After months of experimenting with long-form video, YouTube said on Friday it would start offering full-length episodes of some television shows on its sprawling Web site.
The staggering growth of YouTube – five billion videos were viewed there in July – has come primarily from short videos that last only a few minutes. But Internet users are gradually becoming more comfortable watching longer videos online, prompting YouTube’s commitment to the format.
“This is what the users want,” said Jordan Hoffner, the director of content partnerships for YouTube.
With the addition of TV series like “Dexter,” “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Star Trek” through a deal with CBS, YouTube is catching up to other Web sites that have promoted long-form video for some time.
Most important for YouTube’s owner, Google, the longer videos will include advertising before, during and after each episode. Google is under pressure to raise more revenue from the nearly four-year-old video sharing site.
The founders of YouTube had resisted so-called preroll, midroll and postroll advertising on short videos for fears that it would alienate users. (Sitting through a 15-second advertisement to watch a 45-second clip is hardly appealing.) But the video ads are now standard on the full-length video sections of network television Web sites.
Shiva Rajaraman, a senior product manager for YouTube, said the company was trying to match the “the right ad format for the right content experience.” For short videos, the company is “very much committed” to in-video overlays, he said. The overlays resemble the banner advertisements that sometimes appear on the bottom of videos.
Short-form videos remain the most popular type online. The measurement firm ComScore reports that the average duration of an online video was 2.9 minutes as of July, the most recent month with data. But the attention spans of viewers are getting (at least slightly) longer: one year ago the average duration of a video was 2.6 minutes.
YouTube’s 10-minute limit on video length has steadily eroded as the site has hosted college lectures, documentary films and promotional episodes of HBO and Showtime series in the last year.
On the CBS page on YouTube, classic TV shows like “MacGyver” are joined by “Dexter” and “Californication,” two series that appear on Showtime, a cable channel subsidiary of CBS. The company is selling its own advertising inventory for the series being shown on YouTube; the two entities will share the revenue.
Copyright concerns linger for some major media companies. CBS’s sister company Viacom – both are controlled by Sumner M. Redstone and his family – is pursuing a $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube and Google over copyright infringement.
As YouTube tries to add TV content, it faces competition, particularly from Hulu, the joint venture between the News Corporation and NBC Universal.
Hulu now reports more than 100 million video streams a month. But that pales in comparison to YouTube. Its five billion video views, as reported by ComScore, represent 44 percent of all online video consumption in the United States.
Earlier this week YouTube added “theater view,” a larger video player for longer content.
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