YouTube's Sean Downey on NFL Sunday Ticket, Its New Upfront Venue and Early Talks

Plus, why the platform 'belongs' in upfront week

Adweek’s upfront week postmortem chats continue to roll on. Thus far, we’ve spoken with NBCUniversal’s Mark MarshallFox’s Marianne GambelliTelevisaUnivision’s Donna SpecialeDisney’s Rita Ferro and Warner Bros. Discovery’s Jon Steinlauf. Now, Sean Downey, president of sales at Google and YouTube, is giving his take.

YouTube’s Brandcast event last Wednesday evening was one of the rare presentations that wasn’t affected by the Writers Guild of America Strike, which had many events going sans talent. With the platform relying on user-generated content, the company—held its event at Lincoln Center for the first time—showcased its creators, talked about its new NFL deal for YouTube TV and capped things off with a Doja Cat performance

Downey opened up about YouTube’s new offerings (including NFL Sunday Ticket, which will being airing this coming season), this year’s shift from Tuesday to Wednesday evening and why the platform—which shifted from NewFronts to upfront week in 2022—”belongs” alongside the week’s other presenters.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: Congratulations on making it through upfront week. As we ask all of the presenting ad sales leaders, what are you proudest of looking back on the event?
Downey: We’re excited that we had such a great event and such a great night with all of our customers, agencies and creators in the industry. We’re really proud that we put off a great show and that everyone got to see how great of an offering YouTube is. Everyone got into a great experience with us that night. And we’re going to tell the story about YouTube and how it helps brands, and we thought that was a great way to cap upfront week for us.

Heading into the presentation, what were your priorities?
We wanted to make sure people understood what we have to offer on YouTube and how it can help them build their business and grow their brands. Just make sure we presented the offering in the right way. We had a few things that we wanted to make sure that we got across to the market. One is that YouTube is where people go deep with the creators and the content that they love. We see that all the time. YouTube has everything people love in one place. From creator-driven content to primetime, it is always the best of both worlds and content at YouTube. It’s where the world comes to watch. And we got to demonstrate that when we have folks like Doja Cat or some of our creators. We really got to show them the full view of what YouTube is.

We also got to talk about and showcase that YouTube remains No.1 across screens. We showcased that, when you think about streaming, we were able to talk about having YouTube reaching over 150 million people in living room TVs in the U.S., individual people. So that was a great showcase of how often people view YouTube in the living room and how much reach and scale we have. And then finally we got to celebrate a lot of our advertisers and brands and showcase that YouTube delivers great ROI for them. Whether they’re looking for awareness or sales, YouTube delivers for them.

YouTube did have great talent, including Doja Cat. But it was on the WGA’s picketing schedule. Was it impacted by the writers strike at all?
No, we used all the creators that you find on YouTube from that perspective. Creators are today’s modern-day media moguls. They’re hard at work creating new and fresh content for their channels. And it’s really this generation’s directors, producers and writers. Everyone that we had planned to have was there and performed great and got an awesome reception from the market.

The Doja Cat performance was fantastic, but why was she the artist that made sense for YouTube?
Well, she was born on YouTube. She showcases what YouTube can do for creators and how YouTube can help build businesses. And she’s indicative that YouTube’s about great content. It’s about creating premium television, and it’s about great music. Whatever you want to experience on YouTube, you can find it. She’s just a great, emblematic symbol of that for us.

Sunday Ticket is coming to YouTube, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was there to help pitch marketers. Free Sunday Ticket for attendees was also a highlight. But how important is the NFL this upfront?
[Marketers] certainly loved that. That was a great moment I think for the market and for YouTube as well. The NFL is important to us because it showcases that we have all the content that people want. We have the original creator content. We have sports. We’re No.1 in sports, and just having the NFL there showcases that this is where everyone goes to watch. It’s a great partnership for us. Sunday Ticket is there. We have a lot of great original content that’s going to be created around it. And all of our buyers are eager to engage and have a full experience with the NFL—from watching games to having the creator economy around that thrive.

We will be there. That is the place where YouTube belongs.

—Sean Downey, president of sales at Google and YouTube, on YouTube returning to upfront week.

Brandcast had a new date and a new venue this year in Lincoln Center. How were those shifts and do you think you’ll stick with the spot in the future?
We loved it. It was a really great place to have our upfront. It was important for us from an experiential point of view to find a space that had a great theater because we put a lot of great content on. You see musicians like Jacob Collier and Doja Cat. And then we’d have a lot of our creators just showcasing their skills. We want to make sure we can host that well in a strong theater. And it was a great place for us to host and connect with clients before and after the show. And we loved it. We’re going to stay there I think, and we’re gonna make sure that we have a great production experience next year as well.

You’ll stick with Wednesday night instead of Tuesday night like last year?
We haven’t decided on the dates for next year, but we’re deciding that soon.

Is there anything you can share about early negotiations?
Well, I can’t comment on specific negotiations or customers. I will say we’ve had a lot of fantastic discussions with our advertisers leading up to the upfront, to Brandcast and certainly after. I’ll say the excitement was really high. People loved what we had to offer. They understand the value that YouTube is bringing to their brands. And they’re working with us diligently to make sure that they can spotlight and grow their brands on YouTube.

What message do you want marketers to take away from the presentation?
We wanted to make sure they understood that this is where the world comes to watch. And if you’re looking to find viewers that you want to build your brand with, YouTube is the place. No matter what type of content they’re watching, we want them to know that they can get great reach of those viewers, they had the ability to drive ROI from their budgets and it’s the place that performs, and I think we accomplished all those goals.

Now that the event is over, is there anything you want to do differently for next year?
We’re happy. We had a great turnout, and we got all the messages that we wanted across, and we had great feedback and engagement for them. We’re happy with the outcome. I think we’ll continue to make sure we can showcase YouTube talent next year that’s different. That’s the best thing about YouTube is the creator is always evolving. They’re always challenging the status quo about what content looks like. We’ll be looking forward to showcasing the next great thing that YouTube delivers next year.

Lastly, will we see YouTube back at upfront week next year?
We will be there. That is the place where YouTube belongs. We have the reach that our customers want. And this is where the world comes to watch, and this is where brands can build their business with us here.

Additional reporting by Bill Bradley.

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