How Yahoo can take on YouTube in four easy steps

Mayer and Couric at CES 2014
James Niccolai, IDG News Service

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Yahoo wants to convince YouTube’s biggest stars that the grass is greener on its side of the online video fence. As Re/code reported, the Internet giant hopes to lure popular video makers to join a YouTube-like operation of its own.

It’s an interesting idea—Yahoo has been fashioning itself as a media company as of late, and it’s already nabbed some big names like Katie Couric and David Pogue to create original news content.

Yahoo can’t take on Google in search, hence its push into content and media. Landing YouTube’s most popular content creators with better revenue deals is a great start, but to keep them happy, Yahoo will have to be able to draw as much—or more—traffic as those video makers already getting over on YouTube. And that means Yahoo has to design its new service with users in mind, to keep them coming back for more. We’ve got a few suggestions.


iphone beats music

Yahoo should totally copy Beat Music's clever feature "The Sentence."

Beats Music joined a crowded field of on-demand streaming services (Spotify, Rdio, Google Play Music All Access, Rhapsody), but it raised the bar with its slick app design and expert curation. If you don’t know what to listen to, you can fill out a Mad Libs-style sentence (“I’m on the subway, and feel like rocking out with my mom to disco,” for example) to get a playlist based on those choices as well as what you’ve already taught Beats about your musical tastes.

If Yahoo’s video streaming service wants to set itself apart from YouTube and Vimeo, curation is key, from the videos promoted on the home page (and around the rest of Yahoo’s sites) to playlists based on what it knows you like to watch. Unlike YouTube’s algorithm-based suggestions, Yahoo would benefit from a more human touch.


Re/code reported that Yahoo was reaching out to the top content creators on YouTube, attempting to bring them over to the Purple Side with sweeter revenue-sharing deals, but that Yahoo doesn’t plan to let any Joe Selfiecam upload content, at least not at first.

Amazon Betas

Betas became a full series after Amazon's users voted for the pilot. A show about nerds on the Internet? Who knew?!

This exclusivity is a great idea—Yahoo should try to make its service the Techmeme of video sites, complete with a leaderboard showing which content creators are racking up the most hits and how much cold, hard cash they’re making from the ad impressions. That will get the creators who aren’t on the site yet salivating, and inspire them to crank out more and better-quality videos to convince Yahoo to let them in. As the service expands, Yahoo could even give users a voice on which creators should be added next, sort of like how Amazon Studios lets users vote on which pilots would become full seasons of original programming.


When YouTube launched a Roku channel in December, the world said, “Wait, YouTube didn’t already have a Roku channel?” But it didn’t! (Not without a Plex workaround, anyway.) Do you know what else was added to Roku even more recently? Yahoo Screen. The service is also available on Apple TV and as an iOS app, but Yahoo will have to do better to bring its new video service to every possible screen people might want to watch it on. Just for starters, it needs to support Chromecast, smart TVs, game consoles, and a little operating system called Android. (An Android app was promised when Yahoo Screen launched in September 2013, but hasn’t materialized yet.)

Yahoo Screen on iPad

Yahoo Screen already has a nice iPad app. Now Yahoo just needs to put its new video service everywhere else.

But better than just being on all the screens is smart behavior when you switch screens. For example, it’s incredibly frustrating to not be able to find a YouTube video on Apple TV that you know you’ve seen on YouTube on your computer. So it goes without saying that the content should be the same everywhere. But that’s not all: You should be able to pick up where you left off, and the different apps should have familiar design even while being tailored for each platform’s display size and control scheme.


I know, I know, everyone gets too much email, but stay with me here: Email is a place you already check. is not a place you already check. A very short, periodic email newsletter letting users know what fun videos are burning up the charts could do a lot for discovery and keep users coming back.

hulu newsletter

Hulu already does a decent email newsletter—take a note, Yahoo. (And maybe embed a gif or two!)

Email is forwardable, which is huge when you’re trying to reach new eyeballs or make a video go viral. Email can be clever, and a lively, readable email newsletter is another chance for Yahoo’s editors/curators to let its humanity shine. Yahoo should subscribe to some excellent email newsletters like Dave Pell’s Next Draft, the amazing Ann Friedman Weekly, and Now I Know by Dan Lewis for examples of how to make email newsletters people actually look forward to reading.

This story, "How Yahoo can take on YouTube in four easy steps" was originally published by TechHive.

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