YouTube's Channels reboot gives pharmas pause

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YouTube's Channels reboot gives pharmas pause
YouTube's Channels reboot gives pharmas pause

Google's latest YouTube update aims to make its Channels more social, and even as the company has given its pharma clients an extra month to hold on to their old page designs, the new format is inspiring anxiety among drug firms and medical agencies.

The YouTube One Channel format, which debuted March 7, gives users a more mobile-friendly and flexible template. Pharmas will have until June 19 to switch over their YouTube Channels, while other Channel clients will have to make the change by May 15. Google made the allowance in light of the regulatory concerns unique to the industry.

At a recent meeting of the Digital Health Coalition, members wondered whether the changes would place them in regulatory jeopardy. Google told MM&M that channel owners would continue to have the ability to turn off comments, and their content, while shareable, could be set to play only on YouTube—and not, say, in someone's Facebook feed, where companies could not necessarily monitor or respond to comments, but might be held to adverse events reporting requirements all the same.

When Facebook mandated that all users allow comments two years back, many pharmas responded by pulling their product pages and leaving only their corporate pages up. This move looks a lot less alarming for pharmas, though the leeway Google has carved out for the industry doesn't address the look and feel of the platform, said Digital Health Coalition co-founder Mark Bard, who notes that brand and digital teams spent months getting the go-ahead from their medical, legal and regulatory departments on the existing format, and can expect to have to go through that process all over again.

“Pharma wants to know what a redesign will look like six months ahead of time, but that's not realistic,” said Bard. “The most you can hope for is a month or two's notice. In a market where innovation is the norm you should plan for change as a given.”

There's also concern that the new pages, denuded of their social features, will appear dull and empty—not that pharma's ever been the life of the Internet.

A quick, unscientific survey of pharma YouTube channels found most sticking to the old format for now, though Roche has upgraded its corporate channel. It looks good—art-splashed, with lots of navigational options, but not too busy.

Bard notes that pharmas might not have as much leverage with digital media companies as big-spending consumer packaged goods firms.

“They spend little to nothing on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube today,” he said. “Why would those platforms go out of their way to keep pharma happy? If a company is spending millions on YouTube with a custom channel and media spend, then I think Google has a responsibility to them as a partner and advertiser so they can prepare or change future strategies and campaigns. For the rest of the market, I think they'll tend to learn about changes like the rest of the population—by reading an article or press release.”

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