Forget about primetime. To attract viewers, follow their passions

Melanie Silva / September 2019

Primetime. The word sounds dated in 2019, conjuring up memories of must-see TV, checking TV Guide, and setting the VCR to record your favourite show. Today, the very idea of primetime as a single daypart on a single screen when everyone gathers to watch whatever’s on has all but shattered.

Instead, people are creating their own highly engaged, personal primetimes across different screens, content types, and times of the day. People watch in moments that work for them and to meet a wide variety of needs. And what do they want most? After a recent study with Nature Research that surveyed 1,500 Aussies aged 18-65, we found that content that aligns with people's personal passions and interests was the most valuable to them.1

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That might sound obvious, but what’s surprising is the degree to which it is true, especially relative to other considerations usually associated with primetime content. Relating to passions is 4X more important than whether the content is a show everyone is watching and 2.5X more important than whether it has high production value. People also said content that features real, authentic people and voices is almost twice as important than whether it features well-known celebrities.2

Personalised primetime content

If you’re having a hard time understanding this new world of online video on a personal level, you’re not alone. Because each of our experiences with platforms like YouTube are so unique, my personal primetime may look nothing like yours.

Because each of our experiences with platforms like YouTube are so unique, my personal primetime may look nothing like yours.

When I was growing up, we only had five free-to-air channels on our household TV. And the number of channels didn’t actually matter — my dad was king of the remote control at all times, so whatever he wanted to watch during his primetime went for the entire family.

Fast forward to today. When it’s my time to watch, I have access to video content from every corner of the globe at my fingertips on a range of screens and devices. Music videos are my go-to — everything from Like a Version performances to discovering the latest music video from Tones and I. And at the end of a long day, I’ll wind down by watching news in bed or by tuning in to a documentary. That’s my primetime.

My kids are lucky enough to have way more than five channels to choose from. They like to watch Draw with Jazza and the CraftyGirls on YouTube Kids on their tablets in the morning before school, and after school they watch Eddie Woo’s math lessons to help with their homework. When we’re together in the evening, we’ll cast one of Jayden Rodrigues’ choreography Just Dance Mashup videos to the TV for an impromptu dance party. That’s become our primetime.

Viewers, not networks, are today’s gatekeepers

These seemingly small moments when we turn to video to get a need met are changing everything. Today, it’s viewers, not networks, who are the gatekeepers of what’s considered popular programming. By democratising people’s ability to broadcast content, YouTube is able to meet everyone’s needs and satisfy any personal interest — from organisational hacks and specialised cooking tutorials to news clips and sports highlights — 24 hours a day.

Viewers are redefining primetime, and marketers need to keep up. People want instant access to content that is helpful and related to their passions. It’s time to take a fresh look at how people watch, when they watch, and what they really care about watching, and we need to adapt our advertising to this new reality.

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