforms like Google TV. YouTube's channels and half-hearted attempts to revive Google TV both still look like preliminary efforts for Google, who is clearly more comfortable with search and aggregation than it is with making studio deals. 2012 could be the year that Google finally puts its beta attitude behind it when it comes to media distribution, but it's not at all a sure thing yet.
Disclosure: SB Nation, our sister site, is one of YouTube's content partners.