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A version of this perspective previously appeared in Campaign.

Primetime. The word sounds dated in 2019, conjuring up memories of “must-see TV,” checking TV Guide, and setting the VCR to record your favorite 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? According to an expansive study we conducted with Omnicom Media Group, video viewers want content that relates to their passions.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 3X more important than whether the content features famous actors, and 1.6X more important than whether it has high production value. Of the survey respondents who had watched something on YouTube in the previous 24 hours, over 60% of them said it was related to something they were passionate about.2

Personalized 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.

Confession time. Back in the day, I was always more of a scripted TV kind of person. So when I first joined Google, I used to set time on my calendar to “watch YouTube.” I started with Ted Talks and late night shows, and, ultimately, I discovered creators and channels like Marques Brownlee and Postmodern Jukebox. I even go back to my scripted roots with shows like Cobra Kai. That’s my primetime.

A short while ago, I was looking for something my sons and I could do together every morning. After trying a few different YouTube yoga creators, we discovered and fell in love with Yoga with Adriene. We look forward to our morning ritual, and now that’s 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 democratizing people’s ability to broadcast content, YouTube is able to meet everyone’s needs and satisfy any personal interest — from organizational hacks and specialized 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, what they really care about watching, and adapt our advertising to this new reality.