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Why YouTube Offline Videos Won’t Be a Game-Changer

Starting in November, Internet video site will let users download content for playback within 48-hour period

Soon you’ll be able to order YouTube to go — and be able to watch videos even when you’re disconnected.

Starting in November, a new feature for Google’s YouTube mobile apps will let users watch videos offline for up to 48 hours when they don’t have an Internet connection.

The development promises to be a win for YouTube fans, who will now be able to watch content while they’re, say, trapped on a plane 30,000 feet in the air without Wi-Fi. But many industry execs are doubtful the feature will move the needle in terms of total views — or ad dollars, especially given the growth in high-speed wireless Internet connectivity.

The offline-viewing feature is “a welcome innovation… but likely not a huge game-changer,” said a top executive at a large YouTube multichannel networks, who requested anonymity because YouTube is a major partner. That said, the exec added, “mobile YouTube viewing is exploding and this will certainly help add fuel to that fire.”

YouTube says viewing on smartphones and tablets currently comprises more than 25% of users’ global watch time, representing more than 1 billion total views a day. The offline-viewing capability is aimed at pushing that even higher.

“This upcoming feature will allow people to add videos to their device to watch for a short period when an Internet connection is unavailable,” YouTube said in a blog post late Tuesday. “So your fans’ ability to enjoy your videos no longer has to be interrupted by something as commonplace as a morning commute.”

YouTube reps declined to comment beyond what it announced in the post.

According to sources familiar with the initiative, YouTube has notified a large group of partners to give them an opportunity to opt out if they so choose. Google in-­stream ads will play in offline content, and the views will be added to total view counts.

Not everyone thinks YouTube’s disconnected viewing will make much of a difference. “I think it’s a nice bonus, but probably not earth-shattering unless the download is for more of a long-form experience,” VideoNuze analyst Will Richmond said.

Meanwhile, YouTube’s offline-viewing feature won’t support discovery of new content through social and sharing “which happens ‘in the moment’ with a live connection,” said Larry Tanz, CEO of digital studio Vuguru. On the other hand, it might let YouTube charge higher CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) if it can show the downloading audience is more engaged, he added.

More broadly, a bigger issue for YouTube is the unhappiness content creators have with the terms of the advertising-revenue split: YouTube takes 45%, an arrangement many partners complain about.

One observer who’s upbeat on the potential for YouTube offline viewing is Peter Csathy, CEO of consulting and investment group Manatt Digital Media Ventures. He argued that the feature will let YouTube and partners fill the “gaping hole” when users are disconnected.

Reaching users cut off from the Internet is “the perfect time to engage with us with video — so a great opportunity for content creators and marketeers,” he said.

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