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Oct. 5, 2009, 10:53 a.m.

YouTube’s local-news vids get clicks, show some serious traffic potential

With 20 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, there’s bound to be some useful local news in there. Finding it is another matter.

Toward that end, YouTube earlier this year rolled out a News Near You feature that showcases local stories from media outlets and independent reporters. I checked in with Steve Grove, head of YouTube’s news and politics, to see how the feature is faring.

The numbers are noteworthy: According to Grove, videos within the News Near You box on YouTube’s news page garner, on average, a 5-10 percent click-through rate. Doing some rough math (completely unofficial and for demonstration purposes only): If one percent of YouTube’s estimated 11.8 million daily U.S. visitors goes to the news section, that’s an audience of 118,000. Applying the 5-10 percent click-through rate, between 6,000 and 12,000 people view videos through News Near You on a daily basis.

That’s not exactly a 30-second Super Bowl spot; view numbers for the videos we see in the feature in Boston are often in the double digits. But News Near You does offer local media a low-effort platform that attracts a geographically-relevant audience. And its key selling point is its potential upside.

News Near You only appears on a single page within YouTube’s traffic-friendly domain. Imagine if it were pushed to additional sections of the site: The potential audience would go through the roof if a local news module were added to YouTube’s video playback pages. Grove said this sort of expansion has been discussed, but there’s no timetable in place.

Finding the right target

News Near You uses a viewer’s IP address to pull in videos from news providers within a 100-mile radius. That stretches the definition of local news. (Hate to admit it, but comings and goings in New Hampshire and Rhode Island don’t mesh with my own Boston provincialism.) A contracted radius could boost relevance and inspire more clickthroughs.

Around 90 percent of the content within News Near You comes from YouTube’s partnerships with local TV stations. But there’s also room for the little guy. Grove said independent journalists who report on community happenings fall within YouTube’s definition of local news.

“We’re essentially looking for citizen reporters who pass the muster of reporting on what’s taking place in their environments,” Grove said. “We do a gut check. We look at their YouTube channel. Are they going out and actually reporting as opposed to just commentating on the news?”

Grove pointed out two additional YouTube news features that made recent debuts:

— In an effort to showcase relevant news within popular search queries — such as “Obama” — YouTube created a “Recently Uploaded” filter that appears near the top of certain common queries. This separates news coverage from other video providers.

— The YouTube news section now includes an “As Seen On” box (scroll to the bottom of the page) that aggregates YouTube videos with the most playbacks on external sites. News stories that resonate on Facebook, Huffington Post and other sites often appear there. YouTube has always taken a “serve them where they gather” perspective by allowing easy embedding of its videos on other sites, and this is a nice representation of the reach that feature provides.

Grove noted that all of these efforts hinge on relevance, which explains their limited distribution. “The approach that we take more broadly to content is that we never would want to push local news videos to people who don’t want to watch them,” Grove said.

POSTED     Oct. 5, 2009, 10:53 a.m.
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