Backstage – An Exciting New Feature From YouTube

As reported in our August Social Media Roundup post, YouTube are said to be developing a new feature called Backstage to complement its current video streaming service. We met up with Linford Miles, Technical Film Producer at the University of Surrey, to gain a deeper understanding of what Backstage could offer users and how it could affect the service currently provided by YouTube.

Could you please give us a brief overview of your understanding of YouTube’s new feature ‘Backstage’?
Little is known about YouTube Backstage right now, with Google refusing to comment on the rumours that it may be expanding its eleven-year-old video streaming service. If the rumours are true, we can expect to see a host of new features coming to YouTube, which may turn it from a video sharing service into the social platform that Google+ was meant to be. According to the recent article published by VentureBeat, users may soon be able to share photos, polls, links, text posts and videos to their subscribers.

Backstage content opens up new opportunities for channel owners to create more interactive and ephemeral content. In the past, YouTube has been a platform users could dip in and out of every day, week, month etc. based on when a video was posted. These new developments could encourage users to return more often to their favourite channels.

Why do you think YouTube have decided to launch Backstage now?
Whilst currently the king of video-sharing, YouTube needs to keep innovating and developing their platform with popular features if they want users to stay. With competition from Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, they are no longer alone in the world of video-sharing. As times have changed and technologies have improved, YouTube have always been early adopters of new technologies, such as live and 360 video. Backstage is another example of YouTube trying to keep up with the latest trends.

If you use Snapchat and Instagram, you may have noticed that recently Instagram introduced a new feature called ‘Stories’. It’s incredibly similar to the core idea behind Snapchat, where users can share ad-hoc content without a lasting record. This is a great example of a social platform learning from its competitors and developing features that will grow its user base and prolong its life cycle as an app. For YouTube to stay in the game, they need to be looking out to their competitors to see where they can grow.

What are the potential advantages and disadvantages of the feature?
There are a number of potential advantages of Backstage.‘Rich replies’ will eventually allow users to be able to respond to content using a variety of tools, including photos, videos and text posts. Engagement has always been a bit stilted in YouTube, so new areas for engagement between brand and viewer will be greatly welcomed. With any luck, users will also be able to respond with GIFs and emojis to create media rich replies. Other platforms are already allowing this and the feature seems popular.

Backstage content will be pushed to users’ feeds and notifications, giving social engagement a more prominent place on the platform instead of restricting it to video pages. All this opens up new avenues for community building within YouTube itself, rather than driving people to other platforms, as was previously the case with Google+.

YouTube’s new active approach to creating/curating content through Backstage could slow the tide of users turning away from the platform and may even see some of those that have already left return to continue growing channels. Backstage potentially opens up new possibilities for channels to grow their follower base, similar to how ‘YouTube celebrities’ have in the past.

There are, of course, some potential pitfalls of the feature. YouTube need to be careful to put their own unique stamp on Backstage, not simply copy from other platforms. Doing so could cause people to see no unique pull and jump ship to other networks. YouTube needs to keep ‘being YouTube’ throughout this and not ‘Facebook 2.0’, like many others have tried and failed at in the past.

Whilst video sharing will remain the primary feature, it’s possible Backstage could take priority over the development of YouTube’s standard video services. This could cause areas that have previously been well supported to drop behind. In turn, this could allow other networks to creep up and overtake them. It could also severely impact the quality and value of longer term content on YouTube if brands favour the quick wins. However, if done properly, users will get all the content they did before, but with extra ‘red-button’ material and stronger community building tools.

How will Backstage differ from Google+?
Whilst Backstage and Google+ share many similar features, Backstage has the potential to come out the winner. The reason for this is that it’s an addition to an already successful platform. YouTube has a user base of over 1 billion people. When Google+ started out in 2011 it was an entirely new platform that required users to set up accounts. As many people already had existing Google and YouTube, as well as Facebook and Twitter profiles it just seemed too much to create yet another new social channel.

Google+ was generally well received by those who created accounts, it just couldn’t get enough people onboard to make it the active platform they aspired it to be. While Google+ was designed as a community first, media second type of platform, YouTube has always been video first, community second. Bringing the community in tighter with the already exceptional video sharing services could lead the way for some interesting social developments.

What do you think would be the advantages of Youtubers choosing to interact with fans via Backstage rather than using rival features such as Facebook Live?
Those who have already built strong followings on YouTube will welcome Backstage as they already have a captivated audience to engage with the moment Backstage is launched. Facebook Live is a great tool, but if your Facebook community isn’t thriving as much as your YouTube audience it may be difficult to migrate and build an equal community. It’s also detrimental for a user to spread themselves too thinly across a multitude of social platforms. It’s far easier if you have one channel that can provide all functionality. This is where YouTube could really flourish and come into its own.

One area that YouTube really excels in is quality. The highest Facebook can achieve at the moment is 720p, which is a turnoff for film producers like me. 720p, whilst still high definition, is considered pretty low quality these days. It’s disappointing when you produce a high quality video to have it compressed to a pixel ridden mess right in front of your eyes. Last year, YouTube introduced support for 8k video, which is outstanding if your computer can run it! The marked difference in quality could lead users to choose YouTube over platforms where the quality is lower.

Do you think Backstage will be a success or a flop?
It’s hard to tell if Backstage will be a success or a flop at this stage, as it currently doesn’t exist publicly for users to try. YouTube has already established a worldwide reputation for itself as the number one video streaming service. If it takes everything that makes it great (high quality, live video, 360 support etc.) and provides a more social, but ephemeral and interactive experience for content creators and viewers, it could be a show stealer.

Special thanks to Linford for providing such interesting insights into Backstage. Check back here for the latest on YouTube Backstage and a wide range of other social media platforms.