YouTube Emphasizes Flexible Ad Buys Following CTV Viewership Spike

Video platform pitches to NewFronts marketers in personalized Brandcast presentation

Screenshot from YouTube's Brandcast presentation
YouTube’s personalized Brandcast presentation focused on highlighting YouTube creators and giving marketers flexible options to reach consumers. YouTube

Over the course of nationwide lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic, YouTube viewership on connected television screens spiked by 80% year over year. That’s why today, the streamer is emphasizing a feature that lets marketers buy only on television screens as it continues to chase after advertiser dollars that may be migrating from linear TV.

The offer was first introduced in May as part of an updated and unified Google Preferred and prime pack advertising offerings, but it is getting some emphasis during the company’s ninth annual Brandcast presentation to advertisers during the IAB’s NewFronts week. YouTube is hoping to woo advertisers from traditional television with new original programming and new ad functionalities, including new direct response ad tools that include shoppable ad carousels, a direct-response lead generator form and TV-optimized Brand Lift surveys.

It’s an attempt to address fast-shifting consumer habits and give marketers tools to keep them reaching their customers—and spending on the digital video giant.

“We are as good as our ecosystem,” YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl said. “And our ecosystem consists of users, creators and advertisers. When creators succeed, advertisers succeed, and when advertisers succeed, creators succeed. It’s a two-way street that we have to make sure functions really well.”

Brandcast, usually a glitzy affair held at Radio City Music Hall in New York, instead came to marketers and agencies via email inboxes this afternoon, with presentations that were personalized for each viewer. YouTube asked registrants to choose between five different programming topics, four different celebrity hosts and three different song options.

“Obviously, we couldn’t pull it off in person, so we were debating whether to do it at all or do it in some sort of on-demand fashion or livestream fashion,” Kyncl said. “And then we remembered our tagline from last year, which was, ‘primetime is personal.’ That really led us to this idea, which was to do a personalized Brandcast for each participant.”

While presentations varied slightly due to marketers’ personalized preferences, they were all largely centered on the content that makes up the YouTube ecosystem. The video platform announced nine originals in the works, including a second season of the reality competition series Instant Influencer With James Charles and educational series Retro Tech with YouTube creator Marques Brownlee, as well as the second installment of The Creator Games Presented by MrBeast.

The platform has brought in basketball star Steph Curry to host UHC: Ultimate Home Championship, a virtual competition special with proceeds going to Covid-19 charities, which debuts Friday. There’s also an untitled four-part docuseries following the musician Demi Lovato, and a live event from magician David Blaine that was previously announced.

Those shows follow a push from YouTube to pivot many of its originals to remote production in the wake of shutdowns around the country, and it reflects YouTube’s continued movement toward unscripted and away from scripted series. (Cobra Kai, one of the buzziest scripted YouTube originals, is moving to Netflix for Season 3.)

But there is one scripted series in the works: Lockdown, a 10-episode series aimed at kids and families that follows six friends as they solve a neighborhood mystery. The series is live-action and has been developed and produced fully remotely due to production limitations.

There is also an emphasis on the continued move away from linear, even on the TV screen used to watch broadcast and cable networks. Sixty-six percent of YouTube viewership is incremental to linear TV, said Allan Thygesen, Google president, Americas. YouTube on TV screens represented 40% of total ad-supported video-on-demand watch time, even before the lockdown.

YouTube’s Brandcast began with a message from CEO Susan Wojcicki, who has often faced criticism for the company’s decisions around addressing hate speech and harassment on the platform. In the midst of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, YouTube has earmarked $100 million to support Black creators on the platform over the next several years.

“We recognize we need to do more, in particular with the Black community,” Wojicki said.

YouTube’s original programming arm has already released one special about racial injustice as part of the project called Bear Witness, Take Action, which was hosted by Common and Keke Palmer.

Brandcast, which comes on the fourth subsequent day of virtual NewFronts presentations, comes amid an aggressive weeklong push from streaming services to attract ad dollars away from linear television and onto its services.

YouTube is unsurprisingly trying to do the same, emphasizing that viewership of programming has shot up as people’s normal routines continue to be disrupted by the ongoing pandemic. Users of the platform have watched recipe and cooking videos 45% more year over year, and daily views of “workout at home” videos have shot up by more than 200% since March 15, YouTube said.

“These times have reaffirmed that YouTube brings the world together,” Kyncl said.

Adweek is covering the NewFronts presentation by presentation this week. Follow along with all of our coverage here.

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.