Can print publishers hold their own in the unfamiliar world of high-quality TV? Hearst, one of the publishers that have signed on to YouTube’s quality content push, will soon provide some answers with its two forthcoming YouTube channels.
On April 15, Hearst is set to launch the Hello Style channel, a collaboration of five of its women’s titles including Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar. It'll be followed May 1 by the Car and Driver TV channel, from Hearst’s auto-focused brands.
YouTube, which is spending $100 million to help a variety of media companies develop the channels, is gambling that the higher-quality content will help it attract advertisers who would have avoided the amateur content the site is best known for. Magazine publishers, for their part, are looking to video and other platforms to offset slower print advertising growth.
“Video is going to become an increasingly important medium,” said John Loughlin, evp and general manager of Hearst Magazines. “Our goal is not to become flat-footed in this space.”
But producing high-quality shows with a plot is a leap for most magazines, whose videos to date have largely consisted of how-to’s and behind-the-scenes with celebrities. Loughlin revealed that YouTube gave Hearst $10 million to kick-start production, and like other content partners, Hearst will provide promotion for the channels. Still, there’s been a learning curve.
“A lot of this is TV quality, but certainly, the budgets and the time are not TV,” said Kimberly Lau, vp of business development for Hearst Digital Media and one of the executives behind the channels initiative.
While YouTube provided funding, it was up to the content partners to figure out how to program the channels. One question publishers had to answer was how closely their shows should reflect the magazines themselves.
In the case of Hearst, some of the Hello Style shows will be closely inspired by print features like Cosmo’s Sexy vs. Skanky and Marie Claire’s Big Girl in a Skinny World. Car and Driver TV, meanwhile, will mix service and reality shows like Battle of the Beaters, where two auto body shops will compete to fix up heaps; and Driver Rehab, which applies the What Not to Wear formula to bad drivers.
In the case of the men's shows, Jim Meigs, editorial director of Hearst’s Men’s Enthusiast Group, decided that they should resonate with viewers on different levels. He said he was less concerned with whether they ended up boosting magazine readership, as long as they were successful.
“If they really work, they should appeal not only to the core auto enthusiast but a much broader audience,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they necessarily need to be reading the magazine. We also have to build content that works on its own terms.”
Figuring out how far the titles could take their content on YouTube, with its anything-goes nature, was another issue. Loughlin admitted that some of the content Hearst has produced for its channels so far “pushes some envelopes. But we come back and say, ‘Is it what the [magazine] brand is about?’ It’s irreverent fun, but it fits inside the tent.”