YouTube Adds Ads: More Tube, Less You?

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When Google bought YouTube last year for (some very large integer) dollars, everybody knew it would be so totally worth it. Why? Ads! Put ads on those videos and charge for them, son! Step three: profit.

But where exactly would those ads go? Before the videos? After? Nobody quite seemed to know. The key to making YouTube work is that it feel like a community, and that the videos have a fan-created, or at least fan-owned, quality to them. Sure, somewhere in your hindbrain you know it’s suposed to be a business. But you don’t want to think about it. Except that ads make you think about it.

The answer is now upon us in the form of a little ribbon, a fifth the height of the video window, that will snake along the bottom of YouTube videos. The ribbon is semitransparent. It disappears after 10 seconds. It means you no harm, honest it doesn’t! But it does carry a paid advertising message, and if you click on it, you’ll watch a video ad. Your regularly scheduled video will resume after the ad. From the Associated Press story:

Shiva Rajaraman, product manager for YouTube, said internal tests show more than 70 percent of people give up when they see a pre-roll. By contrast, less than 10 percent decide to close an overlay, which they can exit by clicking on an “X” in a corner. The overlay format also gives advertisers more flexibility, he said, because they aren’t constrained to keeping a video ad at 15 or 30 seconds to avoid defection. Because a viewer chooses to watch, a video ad can run much longer – clicking on one test overlay launched a 2-minute trailer for “The Simpsons Movie.”

Fair enough, mister. Don’t know how users could ask for anything more. But it will undoubtedly change the experience of surfing YouTube — it’ll be much less like an alternative to TV, and much more like TV. Less grassroots, less hand-rolled. More Tube, less You.

Supposedly these ads will start running over YouTube’s corporate video partners first. (I wonder if they’ll eventually migrate to all videos? And will YouTube split revenue with Joe User? And will the ribbons be targeted with the same accidentally funny randomness that characterizes those Gmail print ads?) I have yet to spot one in the wild. Anybody?