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Thursday, December 6, 2012

YouTube Tries to Become More Like TV

At the end of the day, many of us flop on the couch and turn on the TV to channel surf. But if YouTube has its way, more of us will be channel surfing the online video service instead.

A majority of YouTube visits happen because someone clicks on a link from a friend or searches for a certain video. YouTube is trying to encourage casual users to use it more like diehards, who return every day or when they have a few minutes, to check in on their favorite channels. (Channels on YouTube are series of videos by the same creator, whether your sister posting baby videos, a YouTube celebrity or a professional producer like ESPN or PBS.)

YouTube's effort to get casual users to become more dedicated is critical as people increasingly use YouTube on mobile phones or televisions; it is more difficult to browse YouTube for interesting videos on those devices.

On Thursday, YouTube began rolling out a redesigned Web site that it hopes will nudge people to subscribe to channels and return daily. With the redesign, every time you visit YouTube on any device, you will see the latest videos from the channels to which you subscribe.

“Part of the goal is to start using YouTube just when you have 10 minutes to kill and you're bored, rather than waiting for someone to send you a link to a video or when you have a search in mind,” said Noam Lovinsky, director of product management at YouTube, which is owned by Google.

YouTube's site metrics show that people who subscribe return to the site more often and spend more time there, according to the company. But many people still do not understand what it means to subscribe to a channel, even though it has been an option since 2005.

“This pattern of behavior - the ability to program YouTube and then develop this habit to know, ‘Hey, even if I'm not sure what I want to watch, I've told YouTube what I like' and come back - increases watch time dramatically,” Mr. Lovinsky said. “It's our big bet for how to get to audacious TV-type watch time.”

On the redesigned YouTube, when a viewer clicks to subscribe, a box will pop up explaining what that means. The channel will appear in a list on the left side of every YouTube page you visit, so you can easily click on it anytime you use the site. Previously, it had appeared only on the homepage.

Once YouTube users spend some time selecting and subscribing to a group of channels, they will see them everywhere they use YouTube, whether on computers, tablets, smartphones, game consoles or TVs.

YouTube will also remind people about their subscriptions, alert them about new videos and show different versions of the site and different types of notifications based on the visitor's behavior. Power users, for example, could get alerts sent to their cellphones when one of their channels posts new videos, while casual users could see a new video pop up when they visit YouTube or receive e-mail no tices.

The new site also has a slightly different look, in keeping with the mandate of Larry Page, Google's chief executive, to make Google products simpler and more attractive. For instance, YouTube has muted elements other than the video player, so the video pops and other elements fade away until a user hovers over them, Mr. Lovinsky said.

The redesign, which is part of YouTube's continuing effort get people to spend as much time on YouTube as they do on TV, also reveals YouTube's missteps. Last year, in what YouTube called the biggest redesign in its history, it changed the background screen from white to light grey. Now, it is back to white. It also said that last year's redesign would make subscriptions more meani ngful, but has since found out that average users still don't know what subscribing actually does.