Music videos seem to become more important every year: On-demand video streams increased by 24.3 percent to 274.9 billion in 2018, accelerating further after a 21.9 percent jump in 2017, according to data from the analytics company BuzzAngle. “[YouTube]’s the best way to reach young fans,” Jeff Vaughn, an A&R at Artists Partners Group, told Rolling Stone. “As we moved from Twitter to Instagram to Stories, which is all video, it feels like YouTube is perfectly positioned, and that video will be more important than ever.”
But the experience around video still needs improvement, according to Kurt Wilms, who works in product management at YouTube. “We knew that a lot of viewers were coming to YouTube right when artists were dropping videos and watching them, but even though everyone was coming at the same time, it was kind of a lonely moment for viewers,” he says. “They weren’t able to interact with each other, and they weren’t able to interact with the artist.”
So Wilms and his team set out to develop YouTube Premieres, which allows viewers to share their enthusiasm with other fans — and even the video’s creator(s) — while all watching the same clip at the same time. “What I most appreciate about this product is that it creates both tension and community,” says Lyor Cohen, YouTube’s Global Head of Music. “As we are going further and further into video-on-demand world, kids are desperate for some tension around fear of missing out. And the fact that the artist can create and promote a shared moment with their fans to celebrate their video at the same time — in a V.O.D. world, that type of sensation becomes even more important.”
Since YouTube’s data shows that “on average, when a creator premieres an upload it is more likely to perform better in terms of views compared to uploading normally,” it’s not surprising that major pop stars, including Halsey, Cardi B, BTS, 21 Pilots and Shawn Mendes, have quickly adopted the feature. Ariana Grande has already used the Premiere function to release blockbuster videos for “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings.”
“Ariana has such a special relationship with her fans, so we knew that the YouTube Premiere Tool would provide the perfect stage for camaraderie and discussion over this shared experience,” says Tim Hrycyshyn, VP of Digital Marketing at the singer’s label, Republic. “It was the perfect opportunity to both deliver the video to the world and unite communication in one platform.”
There are multiple points at which YouTube Premiere allows artists to amplify the hoopla around their videos. Before the clip is even out, YouTube now permits artists to “create a landing page where viewers can see the thumbnail, title, description and the URL where the video will be available so they can share it with their friends and set reminders to watch it,” Wilms says. “That’s been a powerful tool to create excitement and hype videos.” Over 150,000 Grande fans used the reminder button to make sure they didn’t miss the “Thank U, Next” video. At one point, more than 190,000 viewers were on the landing page simultaneously waiting for the clip to appear.
Once the video arrives, logged-in users are able to start chatting with each other — and in the case of Grande’s clips, with the singer herself. “What we’ve seen is that viewers like to go crazy: guessing what’s going to happen, talking about key scenes and particular melodies,” Wilms says. “The artists can be there to provide behind-the-scenes perspective.” YouTube also temporarily disables the ability for viewers to skip forward on the video, so everyone is watching the same video at the same time — no spoilers allowed. “Thank U, Next” had 829,000 simultaneous viewers generating over 400,000 chats.
Virality feeds on itself, so the effects of using videos as a rallying point “are not simply felt on YouTube,” according to Cohen. “The reverberations of creating this high viewership at a given moment spread to all the algorithms on all the services — they are felt on Youtube music, Spotify and Apple,” he says. Reverberations also spread to Billboard’s Hot 100, which incorporates YouTube streaming numbers.
Wilms was pleased to see videos from the day of the “Thank U, Next” premiere made by fans “having viewing parties at work — dozens of people at work all watching, taking a moment out of their day together.” “In an on-demand world we’ve kind of lost the magical moment of when a music video drops,” he reiterates. “This is bringing that back.”