Thinkbox: We're not looking for a fight with YouTube

Tess Alps: 'We have great respect for YouTube'
Tess Alps: 'We have great respect for YouTube'

Tess Alps, the chair of Thinkbox, responds to Campaign's head of media, Gideon Spanier, who said last week that the commercial TV trade body is engaged in an "epic battle" with YouTube.

This is not a battle. It is a very specific and detailed response to YouTube’s "advice" to advertisers to take very large proportions of their TV spend and put it on YouTube.

We haven't "conceded" these numbers to YouTube; we have bent over backwards to be generous. The real number is more likely to be lower than the number we've given rather than "somewhere in the middle". We are not saying people shouldn’t invest more in YouTube as it grows. What we are questioning very forcibly is where that money comes from. 

We’re not looking for any sort of fight. We have great respect for YouTube. It is an invaluable part of the TV landscape and our shareholders use it for many different purposes: to promote their programmes, feed the desire to see programme clips and TV ads again, etc. You talk about the James Corden Carpool videos; I’m sure you know that these start life on broadcast TV in the US, with all its quality and resource, but YouTube helps the rest of the world enjoy them too. Similarly with Netflix, broadcasters sell their TV programmes to them and that money goes around in a virtuous circle back into TV production.

We should all be working together in a complementary way. When YouTube goes on the stage at the Edinburgh TV Festival it says it wants to be a trusted partner to the TV industry and that it isn’t predatory in any way. Sadly, the rhetoric to the advertising world is rather different. 

The "direction of travel" is not from TV (broadcast and OD) to online video. It’s from static text-based advertising to all forms of video advertising. We understand why YouTube would rather their growth was funded from TV rather than risk its money coming from the poorly performing, ad-blocked, bot-infested world of online display that Google plays such a significant role in. YouTube’s statement last autumn presupposed fixed and finite budgets for all video advertising. This should not be the case.

We have a different vision – of expanding budgets for all video advertising, within which linear TV might take a smaller share but of a much bigger cake, where its revenues also grow. And it’s important that this is so, because TV is hugely dependent on ad money to create the programmes that attract the viewers that deliver the most effective advertising for brands.

We smiled at Google's suggestion that we are "struggling to keep up with online viewing data". If we are then it appears so are many of YouTube/Google’s own staff in Europe (who, by the way, were as helpful as they were able to be in this exercise). They said they didn’t know what the duration of viewing to YouTube ads was either. Nor did they completely understand how the reach algorithm (which was the origin of the 24 per cent claim) had been calculated.

The issue of the use of private data rather than impartial industry research – that many online companies expect advertisers to be happy with – is profound and goes to the heart of much that is going wrong with online advertising. Google has it within its power to help everyone understand online viewing data better but it chooses not to.

The thought of an "epic battle" between Thinkbox (18 people in Victoria) and YouTube (part of the biggest media company in the world) is an amusing but preposterous one. It is not even like David and Goliath, who are at least the same species. More like Danger Mouse vs the Daleks.

We were shocked that no agency publicly questioned that YouTube statement last autumn but we are sympathetic to their need to stay friends with hugely dominant global media players. Thinkbox may be small but we’re not scared. We’re adjusting our mini-capes right now.

Tess Alps is the chair of Thinkbox. 

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free