YouTube's massive impact on culture, viewing habits and advertising budgets walked the red carpet on Thursday night, as thousands of YouTube celebrities, marketing executives, fans and plenty of Googlers crowded into the Javits Center in Manhattan for the company's annual BrandCast.
The event was as much of a celebration of the digital video empire's cultural clout as it was a direct pitch to steal even more dollars from traditional TV budgets. Starting with a long montage of clips from some of YouTube's biggest celebrities and ending with a surprise performance by Australian singer-songwriter Sia, YouTube enlisted its stars, its advertisers, Big Bird and the commissioner of the NBA to tout advertising online instead of on traditional networks.
— Derrick Chen (@derrickc82) May 6, 2016
"We are incredibly proud that YouTube gives everyone a voice, brings them together and shows them the world," said YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.
However, the night also received some unscripted content. During a speech from Dentsu Aegis North America CEO Nigel Morris, a fire alarm began going off before it was quickly turned off. But then it went on again, as parts of the building overhead began to audibly shift, prompting dozens to quietly rush toward the exits before an announcement finally assured attendees the building was safe.
But what's not safe are traditional television budgets, which Wojcicki and others aimed straight at with stat after stat about why millions more are directing their eyes and their attention to their phones and other smaller screens. According to Wojcicki, YouTube now reaches more 18- to 49-year-olds on mobile devices than any TV network, and just a day earlier, Interpublic Group announced it plans to shift $250 million from traditional TV networks to YouTube between October 2016 and October 2017.
"Gone are the days of testing this platform," said YouTuber Lilly Singh, a 27-year-old comedian from Canada who served as BrandCast's host. "That is so 2013. YouTube is proven and the audience is here. I hope you are too."
YouTube stars have made the jump from the internet videos to marketing campaigns. Andra Day, a 31-year-old singer who was discovered on YouTube, gave a powerful performance of her Grammy-nominated hit "Rise Up." She represented one of many YouTube stars benefiting from both the visibility and brand sponsorships—she recently partnered with Coca-Cola to have her lyrics appear on 40 million cups at McDonald's locations.
Here's a look at what was announced at Thursday night's celebration:
1. Brands can now buys spots for "Breakout" viral videos.
Google announced it is launching Google Breakout Videos, which allows advertisers to insert spots into the "hottest and fastest-rising" videos on YouTube, allowing brands to be seen sooner by viewers who are watching viral videos that wouldn't otherwise be on marketers' radars.
2. Programmatic advertising is now guaranteed on Google Preferred.
Upfront buyers will soon be able to buy Google Preferred advertising programmatically through DoubleClick Bid Manager, allowing media buyers to manage all video campaigns in the same place. For the first time, brands will be allowed to access their data to serve creative that's relevant to the highest valued audiences.
3. The NBA is launching two virtual reality series on YouTube.
NBA will soon launch two series in virtual reality, allowing viewers behind-the-scenes looks at basketball legends and other relevant content. Also, YouTube announced that all NBA inventory will now be available through Google Preferred, allowing game highlights to show up in Google Search and across YouTube, letting brands access fans who now account for 700 million annual views.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver took the stage to talk about how basketball players around the world are using YouTube to keep up with games and plays from afar. Silver said 60 percent of its online views now come from outside of the U.S., with the largest international audience coming from the Philippines.
4. Sesame Street will now have its own channel for YouTube Kids.
Sesame Street will now have a new channel on YouTube Kids, which YouTube said now receives more than 10 billion views per year. The addition, called Sesame Studios, will feature new characters and popular YouTube stars in both short-form series and original stories.
In a surprise appearance, Big Bird even took the stage with Singh to talk about Sesame Street programming on YouTube. America's favorite yellow bird also showed up again later in the show during a performance by Silentó—it's arguable that BrandCast's audience was the first ever group to watch America's favorite bird whip and nae nae.
"All birds tweet," Big Bird said.
— Saba Hamedy (@saba_h) May 6, 2016