YouTube's AI is the puppet master over most of what you watch

At CES, YouTube's product chief says for 70 percent of the time you watch, you're riding a chain of recommendations driven by artificial intelligence.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
  • Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Joan E. Solsman
2 min read

AI knows what you want to watch.


YouTube's artificial intelligence is getting better at dragging you down a video rabbit hole. 

For more than 70 percent of the time you spend watching on Google's massive video site, you're lured in by one of the service's AI-driven recommendations, YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan said Wednesday, speaking at a panel discussion at CES. 

And if you're watching on mobile, the average watching session lasts more than 60 minutes, he added, "because of what our recommendations engines are putting in front of you," he said.

The ability to personalize YouTube's massive library of videos is crucial for the service, so you can find things to watch immediately when you open its app, or even after you've viewed what you searched for. It's also critical for YouTube livelihood. 

YouTube has long ruled free online video: Viewers watch more than a billion hours of video there daily. But social giant Facebook has been aggressively campaigning to put video first in your news feed. With its audience of 2 billion monthly visitors, Facebook is angling to swipe your attention from YouTube -- and eat some of YouTube's lunch as more advertising dollars flow online from TV.

"We focused a lot in last several years on machine learning and artificial intelligence to learn what our users like and make," Mohan said. "Our job is to give the a steady stream, almost a synthetic or personalized channel," Mohan said.

First published, Jan. 10, 10:05 a.m. PT
Correction, 3:05 p.m.:
The original version of this story misstated the portion of YouTube viewing hours accounted for by recommendation-driven viewing. It's more than 70 percent. 

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