Earlier this month the buzz via The Wall Street Journal was that Google was preparing to pump $100 million into video subsidiary YouTube, all of it targeted at the creation of original programming and premium "channels" featuring recurring, made-for-YouTube Web series.
Sources familiar with the discussions dispute the dollar amounts reported and, in particular, what the money will be used for. But if the company’s investment in programming is anywhere near that, it's a whopping sum (though admittedly less whopping than the $100 million Netflix invested in Kevin Spacey's House of Cards) and represents a new frontier. Reaching it will require YouTube to navigate a challenging road: all that money may buy original content, but it also earns them one heck of an identity crisis.
Can the site stay true to its roots in user-generated content, or does that run the risk of scaring off advertisers on the new channels? Or will YouTube gradually transform itself into a premium video destination like Hulu? Plus, but with fives times the audience? Can it be both?
Online advertisers say there’s no question the site as it exists now has some real benefits (that audience, for example) but that it can be a tough sell to clients. "There are growing pains at YouTube. You need to retrain people to come to the site for premium content," says Dan Goodman, co-founder of Believe Entertainment Group, which is producing LeBron James’ full-length animated series The Lebrons for the site. "The large majority of video on YouTube … most advertisers wouldn’t want to be around," says Rich Kim of Rubin Postaer & Associates. "It's going to take time."
Google's hope may be that with enough premium programming, it can drown out the user-generated noise. As Goodman put it, "Once you [start to] have great content on YouTube, it does get you past the dogs on skateboards."