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YouTube Creates Its Future Strategy Around Channels



Jamie Byrne
Director, Content Strategy
YouTube

YouTube is no longer a repository of videos tossed together in a free-for-all manner. The “channelification” of YouTube has been popular with advertisers and a boon for the video platform, too. Jamie Byrne, director of content strategy, spoke with eMarketer’s Paul Verna about how the channels underscore a number of innovations at the company.

eMarketer: YouTube is at the point where it is very much embedded into the mainstream of what people watch. Part of that is the creation of channels on the video platform—tell me about that development.

Jamie Byrne: On YouTube today, we’ve got Ridley Scott working with Machinima on sci-fi films they’re going to release on the Machinima channel. We’ve got Simon Cowell running a global talent competition on You Generation. We’ve got Sarah Silverman and Michael Cera partnered on a comedy channel called JASH. Our focus on original programming has had some elements of funding and [unknown] creative, [as well as] mainstream creators. The creators we have on the platform really engage with YouTube and connect with their audiences.

What we’ve been working on for the past two years is what we sometimes call the “channelification” of YouTube. You’re right: In the early days, YouTube was a repository of videos, and people would just search to find the videos they wanted to watch. We’ve made a big shift, and now the entire YouTube experience is oriented around the idea of channels, and there are two reasons that’s important. One is to help users find the content they love and stay engaged with it, regardless of what platform they happen to be on. So if you’re on your PC or laptop, and you subscribe to a channel and then pick up your phone or tablet, that subscription carries through, and it makes it really easy for you to kind of stay connected to that content.

Three or four years ago, advertisers looked at a repository of videos, and it was very hard for them to make sense of it. It’s not similar to the way they had traditionally bought their television advertising. So this channel [strategy] is also really about us helping elevate creators as channel brands that advertisers can understand [the way they understand TV channels].

“If you’re on your PC or laptop, and you subscribe to a channel and then pick up your phone or tablet, that subscription carries through.”

They see brands like Machinima that start to become truly crossover because they’ve reached such great scale. Or they see creators like Smosh—the first creators to pass 10 million subscribers. Then you can start to talk about real scale that advertisers can begin to understand and align around.

eMarketer: How is the channel initiative paying off for you?

Byrne: Today, all 100 of the top 100 advertisers are advertising or have advertised on YouTube in the past couple of months. In terms of user engagement, if we were to go back a year ago, we had 78 channels that had a million subscribers, and today there are 325 channels at that level.

eMarketer: When you see something like, for example, “House of Cards,” get all those Emmy nominations and be an almost instant success on Netflix, do you think to yourself, “I wish we could be getting some of that audience,” or is that something you celebrate because it creates more scale for what you’re trying to do?

Byrne: We absolutely celebrate that. It’s important to recognize that Netflix is actually commissioning those individual shows, and we are a different kind of platform. But, we are a platform for content creators, and some of our content creators are getting those types of accolades. We encourage our creators to distribute not only on YouTube, but to look at opportunities with Netflix, Hulu or Amazon.com.

For example, WIGS—one of our original funded channels a few years ago that’s focused on women—also now distributes its content on Hulu. It has some content it does on YouTube, and it’s also using Hulu as a distribution point. It’s all kind of very symbiotic.

eMarketer: Tell me a little bit about this production space in Los Angeles. Did I just read that you’re about to break ground on one in New York?

Byrne: We are, absolutely. The creator space is really a concept to try and figure out how to help our content creators get better at what they do. It’s also a place where they can collaborate with one another—that’s a really important thing in the YouTube ecosystem. Content creators work together and share audiences. They also get access to amazing production equipment.

You can imagine that some of these creators use the tools they have at their disposal. But coming into the creator space, we’ve been able to put state-of-the-art equipment in there, and it’s really fun and exciting to see what they do with it. It’s great when you have someone who has a great creative mind and is really technically capable, but who never gets access to a 10,000-square-foot soundstage.

“The creator space is really a concept to try and figure out how to help our content creators get better at what they do.”

Any content creator who is a partner of ours can apply to a residency there that is anywhere from one week to a month long. There’s a creator, Freddie [Wong], who you may have heard of, who has a show called “Video Game High School.” He crowdsourced the funding for that on Kickstarter. He had a monthlong residency at the Los Angeles creator space that we filmed.

We have a creator space in Los Angeles, London and Tokyo, and the one in New York is going to be really exciting because not only is it a space for creators, but New York is the media capital of the world and the advertising capital of the world, and the space will also have a brand lab at the same facility.

eMarketer: What do brands do there?

Byrne: Brands can collaborate with [creators], but they’ll also learn about best practices and how they can use YouTube to build their own audiences around a channel.


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