YouTube's "brandcast" event (please don't call it a NewFront) started off with a bang and ended with vp, global head of content Robert Kyncl pledging some $200 million in marketing dollars on YouTube and Google's Display Network to support its 100 new professionally produced channels.
The event, held at New York's Beacon Theater, featured three full-blown musical performances from Neon Trees, Flo Rida, and finally a surprise performance from Jay-Z (at this point an upfronts regular), with a dance act to break up the rock and rap stars. Grammy winner Miri Ben-Ari played incidental music on the violin live on stage. The event, like Hulu's last month, was a hot ticket: buyers who'd forgotten to print off their tickets were directed to a "Help Desk" around the corner from the theater (most folks seemed to get in okay), but once inside, the digital video giant plied buyers and journos with plastic steins of beer and glasses of wine.
Interestingly, one of the brand's strongest onstage advocates wasn't an exec—it was Chris Hardwick, who runs the Nerdist podcast and YouTube channel. During the olden days of television, Hardwick said, "a TV executive in a gold suit with a poodle-sized hairpiece named Morty or Lou would force things down your throat and you had to like it."
In a speech that was two parts stand-up to one part sermon, Hardwick delivered what might be the most cogent version of the pitch digital companies are trying to sell to advertisers as they try to steal a little thunder from cable and broadcast networks: "Would you rather drop some cheese out of an airplane and hope a few people find it," Hardwick asked, "or would you rather go to CheeseCon in Kenosha, Wisconsin with thousands of really focused cheese fans and fire delicious cheese directly into their gaping cheeseholes?"
Whether or not there are as many measurable cheeseholes available to the advertisers in the audience as Hardwick seemed to suggest, the pitch got laughs and applause.
Programming on the YouTube slate ranged from Hardwick's Nerdist to My Damn Channel (which will launch some 30 comedy series this year) to Black Swan producer Jon Avnet and In Treatment writer Rodrigo Garcia's WIGS, which will feature short films about women in dramatic situations. The clips from the Avnet/Garcia project were notably starry: Dakota Fanning, Michael C. Hall, Alfred Molina,
Jennifer Garner, Julia Stiles and Virginia Madsen all made appearances on screen—with Stiles, Madsen and a few other big names even making appearances at the Beacon Wednesday night.
Eric Schmidt, Google's exec chairman, summed up the company's attitude toward the new product on offer: "Seven years ago when YouTube was founded I don't think anybody imagined the scale of what we can do today."
Former Groupon exec and Google's president/Americas Margo Georgiadis offered a refreshingly candid assessment of some of the company's new material, saying that her kids would definitely be watching its teen-focused programming. "Thank goodness I don't have to watch it with them," she said. "That's the one benefit of the Web-driven world."