EXCLUSIVE: There’s a lot of last-minute scrambling among the channels poised to join Google’s potentially revolutionary initiative featuring professionally produced videos — which kicks off in earnest in just a few weeks. Several execs say they still don’t know exactly what they’ll show, when they’ll debut, and how much promotional help they’ll receive from YouTube. But one thing’s becoming clear: The initial wave of services out of the 96 picked to receive investments from YouTube will be loaded with material either from or about celebrities. That’s not part of a master plan; a lot of Web video producers already focus on pop culture and can gear up new channels in a hurry. The group includes Madonna’s DanceOn, which has been on YouTube since late 2010; it will reintroduce itself in January after it revamps its interface and programming. It plans 10 series including scripted shows, competitions, and tutorials but says it’s still figuring out when each will begin to appear. A different kind of celeb, skateboarder Tony Hawk, also is expected to have his action sports oriented Ride Channel ready next month.
When it comes to services about entertainment, some execs tell me that they’re curious to see what happens with Young Hollywood Network, which launches on January 16. It plans to have five weekly shows featuring interviews with stars and moguls including some conducted at the company’s studio in the Four Seasons Hotel. ENTV from Deadline parent PMC in a partnership with ION will focus on breaking entertainment news with frequent daily updates beginning January 16. The channel also plans a weekly show with TVLine Editor-In-Chief Michael Ausiello, a daily celebrity news chat with Hollywood Life Editor-In-Chief Bonnie Fuller, as well as a show that rounds up some of the day’s best clips from the YouTube channels. Joining the entertainment news sites sometime in late January will be Clevver News, which will have as many as nine original episodes a day including the daily Radar Latino covering Spanish-language news and celebs. Most programs will only last a few minutes. “That’s been a real challenge: What’s a YouTube viewer willing to watch?” says Clevver Media Co-Founder Michael Palmer. “A lot of people watch YouTube at work or while they’re waiting in line. We’re playing around with time.”
The anything-goes atmosphere around the January plans is a stark contrast to October, when Google tried to control all aspects of the announcement about the YouTube channels. Now each channel is free to decide when it’s ready to launch. Some are already up: Last night Current TV’s Cenk Uygur introduced his politically progressive channel Town Square with a weekly half-hour show called The Point. (A panel discusses videos submitted by celebs and politicians who express their views on different issues.) Others already up include Clevver TeVe (Spanish language celebrity news), Tutele (bilingual Latino cultural programming), KinCommunity (women’s lifestyle), The Mom’s View (for, well, Moms) and Clevver Style (fashion and beauty advice).
Still, channels are following YouTube’s marching orders: For example, it has told producers that it wants them to develop new stars for the platform. Reuters hopes to do that with some of its journalists beginning in January. The news service will offer an interview show featuring Global Editor At Large Chrystia Freeland, commentary from blogger Felix Salmon, and shows with reporters talking about tech, media, the election campaign, economic issues, and investigations.
Google also wants channels to cooperate to build the platform. “YouTube put people through the wringer” on this issue — trying to weed out those who want to compete the way traditional media do — an insider tells me. Execs have gotten the message: “We’re out to make sure that as much of this stuff works as possible,” says My Damn Channel CEO Rob Barnett, who plans to launch a comedy channel on YouTube around March with 30 new series including a live, hosted comedy show. “For many of us, it’s a grand experiment.” They aren’t just testing whether there’s a big enough audience for short videos: I’m told that producers are pouring over viewing data since YouTube changed its user interface this month to see whether they need to tweak their shows to generate more hits. The new format encourages visitors to subscribe to channels, instead of typing in key words to search for subjects that interest them. That could work against celeb-focused sites over the long run. Although familiar names generate awareness, one insider notes that “they’re harder to scale” than sites that focus on issues and interests.
The Google owned service will give each of its channels some promotional support, mostly online. But everyone wants to know who will be included in a larger campaign YouTube plans to ramp up to promote the platform. It will focus on three genres — music, sports, and news-politics — building on the existing marketing phrase: “Get more into…” There’ll be two more rounds of channel launches, in April and July. The next one is expected to highlight comedy, lifestyle, and Hispanic-oriented programming.