Late Friday, Google announced an ambitious slate of nearly 100 “channels” for YouTube, each programmed by experienced media executives, production companies or celebrities. The move sends a clear message: Google wants a piece of the TV pie, and wants exclusive, high-quality content to help deliver it.
“TV is the Holy Grail,” Brad Adgate, senior VP and research director for Horizon media tells TVNewser. “I think this is something that has been gnawing at them for a number of years. TV is still the first screen. People spend more time in front of the TV set than any other screen. And it is tens of billions of dollars in industry, I think they would love to put television under their portfolio, I just think it has been a tough nut to crack for some of these tech companies.”
There are a number of news and commentary outlets creating channels, including Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, Slate and Vice . Also on board to launch a channel are The Young Turks, led by former MSNBC host and soon-to-be Current TV host Cenk Uygur. The first program will be called “The Point,” and Uygur will pull double-duty, hosting it along with his Current show.
“I don’t know if the word is disrupt, I think probably compete is a decent word,” Uygur tells TVNewser. “Yes, they want to go after TV, and I think it makes all the sense in the world.”
For TV news organizations, YouTube’s new deal does not present much of a threat, at least at the moment. Uygur says he views his TV show and YouTube channel as very different beasts, and the online channels will be producing far less content than any of the cable news outlets. Nonetheless, the move by YouTube is a big first-step in establishing the site as a hub for high-quality content. Having known names and organizations behind it, such as Reuters and TYT, could make it appealing to viewers tired of the current crop of TV options. Uygur says TYT has another three projects in the pipeline that they want to launch before the 2012 election. That might not put them on par with Fox News or CNN in terms of the number of original hours produced, but it is a significant programming investment.
Ultimately, YouTube’s goal is to have the content accessible via a TV set, and as more and more consumers buy Internet-connected TVs, or add-on boxes like Roku or Apple TV, more people will inevitably tune-in on the larger screen. Of course, as Adgate notes, simply having a web-connected set does not assure that the owner will tune-in to what YouTube has to offer.
“It is a very nascent industry, a lot of people with web-connected sets are not connected to the internet,” Adgate says.
Of course, while it may not happen this year or next, the drive to connect the living room will not be ending any time soon.
“It would be shocking if at some point the online shows are not integrated into your TV set,” Uygur says. “I think pretty much everyone agrees that is definitely going to happen. The only question is when is it going to happen? And I think this is part of an important step in that process.”
Adgate says he does not expect YouTube’s effort to become an overnight success, but that if it is handled well, it could lead the way for advertisers to shift some more of their TV budget to original online productions.
“Content is king, but it is still going to be very niche, it is not going to happen overnight,” Adgate says. “You are talking about something that is an acquired habit. The good news is that those people that most advertisers prefer to reach are probably the ones that are going to adopt this first.”