YouTube Shakes Up Originals Slate With Remotely Filmed DIY Series During Lockdown

Platform put traditional production 'on ice' due to Covid-19

Collage of different Youtube creators
YouTube turned around several remotely produced shows from its creators in just one month. YouTube, Tyler Kandel
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

Key insights:

As people around the country remain under lockdown orders, YouTube Originals has shifted its lineup of original programming to a slate of remotely produced scripted and unscripted series aimed at reflecting the country’s new reality.

Today, the platform announced 10 scripted, unscripted and live series that will debut on YouTube from now through early June, many of which have been produced and developed to address the ongoing crisis.

Those include Money Talks: Taxes, a series produced by Refinery29 about managing money and handling the Covid-19 stimulus check, Stay Home With YungBlud, a weekly episodic series following the U.K. recording artist as he is quarantined with friends and bandmates, and #MoveWithMe, a global dance event premiering on April 29, International Dance Day.

YouTube is also pushing into live, remotely produced programming, part of an ongoing effort to develop livestreamed programming that have performed well for the platform in the past. YouTube creator MrBeast is hosting The Creator Games, a live series pitting other YouTube stars against one another in stay-at-home game challenges. Another live series, Stream #WithMe will feature U.K.-based YouTube creators livestreaming tips, advice and stunts.

While some of the new shows, including a docuseries following artist Lele Pons, were created prior to the crisis, much of the new program development centered on an ongoing #WithMe campaign at YouTube, which pulled together playlists and programming around home activities like cooking, home learning and exercise. Most of the 10 new series were turned around in about a months’ time, said Susanne Daniels, YouTube’s head of original content, and have been produced remotely.

“I’ve been in development since I was 22 years old, and I’ve never turned content around this quickly,” Daniels said. “It’s really been an exciting and interesting experience all at the same time—and nerve-wracking.”

It was a fast-turnaround shift that Daniels expects will have a lasting effect on production long after the crisis is over.

“I don’t think that will be a trend that stops when life resumes and it goes back to traditional production. People will now realize what YouTube creators have known for a long time, which is that you can reach an audience and do something on your own that's really compelling.”
Susanne Daniels, YouTube’s head of original content

“This has been an eye-opening experience for a lot of people in terms of the DIY element and their ability to do things themselves, and I think that will impactful and have staying power,” said Daniels, who pointed to the success of actor John Krasinski’s DIY YouTube show, Some Good News as evidence of a shift. “I don’t think that will be a trend that stops when life resumes and it goes back to traditional production. People will now realize what YouTube creators have known for a long time, which is that you can reach an audience and do something on your own that’s really compelling.”

Other series premiering later in the year include Celebrity Substitute, a learning-centric series where celebrities like Ken Jeong and Karlie Kloss teach high-school-level lessons, Create Together #WithMe (working title), a miniseries hosted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Locked Down (working title), a scripted mystery series shot entirely via smartphone and webcam.

All of the new shows will be available to watch free with ads, part of YouTube’s ongoing strategy of making its new programming available in front the platform’s premium paywall. The shift from SVOD to AVOD has been gradual due to rights negotiations, but the new slate of originals will accompany even more programming being made available for free.

“Now felt like the right time to move as much content as we could that was still behind the paywall, because we wanted to offer more for people to watch and entertain people during the quarantine,” Daniels said.

YouTube Originals, like most entertainment companies, has had to make shifts to its spring programming slate due to Covid-19 related production delays and shutdowns. A high-profile documentary following Paris Hilton, which YouTube previewed in January at the Television Critics Association’s annual winter press tour, is on hold, which Daniels said would allow the company to conduct a more traditional rollout at a later date.

The third season of YouTube creator Liza Koshy’s scripted series Liza On Demand, renewed earlier this year, has also been put on hold due to production shutdowns.

“We had to take anything that was a more traditional production that would require stages and crew and put that on ice,” Daniels said. “Then we pivoted and quickly started talking to creators and artists about what they wanted to do.”

Most of the series rolling out today and over the next several months include calls for donations to various local and national charities supporting Covid-19-related relief efforts. That decision was creator-driven, but Daniels said was an example of the entertainment industry “rising to the occasion” in moments of crisis.

“We didn’t have suggest raising money for charity, but everyone we are working with wanted to and brought it up to us,” Daniels said. “The generosity is really remarkable and is something that our creators and artists were moved to do on their own.”

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