Singer Katy Perry, on hand at YouTube’s 2017 NewFront
“It’s strange being sexy and corporate at the same time,” said singer Katy Perry during her performance at YouTube’s annual NewFront presentation last night.
But that’s the balancing act YouTube attempted, as it tried to woo advertisers and press to its upcoming lineup of new series.
The event, held in a cavernous facility at Javits Conference Center in New York City and emceed by late-night TV host James Corden, showcased the upcoming video programming for this Google-owned king of user-generated content. The NewFronts are the online video world’s version of the traditional TV world’s UpFront presentations, where advertisers are wooed to sign up for new shows.
But, based on YouTube’s cited stats, the old TV guys are fading out like the end of a classic Western show. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told the 2,800+ attending press, advertisers and fans that her platform now reaches more viewers aged 18 to 49 in prime time than any TV network, according to a Google-commissioned Nielsen study.
Seven shows were announced, continuing YouTube’s decision last year to begin producing premium content for its YouTube Red subscription service:
- “Best. Cover. Ever.” From Ryan Seacrest Productions and major TV studio Endemol and hosted by musician/actor Ludacris, it will showcase the best cover performances by previously unknown performers of hit songs.
- “Ellen’s Show Me More Show” features Ellen Degenes with backstage looks at guests from her daytime TV show.
- “I Am: Demi Lovato” is a portrait of the musician as she records a new album and tackles “issues important to her.”
- “Kevin Hart: What the Fit?” Offers unusual workout routines by the comedian and fitness fanatic.
- “Good Mythical Morning” is a long-form expansion of YouTube’s most popular daily show, “Rhett & Link.”
- The “Super Slow Show” employs high-speed cameras to slow down visual spectacles.
- “The Katy Perry Live Special,” offering a look at the day before her new album launch.
With a billion viewers every month, YouTube has become something much more than a paradise for user-generated video. Although it is essentially its own network, the newest lineup obviously shows its indebtedness to talent and ideas from traditional TV.
In fact, YouTube seems intent on rescuing the classic ad model that TV is in the process of abandoning. Chief Business Officer Robert Kynci told the audience that, “five years ago, 85 percent of all original series [on TV] were ad-supported.” But now, he said, because of the proliferation of TV content on subscriber-based TV like HBO, “that number has fallen to two-thirds.”
“So, we see these [ad-supported] shows as a way for us to partner with you to buck this trend,” Kynci said. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Brands, for instance, has signed up as the exclusive sponsor of “Best. Cover. Ever.”
Actually, as YouTube noted, it’s merging with TV content, with a 50 percent increase of watch time for TV content on YouTube in the last year, and a doubling of YouTube content on connected TV screens.
Wojcicki pitched the idea that the platform’s viewers “don’t come to YouTube for polish, they come to YouTube for texture.” And, as she pointed out, they also come to be part of a community of fans for their favorite content.
That community characteristic is just one of the reasons that YouTube is a Promised Land for the last century’s film and video makers.
In our previous century, I spent a decade running a showcase of independent film (CENTER SCREEN at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts), at a time when personally expressive media was a revolution because of the bottlenecks of few accommodating theaters or TV opportunities, plus the huge expense of film stock and good equipment.
Over another four years, I founded and headed the website of a major PBS station (WNET in NYC), attempting to convince public TV that its days as the exclusive and mostly reluctant venue for a few individually expressive media makers were numbered.
Now, a dozen years after its launch, YouTube is in full bloom, with high-def smartphones and laptop editing bringing production costs down to almost anyone, and free worldwide distribution of your own channel available for just your time.
The new shows previewed last night by YouTube had the feel of early MTV, flamboyant and eager to prove to advertisers that it can deliver eyeballs. But YouTube knows it can do that. The pending question is whether its original series will evolve into what the next phase of personally expressive media was meant to be.