The Next Step of YouTube’s Original Content Evolution Involves Traditional Film Studios

It's particularly interested in developing dramas

Susanne Daniels interviews Demi Lovato at Cannes.
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CANNES, France—YouTube sees a big opportunity in original content.

The Google-owned site announced deals for 40 original programs with talent including Ellen DeGeneres, Kevin Hart and Demi Lovato. By the end of the year, YouTube expects it will have 50 new programs exclusively for the site.

After her Cannes keynote on Monday, YouTube’s global head of original content, Susanne Daniels, spoke about the video giant’s foray into original content. While YouTube has traditionally leaned on its popular creators who have amassed millions of fans and user-generated content, more and more deals are happening with large traditional film studios like Lionsgate and Sony. Daniels said that as YouTube invests more in programming, she’d like for half of content to come from traditional film companies with the other half coming from other creators including YouTube celebrities or digital production companies such as BuzzFeed.

“I’d like to see us get to a point where we’re 50/50 on the platform,” Daniels said. “For 2018, we’re planning more [series], largely because we’re hoping to roll out internationally and we have a lot of programming that we’re shooting in regional countries and languages. I have 17 shows in production this month.”

In particular, dramas interest Daniels because, “there’s something about the prestige of drama that you can market to in a way that is harder to do than with comedy.”

That said, there’s never been more original content for consumers to pick from, which is why YouTube plans to use traditional advertising tactics like TV ads and movie theater advertising in addition to digital ads to get the word out about its programs.

“I think there’s a way with good marketing and using the strength of YouTube and the strength of the platform to attract viewership,” she said. “With each show that we’re doing, we’re thinking of it not only as the show itself but as an experience for the viewer. There’s ancillary content that we’re developing and there’s very short-form content that will live on the same channel as the show itself.”

During her keynote today, Demi Lovato announced a new docuseries called “Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated” that will premier this fall and follows her on a yearlong journey. Lovato has 10 million YouTube subscribers and Ulta Beauty has signed on as the exclusive sponsor for the series.

“I feel like I’m at a turning point in my life—I’m turning 25,” Lovato said during the keynote. “I feel like I’ve lived a lot longer than I actually have,” Lovato said, who allowed cameras to trail her every move for her series.

“The power of this partnership for us is that we get to continue to inspire women and girls, especially young girls, in new and relevant ways that fit with who we are as a brand,” said Ulta Beauty’s vp of brand marketing Shelley Haus.

For another example of brands buying original content, CoverGirl sponsored a four-day livestream from singer Katy Perry to promote her new album.

When asked how much of the move towards original series headlined by big celebrities and faces was a reaction to recent brand-safety concerns, YouTube’s Daniels acknowledged that the new programs are safe for brands but said, “it wasn’t a reaction because we had started developing that slate prior to the issue arising.”

YouTube is also experimenting with the lengths of content. For example, each episode of the first season of talk show duo Rhett & Link’s series “Rhett & Link’s Buddy System,” was roughly 15 minutes long. Viewers, however, wanted longer content so each episode was upped to about 22 minutes in the second season, Daniels said. The show is part of YouTube Red, the video site’s subscription service.

“If you were paying to go behind the paywall and you are subscribing to what you think is a premium service, you want premium content and premium content has certain associations with it for the viewership,” Daniels said.