Earlier this year YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki laid out an overview of what the video behemoth was planning for the year ahead, including a strong hint that it was considering the introduction of NFTs for creators to connect in a different way with fans. Today, the site’s chief product officer, Neal Mohan, has published a blog post that doubles down on the idea, and lays out more detail on YouTube’s bigger focus on building more tools for creators this year overall.
The blog post is really a laundry list of many items, although it looks like NFTs are possibly the most interesting part of it, given how big they have become and the fact that YouTube’s biggest competitors are working on their own efforts here as a complement to their video-fuelled ad businesses.
“We’re seeing lots of interesting applications, such as NFTs being used to help manage a community of common interests; enabling better crowdfunding for creators; helping artists mint and sell their own work in a verifiable way that also earns them a rev share for future sales,” a spokesperson told us. “We think YouTube can add a lot of unique value to what people are already doing in this space.”
Other new features, Mohan writes, will includes more features around Shopping, where the company will be introducing shoppable videos, Live Shopping and more shopping opportunities “across the app.” Those watching YouTube and what it does will not be surprised: it’s been testing these features in recent months. One test with Walmart and others had over 2 million views and 1.4 million Live Chat messages, YouTube said.
Livestreaming is another area that will see a new twist: collaboration, where creators will be able to go live together on interactive streams, one way to mix things up and give a new stream of oxygen to what has quickly become a very formulaic video format.
Another area that will see some significant updates for creators are the areas of video effects and analytics for creators, first to enhance their work and then to figure out whether people like what they are seeing. Mohan said that this year new tools will include more video effects and editing tools — no surprise since many of these are being built off YouTube already, giving creators another excuse to post content elsewhere. One interesting twist that will definitely keep creators on the YouTube network is that soon they’ll be able to reply to comments on videos with Shorts — YouTube’s short-form video answer to TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram.
The creator economy — and more generally user-generated content — is where all the action is today, and increasingly money is following that. There is a clear reason for YouTube to be pursuing this and building tools to continue to woo creators. TikTok — the juggernaut that is a hugely popular home for both high-profile creators but also more mass market user-generated video — is already outpacing Pinterest and Snapchat for referrals, according to one fintech that works closely with e-commerce companies, and there are many signs that it’s coming for YouTube and Meta’s army of apps next.
For YouTube, it’s really about life between a rock and a hard place at the moment, because on the other side of the competitive landscape, we’ve heard that Instagram and its parent Meta are very serious about building out a bigger business around NFTs, and currencies to support that. (The FT reported in January that this was in the works; we’ve heard that report is just the tip of the iceberg. And in any case, it would give a home to all the work that the company has already done for the troubled Novi project.)
Google tells us that the company exploring new technologies like NFTs and web3 “can help deepen our mission to be the best place for creators and viewers,” according to a spokesperson. “What’s unique about YouTube is the relationship between creators and fans and we think these new technologies can play a role in augmenting that.”
She declined to comment “at the moment” on whether Google would be working with partners or trying to build a marketplace from the ground up. But since there have already been so many instances of iconic YouTube content already riding the NFT wave to further monetize beyond YouTube ads, it would be interesting to see Google teaming up with existing marketplaces and others.
“Our creators are already engaging with NFTs, so we believe it’s important to understand the space and help drive it in a direction that’s good for creators and viewers,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve done this already with our alternative monetization products — we saw that people were selling items, so we created a merch product. Creators are already engaging with NFTs and we want to help make that easier and better.”
NFTs, when they come, will be in what is already a small bedrock of monetization tools that exist as an alternative to advertising, which include Paid Digital Goods on YouTube, including Super Chat and Super Stickers. “We found that those are extremely popular with creators and fans,” the spokesperson said. “And a lot of this is about patronage and our fans wanting to financially support their favorite creators. So we’re looking into NFTs as another way to grow the connection between creators and their fans while giving creators a new way to make money.”