Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

YouTube May Be Solving Its Ad Problem–Slowly

barcelonaYouTube is the world’s biggest video destination. But it has yet to generate a penny of profit for Google, which paid more than $1.6 billion for the site in 2006.

That’s because the site is very expensive to run–YouTube served up 5.5 billion videos to U.S. viewers alone in March–and a very hard sell to advertisers, who are scared off by its more-or-less-anything-goes collection of clips. The site doesn’t even bother to try sell ads on more then a small percentage of its videos.

But the latter part of that equation may be changing, argues Bernstein Research’s Jeffrey Lindsay. He thinks YouTube has the ability to sell ads against nine percent of its inventory. That alone represents progress–last year, that number was around three to four percent.

But Lindsay thinks that Google (GOOG) is getting better at putting more advertiser-friendly stuff up on the site, via projects like the TV and movie hub it rolled out last month.

That site doesn’t have anything like the breadth that Hulu boasts, but it’s a big improvement over what used to be there. Lindsay figures that it will get better and that next year YouTube will be able to sell ads on 15 percent of its inventory. His note:

We also note the large increase in advertising on YouTube, which we estimate currently has approximately 9% ad coverage and which we believe could rise to 15% within the next 12 months as more professionally-produced content and movies are added to the Web property. We understand that Google is currently exploring new payment mechanisms–micro-payments and subscriptions to expand YouTube’s business model. Although YouTube revenues are likely to be small through the end of 2009 (we estimate $123 million), we think the increased ad coverage will place YouTube in a favorable position when CPMs eventually start to recover in 2010 and beyond. Our 2010 forecast for YouTube revenues of $222 million represents 81% growth over 2009.

Then again, YouTube still has a very long way to go. Look at the most popular clips on the site today and you’ll find a whole lot of video from this week’s Barcelona-Chelsea Champions League match, all of which seem to be copyright violations, which makes them toxic to advertisers.

Here are four examples from the same game. Note that all of them seem to have been up on the site for at least a day: