What You Need To Know About Online Video Platforms

On this 10th anniversary of the first video being uploaded to YouTube, it’s important to look at how the online video industry has changed in the last two years — because the changes have been as significant as those that started 10 years ago.

A variety of online video platforms clamored for your attention in 2005, including Apple’s iTunes, Blip, Dailymotion, Metacafe, Myspace and even Google’s own video service. But in just five short years, the race was over. In January of 2010, Comscore found that Google’s video efforts (primarily YouTube) were reaching nearly three times as many users as the next biggest video destination, Yahoo; and when you count total videos served, the company was 14 times bigger than the next on the list, Hulu.

Things stayed relatively the same until about two years ago, when a variety of new platforms started to creep up the rankings. Led by Facebook, these sites started pushing on YouTube’s dominance. In March of 2014 — the last month Comscore released raw video figures (as compared to U.S. unique users) —  Facebook was delivering more than 40 percent of YouTube’s raw video volume, to an audience that was 57 percent of YouTube’s total unique reach.

Those numbers are notable, because Comscore today only releases data based on desktop views, despite the fact that Facebook claims 65 percent of its video views are mobile, compared to 50 percent for YouTube. If those views were counted, the numbers would likely skew even more heavily toward the upstart.

YouTube is not going away. It’s still the biggest online video platform by far. But it’s not alone anymore, and if you’re still thinking that’s all you have to worry about — for building audiences, selling products or launching services — think again.

In 2005, most online video platforms were relatively homogenous — they all looked and acted the same. Today, that’s not true. A variety of other platforms, with different strengths and weaknesses compared to YouTube, are now vying for relevance — and perhaps dominance. If you think you can simply create one video and distribute it to all of those platforms, you’ll be failing — and driving the audience away in droves. “One size fits all” — even if it’s expertly crafted for YouTube — simply won’t work on most of these other services.

Although there are 15 platforms that have a legitimate shot at rising to challenge YouTube, only five really matter to marketers, publishers and storytellers today. You’ll need to keep an eye on all of them, though, as one or more may end up cutting through the clutter in a race to relevance. The following online video platforms deserve your attention, but also require that you create content tailored to each.


Still No. 1. Although it’s hard to generalize, videos that make it big on YouTube generally either have an engaging and authentic host, or feature some sort of unexpected humor or an amazing feat of skill or luck. Length typically ranges from 1-4 minutes. We used to call this short form, but no longer. Brands can build their own presence on YouTube, although it takes significant time and energy to build a community.

Because the service has been around for 10 years, it’s much harder to build a new presence today; the subscription nature means that most viewers already have chosen their favorite channels. You’re better off working with the existing set of big channels than building your own from scratch. These established creators are adept at integrating brands into their videos, and many companies have seen great success with this approach.

YouTube is still a desktop-heavy service, which means HD-sized frame rates and resolutions work well. Multi-Channel Networks, including Maker and Full Screen, have aggregated thousands of creators and offer scale to anyone looking to reach YouTube’s massive audience. New branded agencies are sprouting up to help brands reach tens or hundreds of creators in a more targeted way — these include Mozaic Branding and Grapevine, and are similar to the interactive agencies that began helping brands buy websites in the early 1990s.

Vine And Instagram

Short form today means six seconds (in the case of Vine) and 15 seconds (for Instagram Video). The two services are somewhat different; Vine videos loop automatically like an animated GIF, for example, while Instagram videos do not. Most of the more successful videos don’t have dialog; any sound is either music, or the “natural” variety. This is primarily because these are typically mobile experiences, rather than on desktop, and there’s no guarantee that the viewer is even listening. Also, because they are so short, every frame counts, which means one may obsess over 180 images to successfully tell their story.

A group of extremely talented creators have emerged who are expert at these short videos, including Jerome Jarre and Zach King. Many brands have taken to this short-form medium to great effect — including Dunkin Donuts, Trident, BMW and Ford. If you aren’t already creating for these two short-form services, you’re best off getting help from some of the many agencies that have sprouted up to help. Some of the better ones include Hill and Knowlton and Grape Story.


With the My Story feature, Snapchat lets any of its users broadcast to their followers. Snaps themselves are limited to about 10 seconds of video, but many popular Snapchatters string together a number of videos and still images — often annotated with text or stamps — to tell compelling stories.

But these stories — like all of Snapchat — disappear after 24 hours. That creates an incredibly sticky platform, where your friends are compelled to check in every day so they don’t miss anything. It also results in far fewer polished videos, because — again — they’ll be gone in 24 hours. The immediacy and raw nature of Snapchat makes it very different from the other platforms, but many brands — including Mountain Dew, Marriott and the TV show Pretty Little Liars — have found great success on the platform.

Pretty Little Liars has seen more than 800,000 subscribers to its Snapchat channel, and nearly a 100 percent open rate whenever it posts new videos (typically on the day the show airs). Many top Snapchatters are also well known on other video services, including Jarre and YouTube’s Olga Kay.

New companies are springing up to help brands work with the new generation of Snapchatters. One of the most prominent today is Naritiv, the first self-proclaimed MCN for Snapchat — although it acts more as an agency than an MCN. Grape Story is also prominent here.


Facebook is a conundrum. You can upload video directly to Facebook, but most creators still can’t make money directly on those videos. But there’s a loophole a mile wide: Anyone can integrate brands into their videos, run them on Facebook and pocket all the money.

In addition, brands themselves can create their own videos and push them onto Facebook without paying a dime — at least today. Facebook historically has tried to own most revenue generation on its platform, so expect that loophole to close soon.

Today, however, many brands are seeing big success by running video on Facebook. However, like Vine and Instagram, these videos are built specifically for Facebook. Like on those shorter platforms, these videos are light on a voice track and heavy on arresting images and text overlays.  But because there’s no length limit, storytelling can be a bit more extensive.

Still, most Facebook video viewing happens on mobile, which means you should limit your video length to under a minute, unless you’ve got a great narrative.

Many creators and brands are finding that Facebook video, because it autoplays, is a great way to entice visitors to click over to a longer video for more in-depth viewing. Think of Facebook as both a content consumption platform and a promotional platform. Launching a branded series on YouTube or your own site? Create shorter text-heavy and image-rich teasers to launch across Facebook to help drive viewership.

Facebook and YouTube views are not directly comparable. In addition to autoplaying, Facebook counts a view only after five seconds have been served. YouTube requires a click to initiate and only registers a view after 30 seconds have been watched. That makes a YouTube view a lot more valuable than a Facebook view.

On the flip side, Facebook is inherently more of a social platform, and Adweek’s March Top 10 Branded Video Chart shows Facebook delivering three or more times as much engagement as YouTube.

Note that you are far better off creating and uploading video directly to Facebook than embedding your YouTube videos on Facebook. Facebook naturally assigns much higher value to videos served on-platform than those that come from outside.

If you just focus on these platforms, you’ll be hitting most of the audience for web video. But don’t rest here. The online video world is changing almost daily, with new entrants popping up and new initiatives delivering newfound relevance to existing platforms. Below is a list of categories and services to watch, as each has a shot to become relevant to both brands and creators.

Existing Sites

YouTube, MSN and AOL continue to deliver a lot of video views, although they appeal to relatively older audiences compared to those listed above. Twitter is making a big push into video, and now rewards brands and creators when they upload to Twitter, rather than link out.

Hulu and the other big broadcast and cable channels also offer significant inventory and audiences. Pre-roll ads dominate these sites, while branded series can be very expensive to execute. LinkedIn still doesn’t allow video uploads, although it is driving a lot of content consumption on its site, as well as on Flipboard. When they finally do allow on-platform video, they could be a compelling alternative.

Live Streaming

Popular sites YouNow and Hang With have recently been joined by Meerkat and Periscope (owned by Twitter). This is a young market, but audiences and volume are growing rapidly. Test, explore and monitor to see who jumps to an early lead.

New Platforms

Vessel and Victorious are both making a play for a more premium and curated online video experience. While it’s too early to gauge success, if either take off, they will offer the kind of immersive, curated experience that Hulu brought to the table when it launched in 2008.


Riff and WhatsApp, Facebook’s attempt to usurp Snapchat, are well worth monitoring, but not yet investing in. Vimeo is making a big push to become relevant to brands as a high-quality destination, while a few of Facebook’s early competitors — notably DailyMotion — are still hanging around. And with the newfound popularity of podcasts, both audio and video, that long-form medium is relevant again. But that’s probably the subject of another post.