SAN BRUNO, Calif. -- Google's YouTube is nowhere near as popular as television, but the popular video sharing site is working hard to change that with a new method for video viewing and discovery.
Company officials said TV viewers watch about five hours of TV daily but the average YouTube user only spends about 15 minutes a day at the site. "We're an underdog," YouTube Product Manager Andrey Doronichev said during a media briefing here at YouTube's headquarters. "Our challenge is to continue to delight our hundreds of millions of users."
While YouTube is focused on consumers, there's no question the site is a popular destination for office workers looking for a distraction or simply clicking through a "You've got to see this" e-mail message from a friend with a link to some oddball YouTube video. But if a new YouTube service proves popular, enterprises could see a significant uptick in the time employees spend on the service, potentially impacting productivity.
On Wednesday, Google's YouTube unveiled "Leanback," an experimental new version of the service that's designed to make the video viewing experience more akin to TV viewing in its simplicity.
Designed for registered YouTube users, Leanback feeds a user videos based on their video channel subscriptions, what friends are sharing via Facebook and other preferences. If you're not registered, the service defaults to more of a best of YouTube mix of videos.
"The more you watch videos of a certain type, the more you'll get. We don't want to people to be asked each time what they want to view," said Julian Fruman, a YouTube user interface designer.
Analyst Ben Bajarin said if YouTube is successful in increasing the amount of time user spend at the site, particularly while at work, IT and management are sure to take notice.
"As enterprises struggle with what they embrace or don't embrace that line is going to get blurred as Web-based applications show up," Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com. "What are the services in your firewall you should block? You might not have a problem letting employees visit YouTube for a quick break, but [Leanback] could lead to a lot more time at the site than short bursts of entertainment snacking."
YouTube currently positions Leanback as an experimental service, a format Google follows to test new services out in the wild as prelude to full release. For example, company officials said the final version will likely include new ad formats. Bajarin said IT departments could easily block the service if they feel it's a distraction or has nothing to do with the work employees are supposed to be engaged in.
Analyst Charles King said some companies already block YouTube.
"One place I know of blocks certain websites from clerical workers while those in management are asked not to use YouTube or Pandora," King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told InternetNews.com. "They said employees visiting those sites or running things like Pandora in the background were putting a strain on bandwidth and causing network problems."
Passive entertainment in the enterprise
King said YouTube's advance is one of many consumer technologies that are finding their way into the workplace despite management's initial objections.
"First it was 'Can you answer personal e-mail at work?' Then it was 'Can you buy stuff at Amazon and eBay from the office?' YouTube is the latest rev of the same issue, but you have to wonder how many companies will support the passive entertainment habits of their employees if the time spent on them keeps growing," he said.
Some enterprise networks have been strained and faced more serious issues during major breaking news and sporting events as employees turn to the Web for the latest video reports.
At least with Leanback users won't, in theory, waste as much time trying to find videos since it offers a personalized feed. Leanback makes use of the keyboard's arrow keys to keep the controls simple. You can, for example, skip to the next video with a simple click of the right arrow. "There are a lot fewer interruptions than trying to find new links," said Fruman.
Leanback is especially well-suited to the next generation of Internet-connected TVs that will features services like YouTube. In fact, Google itself has partnered with Sony on a Google-powered TV due out later this fall.
But Google officials stressed that Leanback is also designed to improve the desktop viewing experience.
Fruman said Google is also working on a media player version of YouTube that doesn't require a browser. "So you can have it running in the background without the Web page and go about checking e-mail and surfing the Web, but it's there when you want to watch videos," he said.
YouTube mobile takes off
Separately, YouTube also announced a new mobile version of its YouTube player. YouTube Mobile already gets over 100 million playbacks a day, about the same amount all of YouTube received back in 2006 when Google first acquired the firm.
The new version features faster performance and what the company said are larger, more "touch-friendly" elements for quick access to videos. Like the main YouTube.com site, Mobile now offers search query suggestions and the option to create playlists and designate favorite videos or mark them as "like" or "dislike."