YouTube’s Chief Business Officer Reveals New Original Content Strategy and Talks Brand Safety

Plus, Adweek’s surprising role in the company’s decision to offer its original programming for free

YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl's upfront messaging: "Prime time is personal."

One year ago, YouTube made its biggest splash yet on the scripted originals front with Cobra Kai, its revival of the Karate Kid franchise. The company said the series’ first episode received more than 50 million views in its first five months. But despite that show’s success, the company has quietly shifted its original content strategy during the past year—and decided to offer all its future original programming for free, with ads, instead of restricting it to subscribers of its YouTube Premium services.

Ahead of tonight’s Brandcast NewFronts event, YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl spoke for the first time about YouTube’s new original content plans, Adweek’s surprising role in the company’s decision to make its original shows ad-supported, its sports streaming strategy and the company’s latest efforts to address its ongoing brand safety problems.

What is your upfront messaging going into Brandcast?
Kyncl: That prime time is personal. I know it’s a simple message, but when you think about it, prime time always used to be a scheduled appointment, whether it was Thursday night or Sunday night at 9 p.m. What has happened over the last 10 or 15 years is with the proliferation of content from the internet and the ability to create and consume much more diverse and broad content, suddenly people are able to get deeply personalized experiences. For them, the time when they’re most engaged and most happy is when they’re in this personal zone and consuming the content they like. When you work in platforms like ours, you live it every day, but we never thought about it until this year, when we stepped away and realized that prime time truly has become personal. That wasn’t possible on TV, because you have 24 hours to fill and you can’t deliver a personal experience. But on a platform like YouTube, you can. And that leads you to a diversity and richness of content offering that we deliver to our viewers all around the world.

Before we get into the original content strategy, what is YouTube’s overall content strategy right now?
Our content strategy is to deliver as broad a set of programming to our users as possible so that we can deliver on the promise of prime time being personal. Without a diverse set of programming, we couldn’t do that. When you think about the way content strategy used to work on TV, it was always very narrow around some kind of programming voice that each TV channel had to stand for. But when you think about the online platforms, the content strategy is really surrounding personalization, the ability to deliver users what they seek and what will keep them most happy.

In our case, the thing that is driving this diversity and richness is YouTube creators. There are many different content platforms, most of whom are mostly either repurposing content from television or producing the same content that’s on television or in movie theaters. In our case, we’ve ushered an era of creativity that’s much different. YouTube creators are the majority of YouTube’s consumption artists and are a very significant portion of YouTube’s consumption. So when you think about our strategy, it is focusing on creators and artists and their ability to find their audience and their ability to monetize that engagement, and that makes us different from everyone else. We also do work with media companies and we have a lot of their content, but what is driving our platform, what is most of our consumption, is creators and artists. So, we’re leaning into that across many different genres and verticals.

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