YouTube Hits 1 Billion Users

YouTube on Wednesday said it now has 1 billion monthly viewers, steadily growing from the 800 million monthly viewers the online video platform reached in October 2011.

The announcement, made at a company event in Los Angeles to show off YouTube premium channels to potential advertisers, puts the company in the same audience league as Facebook, which also boasts 1 billion monthly users.

Audience size is critical to attracting ad dollars from companies looking for massive marketing reach. The news comes at a time when YouTube is actually de-emphasizing the sheer volume of views and shifting more towards engagement as a measure of success. How long viewers spend on the site, how often they share videos or subscribe to a particular channel are examples of engagement.

Robert Kyncl, Google’s head of content partnerships, noted that YouTube’s billion viewers are also spending more time on the platform.

“Our consumption grew by 50%” over the past year, Kyncl said in a discussion following the event, dubbed YouTube Pulse and held in a building where James Cameron filmed a portion of “Avatar." “When you look at the total number of users," he adds, "that didn’t grow by 50%."

Subscriptions are also up significantly, and people who subscribe tend to watch more videos, Kyncl noted.

Music was one of several core genres YouTube highlighted at the event, with the pop duo Karmin speaking about the popularity of cover songs as a way to launch their career. Though nothing was said about the licensing issues around cover songs, YouTube (through Karmin) spoke about the potency of cover songs as a way to engage fans in a two-way dialog, with artists like Gotye making a music video mashup of the covers of his song, “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Amy Heidemann, the lead singer of Karmin, pointedly brought up the band’s brand partnership with Coach.

Through Heidemann and the voices of other video talent, YouTube tried to dispel advertisers’ concerns that their brands would be showed against videos that are objectionable or not of very high quality. In an hour-long presentation punctuated by live performances, the company highlighted various artists, actors, dancers and comedians who had built up millions of fans and partnered with big-name companies such as Honda Motors, Mars Inc. and Coach.

Lucas Watson, YouTube’s vice president of global video sales, noted that all 100 top brands listed by Ad Age now advertise on YouTube. But he conceded that some companies are still hesitant to commit significant portions of their ad spend on the platform.

“There are all sorts of perceptions about what is premium content,” Watson said. “Should we define premium based on what people choose to watch as opposed to imposing our … standards about what’s the best content?”

Another YouTube objective has been to increase its revenue from mobile views, which currently account for 25% of the platform’s overall views. Watson did not say how much revenue YouTube is now generating from its mobile products, but hinted that it was not yet 25% and is rapidly growing.

Last year, mobile ad revenue was “at best trivial,” he said. “While revenue is not equal to adoption, we’re astounded at how fast we were able to monetize.”

YouTube has become a dominant source of music listening for teens, with 64% turning to the online video platform for music, compared with 56% for radio and 50% for CD’s in 2012, according to Nielsen. To demonstrate the platform’s pull on young viewers, YouTube issued a report, “How Does Gen C Watch YouTube?”