Google's YouTube, the Web's most popular destination for watching video, is grappling with how to get viewers to spend ever more time on the site.
YouTube redesigned the service in December to help viewers find stuff they like. It also launched an effort to fund or boost 100 new and existing channels, in hopes of becoming an entertainment destination.
The redesign is paying off, the company says. Some 10 million more hours of video are watched daily on the site than before YouTube's makeover.
Today, some 6,000 producers, marketers and creators who make a living from YouTube will gather at industry conference VidCon and learn how to use the redesign to gain more viewers and revenue.
"We are much more centered on channels now," says Shishir Mehrotra, vice president of product for YouTube. "That's a big change for a site that had been centered on videos."
Even a user who has uploaded only one video to YouTube has a channel. And YouTube wants users to stock their channels with many videos, so that viewers will come back for more — and see the ads that accompany those videos.
The big push now is to get viewers to subscribe to those channels. That makes for more loyal viewers and gives Google the ability to use its algorithms to figure out what else they might like and push those videos to them.
But can a site that made its name on funny little clips of cats and dogs and music videos change its stripes?
Allen Weiner, an analyst at Gartner, thinks YouTube would be smarter to form a spin-off channel.
"Advertisers don't want to be in a place that doesn't have some level of curation," he says. "They want to see the garbage separated from the good stuff."
The site has created an economy all its own by paying anyone to produce content for it, with a generous split of the ad revenue. YouTube has so far been tight-lipped about how many producers were in its partner program. But today it will announce that it now has more than 1 million partners. "Thousands" of them are earning six figures or more a year, the company says.
YouTube's goal is to help creators juice up their channels as must-see online viewing. Many already have.
"Our top five channels would rank in the top list of cable channels," says Mehrotra.
The top 10 shows averaged from 4.7 million to 6.8 million viewers in the most recent basic cable ratings, Nielsen says.
Dane Boedigheimer's Annoying Orange, the high-pitched citrus that just landed a TV berth at the Cartoon Network, averages 3 million to 5 million views for its weekly videos. But Boedigheimer's five most-viewed videos have been watched 33 million to 50 million times.
Ray William Johnson, whose channel is the most-viewed on YouTube, has pulled in 10 million to 23 million views for his top five videos.
James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, says the redesign is a step in the right direction, but that YouTube still has a ways to go.
" If they program it right, the way TV works, you sit in front of a show and they tell you what's next. So far, that hasn't happened.
"With the redesign, they'll probably get another five minutes of viewing a day. They'd love to have more."