Google is mounting another experiment in content distribution that might be even more ambitious than its recent launch of original animation from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.
The Internet giant quietly launched a video series Sept. 8 on its YouTube property called Poptub with Embassy Row, the production company run by Who Wants to Be a Millionaire creator Michael Davies, and Pepsi.
As it did with MacFarlane's Cartoon Cavalcade of Comedy, which became an instant hit on YouTube, Google plans to distribute Poptub on its Google Content Network, an ad network that provides the additional reach of hundreds of thousands of Web sites beyond YouTube.
But while Cavalcade is simply a collection of 50 shortform episodes, Poptub is intended as an Entertainment Tonight for the YouTube set that will yield thousands of episodes, not to mention a more curated point of entry to YouTube, which it has been criticized for lacking.
"For Seth, it's about launching episodes on a weekly basis," said Alexandra Levy, director of branded entertainment at Google. "With Poptub, we're creating an organic destination on YouTube meant to live there for a longer period."
Both Cavalcade and Poptub are employing Google's branded entertainment program, which allows content providers to bring in an advertiser to finance programming that gets distributed over what Google calls its "hub and spoke" model. The hub is a channel on YouTube, and the spokes are in GCN, the countless selection of Web publishers that can be demographically targeted.
GCN embeds the video on these Web pages in Google Gadgets, applications that allow viewers who sample an episode to link back to the "hub" channel, where they can sample more programming and marketing messages from the sponsor.
Combining GCN and YouTube provides a one-two punch for knocking out the primary concern advertisers have about funding content online: guaranteed reach. "Poptub" alone pledges to deliver 3 billion impressions by year's end.
Beyond satisfying advertisers, Google's branded entertainment program could also entice more programrs to try online by offering monetizable distribution with the scale of TV or film while retaining ownership of intellectual property.
"It allows a content creator like Seth MacFarlane to do what he does best and forgo the traditional network model, connect with an audience of similar size and turn a profit," said George Strompolos, manager of content partnerships at YouTube.