YouTube to show auto-generated thumbnails to small percentage of viewers

Those custom thumbnails you spend hours working on? For the next few weeks, not everyone will see them.

Over the coming weeks, a small subset of viewers across YouTube – 0.3%, to be precise – will see the auto-generated thumbnail for all videos on YouTube instead of the custom thumbnails that creators upload. YouTube will be using the default auto-generated thumbnail – that is, the middle thumbnail that appears on the ‘Edit Videos’ page for creators.

“We’re running this experiment to improve auto generated thumbnails (a top request we get from creators who use them) by testing the effectiveness of auto-generated thumbnails,” a YouTube representative on the Google Product Forums wrote.

The experiment appears to be temporary in nature, and all viewers should see custom thumbnails again in a few weeks. It’s not immediately clear how viewers are chosen to be a part of this “experiment.”

YouTuber Chilled Chaos expressed his concerns in a tweet to YouTube: “I think what bothers me the most is the lack of transparency of why, when, or who it’s happening to,” he wrote. “And .3% isn’t small when you’re talking about 1.5 billion monthly users.”

Keemstar noticed the default thumbnails appearing on his profile and tweeted a screenshot to YouTube as well.

Hank Green took the other side of the argument: “I just wanted to say that I don’t think it’s a worthwhile thing to freak out about. A temporary, small test that will give YouTube useful data about how auto-generated thumbnails perform vs creator created ones,” he wrote.

In response to the wide-spread criticism, YouTube put out a tweet:

The experiment will likely give YouTube data about which auto-generated thumbnails perform best. That data, in turn, can provide guidance into how to fine-tune their auto-selection algorithms. Creators newer to the platform often lack the resources or know-how to create their own thumbnails, and improved options for auto-generated thumbnails may help them to grow their audience earlier on.

It’s not clear exactly when this experiment will end, but we’ll provide an update as we hear more.