In a new upload from Creator Insider, the platform pulled back the veil on its content surfacing systems, bringing in vice president of engineering Cristos Goodrow to answer a series of creator- and user-submitted questions about how and why YouTube decides to recommend certain channels and videos.
Chief among those questions was whether YouTube’s systems prioritze total overall watch time or individual user retention. The user who submitted the question posed an example: Is someone watching 50% of a five-minute video (2.5 minutes) better or worse than someone watching three minutes of a ten-minute video?
“After responsibility, the most important thing for the recommendation system is satisfaction. So it really depends on which of the two videos the viewer is most likely to find satisfying.” Some users can watch small slices of videos and still be “satisfied,” according to YouTube’s systems. So when it comes to watch time versus retention, the recommendation algorithm considers each individual user’s viewing preferences, and might go with watch time for one, and user retention for another, depending on videos’ contents and the users’ previous behaviors.
How long does it take new videos to get picked up by the recommendation algorithm?
“Ideally, it would happen immediately,” Goodrow says. He explains that YouTube has “special pathways” for new videos “to ensure that they can get picked up.” But there are still obstacles keeping brand-new videos from being recommended as regularly as older ones. “The most important thing is also trying to figure out which viewers would be interested in these videos, and that’s something that’s especially hard for new videos, because we just don’t have as much information about them,” Goodrow says.
“We actually try very hard to recommend videos from small channels,” Goodrow says. But once again, the issue with promoting small channel across the board is lack of information. “With small channels, we have less information about who the audience is for that channel,” he says. YouTube works to combat this with “special projects” specifically dedicated to boosting growing YouTubers’ content–things like the New To You feature it rolled out in July.****