Q&A: YouTube’s CMO Goes ‘Live’

On Saturday YouTube will stream its first live event. YouTube Live will be held in San Francisco at 5 p.m. The event is meant to reflect the scale and diversity of content on YouTube. Internet born stars like Soulja Boy and Esmee Denters will be performing as will Grammy award winning artists like Will.I.Am and Akon. Discovery Channel stars’ Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame will also be in attendance. While the talent is diverse, they all share one common trait: a huge following on YouTube. In fact, the 50 or so performers at YouTube Live account for 2.5 billion combined video views. YouTube CMO Chris Di Cesare, who quarterbacked the effort, spoke to AdweekMedia news editor Kenneth Hein about the genesis of the event, how its advertisers were woven in, as well as what it has in store for marketers moving forward:

Brandweek: How did YouTube Live come about?
Chris Di Cesare: The idea behind YouTube Live really sprung up via the YouTube community via a series of “gatherings” that took place in 2007 that they organized on their own. The YouTube community, spontaneously and of their own accord, gathered in cities around the world to meet each other in person. This was really exciting to us and we wanted to find a way to help the YouTube community celebrate themselves and each other in a truly global fashion.

BW: How were the brand partners selected? What will their involvement be?
CD: It was really important to us out of the gate to make sure that all aspects of YouTube Live, including our sponsors, were grounded in YouTube in an organic way or were contributing something additive to the event. Lionsgate, our theatrical sponsor, is promoting the Saw franchise and other Q4 tent-pole films. This is a natural fit for YouTube Live because Saw is one of the communities’ favorite film franchises. Saw trailers have received millions of views on YouTube over the past few years. Guitar Hero, from Activision, is also a core part of the YouTube community. From 9-year old Guitar Hero virtuosos to perfect score videos, you can find users embracing the game and engaging around Guitar Hero content. We’ve created a great surprise moment to honor Guitar Hero World Tour at YouTube Live; some of the site’s popular guitar virtuosos will be interacting with Guitar Hero legends. Virgin America is playing a key role in YouTube Live by facilitating the event’s travel needs. We’re also excited to have Pure Digital as one of our partners. Often referred to as the camcorder for the YouTube generation, Pure Digital’s Flip camcorder is powering the upload stations at the event and we’ve worked with them to create special limited edition YouTube Live branded Flip Mino camcorders. Flip also supplied select YouTube users with camcorders so that they could record and share their experiences leading up to and at the YouTube Live event.

BW: Is this something YouTube will be doing more of?
CD: I view YouTube Live on Nov. 22 as an inaugural event that we will undertake on an annual basis. Following the event, we will get feedback from our partners, sponsors and users and determine future plans.

BW: How is YouTube working to evolve itself for users as well as its advertisers?

CD: YouTube is less than 3 years old and the site’s phenomenal growth has been spurred by keeping the users first in everything we do. While it is a delicate balance, allowing advertisers to participate in an additive way benefits all involved. YouTube Live is a great example of that. This is first and foremost a community event but sponsors are participating in a way that shows they value the YouTube community. If users look at the sponsors as heroes given their participation and value to the event, everybody wins.

BW: How does YouTube plan make pre-roll ads and other more interruptive stuff more palatable to it audience?
CD: We’ve learned that online video advertising has to be properly tailored to different kinds of content and user experiences. Since watching TV and movies on YouTube provides a different experience for viewers, our users react differently to advertising in this environment. There is growing understanding in the industry that viewers are OK with this type of advertising when they watch full-length content, and we think that viewers accept these kinds of ads and actually expect them in the long-form environment. But we’ll keep innovating to see what else we can do with pre-rolls and other ads of this type.

BW: Why has it taken so long to find a workable ad model for YouTube? What has been the most promising of the methods tried so far?
CD: The Google model is one of innovation and experimentation. We are constantly testing a wide range of options to find the right advertising format, for the right content and experience on YouTube — whether you’re watching short videos or long videos, uploading videos or even searching for videos on our site. We do not believe there is one advertising solution for YouTube, but lots of valuable ways for advertisers to engage with our audience.

BW: Critics say Hulu has surpassed you guys as the place for content and advertisers. Thoughts?

CD: We think that content creators and advertisers will continue to benefit from engaging with the YouTube community, the largest audience for video in the world.

BW: What’s your favorite all-time clip?
CD: One of my true favorites is called the “Ultimate Cannon Rock.” I’m always amazed by videos uploaded by one person that can inspire a global phenomenon. The “Ultimate Cannon Rock” is a great example of that. Built upon one of most popular videos of all time on YouTube, “Guitar” by Funtwo, the “Ultimate Cannon Rock” features 40 guitarists from around the world playing their own version. Check it out!