YouTube has expanded an experiment that intentionally slows down videos for users with ad blockers enabled. This controversial move aims to push more viewers to YouTube Premium or at least disable their ad blockers, but risks alienating portions of YouTube’s audience.
YouTube first tested intentionally slowing videos in mid-2023. The video site slowed down load times to as much as 5 times slower than normal, making videos painful to watch for those blocking ads.
The goal was clearly to push more ad block users to sign up for YouTube Premium or at least whitelist YouTube from their ad blocker. However, many viewers criticized this dark pattern as a greedy business practice that makes the free experience frustrating in order to extract more money.
The slowdowns now affect videos across the site instead of just on the homepage. Signed-out mobile users trying to watch videos fullscreen have faced interruptions forcing them to sign in as well.
|Slowed down, interruptions to fullscreen
Table: Scope of Current YouTube Slowdowns for Ad Block Users
YouTube has acknowledged these “frictions” are part of an “experiment” to address lost ad revenue from ad blockers. However, they claim the interruptions are unintended bugs that they will fix.
User & Industry Reactions
Needless to say, these expanded slowdowns and interruptions have drawn more ire from portions of YouTube’s userbase. Some call it greedy for YouTube to intentionally worsen the user experience for those not contributing ad revenue.
Others argue YouTube has always been an ad-supported service, and that blocking ads parasitically uses infrastructure that content creators rely on earning money from. Segment host Chrissy Chambers tweeted:
“If you feel so entitled to steal content & not see ads, build your own video site and watch it crumble under server costs”
Industry opinions have been mixed as well. Stock analysis site The Motley Fool wrote that these “dark patterns” could boost YouTube’s revenue but at the cost of alienating valuable users in the long run.
Market research firm Omdia sees it as a logical business decision:
“YouTube has obviously decided that the lost ad revenue from a relatively small number of freeloaders is now material enough to risk the negative PR”
What Happens Next
It remains unclear whether YouTube will pull back on the expanded slowdowns due to the renewed backlash, or keep pushing forward to convert more ad block users.
If YouTube sticks with the plan, ad blocker usage on YouTube could see a noticeable drop in the coming months as casual users whitelist the site or sign up for Premium. However YouTube risks driving away longtime hardcore users refusing to capitulate.
We may see more ad blockers attempt to circumvent YouTube’s slowdowns through methods like caching videos locally. But YouTube will likely work to detect and close off such technical workarounds as well.
Ultimately YouTube must strike a balance between extracting more revenue from every viewer and keeping all audiences happy enough not to leave. Their success at walking this tightrope will become clear based on YouTube traffic and engagement over 2024.
YouTube’s business model relies heavily on selling ads and subscriptions. Yet a sizable minority uses ad blockers to consume content without generating revenue.
YouTube is now strong-arming these holdouts through intentional degradation of their experience. However, alienating users risks long-term growth, especially if competing streaming platforms arise without such limitations.
It’s a complex situation with reasonable arguments on both sides. But for now, ad-blocking YouTube viewers face increasing pressure to open their wallets or put up with a slower, more interrupted viewing experience. The coming year on YouTube will be an interesting case study in dark pattern business tactics.
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