As an independent consultant, I am involved in a number of projects for setting up either partner or brand channels on YouTube. The most frequently asked question I get from brand or content owners is: "How does a YouTube brand channel help me in getting more traffic on my site?"
Although one can argue on the necessity of that requirement in a distributed world, so far, the way Google sells brand channels does not help much in answering that question.
Google offers two channel-flavors on YouTube: user channel
|Function/feature||User channels||Brand channels||Partner channels|
|Channel banner||No||Yes, 960x150||Yes, 960x150|
|Background image||Max 256kB||Unlimited/self-hosted||Unlimited/self-hosted|
|Autoplay featured video||No||Yes||Yes|
|Watch page banner||No||Yes, 300x45||Yes, 300x45|
|More from [name] box expanded (on watch page)||No||Yes||Yes|
|Custom channel gadgets||No||Yes, 2 max, self-hosted*||No|
* Only for customised and contest brand channels
** Except around copyrighted material
Not all content is monetized equally
Google does not monetize all content on YouTube. In fact, as co-author Christopher Rick estimated earlier in a post on this site, it may be anywhere between 3-15% of all views on the site. By default, user channel content is not monetized by showing ads. This effectively busts the myth that advertisers do not want to be associated with the UCG-content on YouTube — simply put, they won't. One exception applies, though: if users use copyrighted materials in their videos (i.e. use copyrighted music, or upload film trailers), don't be surprised if ads start to appear (see Youtube's Content ID Program).
Content from partner channels is a key source of income for Google (aside from AdWords revenues around YouTube search results and promoted videos). The basis of this is the partnership agreement that Google signs with parties who have interesting content that Google wants to sell ads against. Partners can be both professional media companies (e.g. CBS, SonyBMG, NBA), but also successful YouTube original stars of the likes of Fred
Ads placed around partner content comes from advertisers, mainly bought to drive traffic back to their own site. So where does that leave YouTube's brand channels? Google offers those to advertisers who are willing to commit media to YouTube and other sites within the Google Content Network. Advertisers can choose from either a standard, customized or contest, with accompanying incremental media investments (these may vary by country). The ads, however, do not link back to the advertiser's site, but are required to drive traffic to the YouTube brand channel. This media investment is required to kick-start the channel. However, with average click-through ratios currently hoovering around 0.2%, brands should not expect masses of traffic on their channel from the ads alone. In fact, the real reason for having a YouTube brand channel in the first place, should have to do with that thing YouTube excels in — having video content that people want to see & share. The extra design and functional features of a brand channel compared to a user channel are nonetheless worthwhile for brand owners: it provides a more professional image (design benefits) and leads to additional video views (functional benefits).
Think traffic or "Think distributed"
Whether or not a YouTube brand channel is the right choice for an advertiser first and foremost depends on the amount and quality of video content an advertiser has. No point being on YouTube if ya ain't got a decent thing to show. Although brand channels can be bought as part of a major campaign blitz (see this example from Sony Bravia in Motion with multiple channels;
Aside from the additional design advantages on the channel, having the "More from this channel"-box expanded by default on YouTube's watch page helps in generating additional views. Being on YouTube is like eating a bag of chips — you can't just eat one.
Therefore, brand advertisers should learn to "think distributed" (be wherever the audience is) rather than "think traffic" (create traffic towards your own site). Author and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis agrees with me:
In fact, with customized brand channels, marketers can extend much of their own site towards YouTube by using custom channel gadgets. Using either flash or HTML/Ajax, they can integrate much website content and functionality within the YouTube gadget. Nonetheless, every site has its purpose. YouTube probably is more suited for reaching audiences and engaging viewers than converting them to devoted buyers. So, ideally, YouTube would fill in all of the stages of the Reach-Attract-Engage-Convert-Support (RAECS) model. Unfortunately, advertisers are only able to drive traffic back to their site from their brand channel, not from their own video content on YouTube's watchpage (except the http-link in the video description). Video content from advertisers is not directly monetized by Google — only content from YouTube partners. Currently, there is no possibility to buy ad positions on YouTube exclusively against your own content.
In other words, using a brand channel to upload, say, a travel destination videos and then convert users to the brand's own site where the transaction takes place. Surely advertisers can enable advertising by signing a partnership agreement with Google, but that effectively opens up their video content for competitors (or any other advertiser). Engaging viewers with a travel destination video and then having them buy the trip through one of your competitors is NOT a good way of video marketing on YouTube...
The RAECS model, showing the strengths of building reach and engagement through YouTube and sales on the brand site.
YouTube as a trade marketing tool
Some brands are not primarily interested in driving traffic towards their own site, but rather to those of their trade marketing partners. For example, an electronics manufacturer may have a vested interest in showing off a new product through a brand channel on YouTube and then driving traffic to carefully selected e-tailing partners that sell the product. Imagine in-video ads appearing in the third-quartile or companion ads on YouTube's watchpage. Such positions can then be bought centrally via the brand channel owner (YouTube then becomes a trade marketing tool), or decentrally through AdWords (a tightly controlled auction). Key difference with a partner channel is that the advertiser controls who can and cannot advertise around its video content.
Additional steady revenue stream
Assuming Google is hungry for more ways to monetize YouTube, adjusting its back-end to enable brand channel owners to buy ad positions on their own content makes sense. The views are there, ready to be monetized. Based on current data from YouTube's most popular brand channels, video views run between 1.5m and 21.9m views. Much like Google AdWords, this could be a steady revenue stream for Google, as advertisers will be compelled to buy such positions as their own content continues to generate views.