This year, YouTube embraced being YouTube.
Last year, while courting the advertising community at its inaugural Brandcast, Google executives touted the Hollywoodization of YouTube, showcasing 100 funded channels backed by the likes of Ashton Kutcher while rolling out movie stars like Julia Stiles and Jennifer Garner.
This year the messaging was markedly different. There were famous names on stage, but there were folks famous in the YouTube universe for YouTube reasons, such as violinist Lindsey Stirling, a reject from NBC’s America’s Got Talent who now claims 300 million views, and dancer D-trix.
In fact, front and center at the slickly produced event were baby videos, bawdy vloggers, musicians riffing off each other, response videos and all sorts of native YouTube fare unique to the platform. And rather than trotting out actresses and Hollywood producers, YouTube also highlighted stars born on the site, including Korean pop sensation Psy, Baauer of the Harlem Shake, and Macklemore, the American rapper without a record contract who performed to close the show.
During one of the many clip packages YouTube presented at the Brandcast, one young creator said, “I don’t care if it’s a show shot with a professional camera.” That sort of summed up YouTube’s point of view as well.
“I want to talk about what I got wrong,” said Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s global head of content. “I thought YouTube was like TV. I was wrong. It isn’t. YouTube talks back. It's interactive. And YouTube is everywhere.”
Kyncl cited Nielsen research that found that YouTube reaches more adults 18-34 than any cable network in the U.S. “TV skews older,” he said.
Google chairman Eric Schmidt pushed that message home even harder: that YouTube is changing the world's behavior. “This is a new thing we have to figure out,” he said “It’s not a replacement for what we know. It’s participatory ... that’s a profound change. It’s not just another choice.”
Execs were pushing the YouTube-is-different-than-TV narrative hard this year, given that last year the company embraced a more TV-like sales pitch, and it didn’t entirely work.
This time around, YouTube is pushing brand-safe ad packages around content genres like sports and food.
But Wednesday’s Brandcast was a far cry from the NewFronts held early in the week in that it wasn’t about YouTube urging brands to buy this show or this channel. Instead, YouTube urged brands to embrace content creation. Among the companies showcased during the event were Red Bull, which drew a stunning 8 million concurrent views for its space jump stunt last year, and GoPro, a camera company that has generated 100 million views via user-generated content.
Kyncl unveiled a new product, Brand ID (from the budding video ad tech firm Zefr), which allows advertisers to identify fan-produced videos on YouTube. Turns out there are a lot more than you think. Take Pantene. The company’s official channel boasts of a fairly impressive 39 million video views, per Kyncl. But Brand ID found fan-created videos were responsible for 113 million more views.
“We have to start thinking beyond commercials,” said Margo Georgiadis, vp, Americas, sales. "Consumers are giving us that message."
Google hasn’t completely given up on selling big names. Kyncl touted new channels in the works by comedians like Sarah Silverman and Ricky Gervais. And YouTube proudly put the spotlight on AwesomenessTV, which was just acquired by DreamWorks (spurring CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg to make an appearance on stage).
But for the most part, the night was about core YouTubers, and the generation of young viewers growing up watching them and communicating with them. Said Felicia Day, veteran Web content producer and creator behind the niche-enthusiast-serving Geek & Sundry channel, “This generation is not going back.”
Neither is YouTube, so it seems.