Ahead of what will likely be a vastly different upfront season, Google is expanding its YouTube Select offerings as more people flock to streaming.
YouTube Select, rebranded from Google Preferred last May, is taking the connected TV portion of its offering global. Advertisers that want to buy YouTube inventory on the big screen can now do so in the U.S., Canada, Australia, India and Japan, with more markets to come later this year.
YouTube is also relaunching its sports vertical, creating a new centralized hub of content that includes highlights from leagues including the NBA, NFL, MLB and WWE.
The expansion of YouTube’s CTV offering and repackaging of its premium sports content come a few months before the upfront season typically begins, but the cadence of TV’s longstanding ad-buying marketplace has been thrown off due to the pandemic. As a result, brands and agencies are demanding more flexibility from media owners as the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has jeopardized content production and forced marketers to cut budgets.
Brian Albert, who leads YouTube’s upfront negations, said he’s seeing a growing pool of clients asking for CTV-only buys. While mobile is still YouTube’s dominant viewing platform, Albert said CTV viewing has accounted for the highest year-over-year growth, a trend he expects to continue.
YouTube has proven to be a cash cow for Alphabet, Google’s parent company. The tech giant disclosed during Tuesday’s Q4 earnings report that YouTube ads generated $6.9 billion in revenue, up 46% compared from last year.
Albert said buyers come to YouTube to reach audiences that are hard to find on linear TV, but the video platform is facing increased competition from ad-supported streaming services that have recently launched or been acquired by larger networks. Companies like NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS and Fox are coming to the upfront with a deepening array of CTV and data-driven offerings.
“I think competition is healthy,” said Albert. “And, if anything, the rising tide’s going to float all boats because more dollars will leak out of linear broadcast and cable.”
YouTube Select curates the top 5% of channels across a range of verticals, including sports, on YouTube. It also includes inventory from YouTube TV, Google’s virtual pay-TV product.
“Using audience segments through YouTube can also ensure that we’re lowering wasted impressions, so the brand dollar goes further,” said Erick Rappaport, integrated media supervisor at agency Exverus Media. “As long as pricing is competitive, this could be a win for [YouTube] and for brands looking for smarter reach in sports content.”
Rappaport added that CTV providers having sports offerings is attractive as more audiences adapt to streaming content.
According to YouTube, the number of hours of sports videos uploaded to the platform increased by more than 40% in 2020.