YouTube has to start acting less like a tech platform and more like a TV network.
The company has long served as the repository for every possible video on the planet, professional or otherwise. But given that the Alphabet-owned video site is making another push into original programming, it is looking to become an outlet where some people will seek out favorite shows with regularity.
In other words, YouTube needs to shift slightly from having its algorithm find things you might want to watch to YouTube telling you what you should watch.
That’s the delicate dance YouTube originals head Susanne Daniels needs to master as she pushes a slate of seven original YouTube series designed both to capture big audiences and also serve as safe havens for advertisers at a moment where that’s suddenly paramount for the video outlet.
Among the shows announced in May are a behind the scenes look at Ellen Degeneres’ talk show, a music cover competition series hosted by Ryan Seacrest, as well as a pair of scripted series due later this year.
It won’t necessarily be easy. During a keynote session at the Cannes advertising festival on Monday, Daniels – who jumped from MTV in 2015 to become YouTube’s programming chief – noted that YouTube generates 1 billion hours of viewing a day. Thus, any new video series has the potential to be just another video on YouTube.
Case in point. Daniels was joined on stage with actress/music artist Demi Lovato, who talked about her new YouTube original show (while also discussing how she’s struggling to come to terms with turning 25). Lovato boasts of 10 million YouTube subscribers, and during the keynote interview was recognized for crossing the 1 billion view barrier.
So it’s fair to ask, how is any new Lovato video going to stand out amongst a sea of Lovato videos? The same can be said for Degeneres, who boasts of a huge YouTube following, as well as the home-grown YouTube stars Rhett and Link – who are also working on a YouTube original.
Daniels said YouTube has some unique advantages to make sure its shows get noticed, such as Google’s powerful tech and data, that most networks don’t enjoy.
“I don’t find the fact that YouTube has so much [user-generated] content or programming that much of a challenge more than I consider the current landscape of programming a challenge in and of itself,” she said during a post-keynote interview with reporters.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and there’s never been this many scripted shows or unscripted shows out there available. There’s never been this many choices for the viewer. So yes, we’re up against 500 scripted shows … and we’re up against our own UGC content. But I think there’s a way with good marketing and using the strength of YouTube and the platform to attract viewership.”
Daniels pointed to a recent 96-hour programming marathon hosted by the pop star Katy Perry, which reached 49 million people across the globe. Perry and YouTube only let fans know about the variety event at the last minute. And YouTube was able to surface those videos to Perry’s fans via its data, algorithm, and a promotional push.
“There’s a tendency to think of YouTube as this giant pool where everything is competing with everything else, but that’s not really how it works,” said Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s head of culture. Most YouTube stars post videos on the same day or time consistently, so regular YouTube viewers are ready to seek content out, he said.
“Videos go viral every day,” Daniels added.
For some originals, YouTube will rely on its data and recommendation engine, which benefits from 80 billion “signals” from viewers passively indicating what they are interested in based on what they click on. But in other cases, the plan is to promote shows using more traditional channels, like TV ads, ads prior to movies, and other conventional marketing.
Daniels is hoping for a drama series to become an anchor for her slate of originals.
“There is something about the prestige of a drama that is harder to market to than a comedy,” she said. YouTube’s coming scripted shows include the dance-themed “Step Up” and “Impulse,” a sci fi vehicle being produced for the YouTube Red subscription service by Doug Liman of the “Bourne Identity” franchise
“Both have potential to break out,” said Daniels.”I think we are going to do different kind of marketing [for those shows],” she said.
Among other topics raised during the Cannes sit down:
- The collection of ad-supported original series YouTube is planning this year were already in the works before YouTube found itself in hot water with marketers, whose ads were spotted alongside hate videos. The fact that those shows were greenlit, “wasn’t a reaction to that,” said Daniels. “But the good news is they provide an opportunity for advertisers to have a safe environment.” Daniels is planning to ramp up the company’s original output for 2018, and hopes that half of the shows come from YouTube talent and half from outside studios. “Creators want their content to reach a big audience,” said Daniels.