Founded in 2005, YouTube has become a household name and a popular form of entertainment over the past decade and a half. Currently, it boasts close to five billion videos viewed daily and is expected to grow, making it a great place to reach high volumes of people using video. This growth in digital video is often positioned as being at the expense of traditional channels like television, and the discussion around YouTube vs. TV often implies that advertising on TV and YouTube are interchangeable. However, in this article we review how they should be seen not as substitutes but as different (perhaps even complimentary!) tactics that should be used to reach different audiences.
The most relevant demographic trend impacting whether YouTube or TV is the better fit relates to audience age. According to the Nielsen Total Audience report from Q1 2019, 18 to 34-year-olds spend 1:54 hours a day watching TV (either live or time-shifted TV broadcast TV) compared to the 5:50 hours of the 50 to 64-year-olds and the 7:15 hours per day of the 65+. Although the data doesn’t give a figure for YouTube specifically, roughly two thirds of the 18-34 group’s media time is devoted to a mobile device, computer or TV connected device, for a total of 5 hours and 53 minutes. For those aged 35-49, this figure is reduced to about half their media time being spent on connected devices. Not only are younger people watching less TV than older people but the amount of time they spend watching TV is falling year over year. In contrast, it is estimated that YouTube reaches more adults aged 18-49 than any cable network and 18 to 34-year-olds are more likely to be on YouTube than Facebook. 60% of YouTube users aged 18-29 are binge watchers, 62% of this same age group will take action after viewing a YouTube ad and 29% will watch YouTube ads all the way through!
This is not to paint the picture that only the younger demographic watch YouTube and only the older groups watch TV; this is not true. Yet, if you have limited media budget (as we all do!) and you’re looking to reach a younger audience, YouTube is the better bet. Likewise, if you’re looking to communicate with an older demographic, your money is likely better spent on TV.
YouTube has targeting and attribution capabilities that can’t be matched by traditional broadcast television. Not only is it easier to get an idea of the actions a viewer takes upon viewing the YouTube video, but YouTube knows a lot more about the individual behaviours and interests of its viewers than that of a TV network. Not only will this provide a host of options for targeting specific niche audiences with greater accuracy and efficiency, it will also provide more insight into which markets your messaging resonates with most through the more precise attribution reporting available through YouTube. While it is possible to use certain (usually expensive) tools to attribute your TV media to sales, this will never be 100% accurate and will often use models or proxy measurements. However, where TV excels is the ability to reach mass national audiences at a scale and reach that YouTube may have trouble competing with. While viewership is down amongst younger people, TV still reaches 89% of the American 18+ crowd on a weekly basis. It may not be the best medium to target niche segments or audiences but if mass market reach is one of your objectives, then TV is the best choice.
That being said, this reach and scale come with a hefty price tag. A 30-second spot broadcast nationally averages around $115,000, while YouTube views cost on average $0.10 to $0.30 with the average cost of reaching 100,000 viewers being $20,000. On an efficiency level it may appear as though YouTube clearly takes the win, but TV advertising will still be superior if mass market reach is your objective. Additionally, there may be benefits like increased brand equity due to your ad running alongside national programming vs. a Justin Bieber music video. Alternatively, perhaps consider combining the two: the lower cost of entry into YouTube makes it an ideal testing ground for new creative concepts, offers or messaging that can then be rolled out to TV.
Overall, there is a major shift occurring in how people are consuming media. The variety of devices, delivery methods and increasingly “on demand” nature of content will enable consumers to create a more personalized and content schedule. However, this personalization makes it harder for advertisers as each audience requires their own unique media strategy.