How YouTube Red Laid the Groundwork for Google’s Ad-Supported Videos Initiative

Chief business officer Robert Kyncl dishes on his latest project

YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl speaks at Brandcast last week. Google
Headshot of Christopher Heine

Last Thursday night, YouTube held its Brandcast extravaganza for the Digital Content NewFronts at the Javits Center in New York, trotting out Hollywood stars Kevin Hart, Katy Perry and James Corden to announce seven ad-supported original programs.

The development builds on the Google-owned platform’s YouTube Red and YouTube TV initiatives, but it differs since both of those endeavors are ad-free, subscription-based plays. Indeed, the new shows—of which there are 40 in total—mark YouTube’s first foray into ad-supported original programming.

After Brandcast, we sat down with YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl to discuss the new initiative. Here are highlights from the 15-minute chat.

Adweek: How long has this new project been in the works?
Robert Kyncl: For many years, [marketers] have been asking me, “When you are going to do big original shows?” Of course, in their minds they mean free [programming] with ads. As you know, two years ago, we started a team to focus on originals, and we created YouTube Red with no ads. At the beginning of last year, we started to think about the fact that advertising is our core business. And big brands and big agencies are our biggest partners. This is something they have been asking for for a very long time, and we should deliver on that. It took about a year to a year-and-a-half to get the whole thing going. … Now we have something special, and we can deliver it to them.

Secondly, when I started to look at the statistics, they showed a share shift from advertising-supported shows to ad-free shows, which started to increase. I just think that’s a trend that’s not favorable to our biggest partners. We are the biggest video platform in the world. We should play a role in changing that.

Will this endeavor have any impact on YouTube Red?
What we are doing is continuing our investment into YouTube Red this year and next year, and we’re expanding it. The great thing about this is that when we started thinking about this [ad-supported video programming] a year-and-a-half ago, we already had things in place [thanks to YouTube Red]. We had to build teams, processes, tracking and learning and iterating. When you already have all of that in place, it’s so much easier to say, “Now let’s do that with ads.”

Where will the 40 programs live?
They will be on different channels. We have found that to be very successful for us. We build up an audience around a channel.

What can you tell us about Kevin Hart and his two series, Laugh Out Loud and What the Fit?
Kevin started to work on Laugh Out Loud way before we started to think about What the Fit. He then came to us and said he had a great idea for a fitness show. His passion and involvement in every meeting, every month has grown and grown. … So we are combining both programs into one [channel]. We are talking to our partners like Johnson & Johnson about different ways of integrating their brands into the programming.

Product placement?
We’re trying to think through cools ways to do that that will work for both viewers and our partners.

More native integrations?
It’s certainly something we are talking about. We have to deliver on the goals of the advertisers. And these shows give us an opportunity to experiment.

Will these new original programs be available through YouTube TV?
It could be another point of distribution, but we haven’t really zeroed in on that.

Will there be a multimedia marketing campaign to promote them?
Yes. Our main goal for these shows is to make sure they get substantial viewership. So we will do everything possible [to drive tune-in]. … Once again, this is a skill we have honed thanks to our experience with YouTube Red.

Do you guys envision that brands that buy these original programs will also spend more on Google Preferred?
Well, that’s certainly what Johnson & Johnson did. They have been a very strong partner for Google Preferred, and we hope that other brands will as well.

What’s most exciting right now to you about the new programming?
The thing I love is melding Hollywood and YouTube together.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.