YouTube’s ‘take a break’ feature: A move to offset digital addiction backlash?

Binge-watchers of YouTube videos, listen up. YouTube has revealed several new features to its mobile app to help users with their “digital wellbeing”. Out of several measures recently announced to aid users, one feature which garnered media attention was YouTube’s “take a break reminder” function, which allow users to set reminders to stop watching YouTube in time breaks of 15, 30, 60, 90 or 180 minutes.

Other measures includes a time watched profile (currently in the works) to give users a better understanding of their usage time and patterns to better manage their watching habits. Another user feature is also a scheduled notification digest which combines all of the daily push notifications you receive from the YouTube app into a single combined notification, along with other features which disables notification sounds and vibrations.

This is not the first time a technology company has introduced measures to help with their user’s well being. In April, Facebook rolled out a new sleep mode on its Messenger Kids platform to give parents more control and to give kids a safer space to message and video chat with close friends and family. This included parental controls which allows parents to make the app inaccessible at a certain time, like during dinner, homework time or bedtime.

In a conversation with Marketing, Ramakrishnan CN, partner at Entropia, said that the term “digital well-being” is a mantra now to pacify the increasing backlash over digital addiction seen across the spectrum.

“Content, social platforms and the device makers are the ones who have to take the brunt of this backlash, and rightfully so. However such moves, at the moment, seem just perfunctory to abate the backlash,” Ramakrishnan said.

According to Ramakrishnan, YouTube’s take a break or “snooze” function is time-based, which goes against user behaviour, and will likely be opted out quickly by the user if they are in the middle of watching a video. Comparing to Nintendo’s Wii, he says, in the case of Wii however, break reminders were made at the end of the game and not in the middle – making it less disruptive to the player experience.

Ramakrishnan added that many videos are also played as background music, as such, the new “take a break” function may likely hamper than experience too. He added:

If Google is serious about ‘digital well-being’, it should also put the new function on its browser and Android OS as a default opted in feature, and not just for YouTube.

Agreeing with Ramakrishnan was Darren Yuen, MD at BPN, who added that media companies are essentially tasked to keep the stickiness of the user to the content they create for brands. This content can be in the form of participation or consumption, but essentially, it’s about keeping relevance and engagement at that point.

“With enhanced profiling and content serving techniques, the relevance of content increases and will be deemed less intrusive,” he added. As such, taking a break from YouTube opens the door for the user to navigate elsewhere, not necessarily to have downtime on screen.

“This move opens the door for other experiences on other applications that will continue to engage with the user,” Yuen explained.

“Quality-wise, while the time is set by the user in terms of when the break should be prompted, the content they consume doesn’t necessarily follow those time options, and this could hamper the viewing experience. However, this will be minimised in the long run with picture in picture mode and custom settings,” Yuen added.

Will advertisers see a drop in user engagement?

When asked what the advertiser impact would be on the roll out of the take a break function, Yuen said if advertisers are able to craft their messaging around the base intention to peel away from content, and conceptualise something more interesting and relevant, it will prove to be a worthy trade-off for the use.

As such, understanding the mindset of the user based on the content they are consuming at that moment will be key in understanding the kind of “break content” that users are likely to welcome. For Yuen, this can also be an introduction to popular ad formats such as opening and closing, idle screen ads which would work well on small screens.

For Ramakrishnan, there would like not be a major change in user engagement patterns and advertiser impact in the short term.

“This is because ‘digital addiction’ is the mainstay of [YouTube’s] platform growth and revenues and I don’t see it shooting itself in the foot anytime soon,” Ramakrishnan said.

Comparing to The Coca-Cola company, he said when Coke launched a diet or zero version of Coke in its portfolio to help offset the backlash towards high sugar drinks, the idea was not to sell less, but rather more carbonated drinks.

“However if the digital well-being movement takes steam, with users actually reducing YouTube consumption on their own accord, then Google would definitely have to figure out a workable ‘well-being’ solution for their own survival,” he added.

But throwing support behind YouTube was Tobias Wilson, CEO of APD Singapore, who said move is a bold one and a step in the right direction. This is because ethical business is the only way to do business moving forward.

“In 2003, we hit ‘peak children’ meaning that there were more children on the planet at this time than any other. Fast forward 15 years, all of those kids are becoming adults – and they’re empowered adults who intrinsically understand technology and care about humanity,” Wilson explained.

Consumer addiction to technology is also not a fluke, Wilson explained, quoting web developer Adam Scott and former-Googler Tristan Harris, speakers around the danger of digital addiction and its grab on consumer attention.

“From the extra second it takes social media apps to show notifications, to the blatant use of user’s data for targeting, we’ve been baited and we’ve taken it, hook, line and sinker,” Wilson said. He added:

I think YouTube’s move is a bold one and a step in the right direction and if advertisers don’t agree, then their priorities are dated and misaligned with the medium and the audience. Viva la humanity!

Pradeep Harikrishnan, CEO of IPG Mediabrands Indonesia, is of the view that Youtube’s move is smart as it demonstrates responsibility on its part. It’s also to demonstrate its collective responsibility to ensure that a user’s well being is upheld. By introducing the feature, YouTube provides the necessary control mechanism for users.

“However, this will not significantly affect consumption or engagement for the medium or the ads as it mimicking a natural human mechanism (taking a break),” Harikrishnan said. He added that he does not foresee any significant impact from the new feature, on the other hand, it can provide an opportunity for advertisers to better engage with consumers, just like Kit Kat’s “Have a break, have a Kit Kat” campaign.

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