YouTube has launched a new feature that lets viewers see the most-watched parts of any given video, signified by a semi-translucent graph that appears above the video's progress bar.
Announced on the official YouTube community (opens in new tab) site, the feature is rolling out now across Android and iOS devices, as well as on desktop. The automated graph, which is driven entirely by community engagement, is joined by a handful of other new features brought to YouTube, including a dedicated video loop function and auto-generated video chapters.
So, how does this new graph work? While seeking through a video via its progress bar, you'll see the graph appear just above it, stretching across the length of the video display. Higher bumps in the graph indicate parts of the video that viewers watch back the most. This, in theory, highlights either the best or most interesting parts of any given video.
The feature could prove to be a boon for regular viewers, especially those who might be shorter on time than others. Examples of how it can come in handy include being able to identify and skip straight to a YouTuber's initial reaction to a big announcement, or even the best parts of a football highlights reel.
If the graph works as intended, viewers returning to a video multiple times should be able to quickly identify and watch the parts that stuck out to them the most. This could be especially handy if a video lacks chapter selection – another especially useful feature that was introduced to YouTube back in 2020.
Analysis: a double-edged sword for YouTube?
YouTube's new in-built video graph sounds like a fantastic feature and time-saving measure for regular viewers, but we're not sure that content creators will appreciate it quite as much.
That's because viewer retention (the overall time spent watching a video) is a crucial metric for YouTube's algorithm. Essentially, the longer a viewer spends watching a video, the more 'valuable' it appears in YouTube's artificial eyes.
For small- to medium-sized content creators on the platform, a graph that gives viewers a visual indication of the most interesting parts of their videos could greatly impact how audiences consume that content. And not in a good way.
The feature might encourage a more simplistic viewing experience. Which, once again, is handy for viewers with limited time, but widespread use of the feature when viewing a video for the first time could directly affect its placement in the algorithm by driving down viewer retention.
There's also the danger that these most-watched moments, as decided by the community, could be robbed of important context like key pieces of information that give meaning to the moment, or the build-up that makes them truly special.
Ultimately, then, we're quite wary of this new feature. The benefits to viewers are apparent, but are perhaps offset by the potential negative effect a highlights graph could have on content creators, especially those fortunate enough to use YouTube as a source of income.