12.01.11

New YouTube Redesign Is Google's Latest Plot to Take Over TV

Google rolled out a massive overhaul of YouTube today, with a cleaner look and an emphasis on channels. It’s all part of Google’s master plan to disrupt the TV industry, writes Dan Lyons.

Google rolled out an ambitious new look for YouTube on Thursday, with a fresh, clean interface that has less clutter and more uniformity across channels. With this new design, Google is hoping this will make it easier for people to find stuff they like while also luring them into spending more time on the site. But the ultimate goal is much more ambitious than just making the video-sharing site look less cluttered: Google wants YouTube to be so wonderful that people will use it the way they use TV—surfing channels when they’re bored and want to be entertained rather than when they’re looking for something specific.

It’s the first big redesign of YouTube since Google acquired the site in 2006, and it’s a huge leap forward, not to mention one that is desperately overdue. YouTube is wildly popular, but the site for a long time has looked like something hacked together by hobbyists.

“To be totally candid, what we’re doing is bringing YouTube up to 2011,” said Noam Lovinsky, group product manager at YouTube. “The old look and feel is one we’ve had since the launching of the site, and over the past six years the site has built up some crust, to say the least.”

Now, with the redesign, “we’re looking across every page, and every template, and we’re trying to standardize, streamline, and simplify,” Lovinsky says.

The redesign comes on the heels of Google’s recent announcement that it was spending $100 million on a campaign to get content producers to create more professional programming for a set of new premium channels on YouTube.

“The message of that investment was that if you’re a professional content producer, YouTube is now a legitimate first place to bring your programming,” says Fred Seibert, head of Frederator Studios, a longtime creator of animated TV shows that has signed on to make a channel for YouTube.

Also in the mix is Google TV, software that connects the Internet to your living-room TV. So far Google TV has not caught on, but that could change if Google can improve the software and convince more TV makers to build Google TV into their sets.

The broad outlines of Google’s ambitions are becoming clearer: give YouTube a fresh, friendly interface that makes it look more like TV; pay Hollywood producers to create professional content; and use Google TV to bring that content into the living room.

YouTube already draws a massive audience, claiming 800 million unique visitors each month. YouTube serves up 3 billion views a day, and gets 48 hours of new content uploaded every minute. Most of the site’s traffic comes from outside the U.S., and for countries where state-run television runs censored news, YouTube has become a valued source of information.

YouTube, in fact, is evolving into something like a global television network, except that, strictly speaking, it’s not television—it’s the thing that could take the place of television.

But back to the redesign. Highlights include:

 A new homepage that has been restyled to show which channels you’ve subscribed to and let you quickly flick through them each time you come to the site. There’s also a darker background, which “really makes the videos pop—it makes the video the star of the page,” Lovinsky says.

 A channel “store” that helps you shop around for channels you might like to subscribe to, using Google’s search algorithms to bring up channels relevant to you based on the other stuff you’re already watching.

 New player controls that let you adjust the size and quality of the player.

 New templates for content producers that aim to create a more uniform look across all of YouTube, “so it can’t be all `MySpacey,’” Lovinsky jokes.

The new templates could be a little controversial among content producers because they constrain what can be done to customize a channel page. YouTube hopes to convince producers that the changes will benefit them by making it easier for users to find their channels.

The broad outlines of Google’s ambitions are becoming clearer: give YouTube a fresh, friendly interface that makes it look more like TV; pay Hollywood producers to create professional content; and use Google TV to bring that content into the living room.

The face-lift at YouTube is part of a wider push at Google around aesthetics, something to which this engineering-driven company has never paid much attention in the past. Recently Google rolled out a new user interface for Gmail, its mail service. Google also is about to change the look of the “Google bar” that appears across your screen when you’re on a Google site.

Of course, this being YouTube, the new look gets explained in a video.

A lot of this is driven from the top down by Larry Page, the Google cofounder who took over as CEO earlier this year. Page is on a mission to focus Google on a small number of key projects, including the Google social network, and to make Google’s products better looking and easier to use.