In its seventh annual Brandcast event at the NewFronts, YouTube filled a bigger venue (the 6,000-seat Radio City Music Hall) and stepped up its message, asserting its place in the big-screen ecosystem and emphasizing brand-safety efforts.
CEO Susan Wojcicki opened the prolix, nearly two-hour event alone on the vast stage, with nary a Rockette in sight. She began by touting YouTube’s scale. The platform now has 1.8 billion monthly users in 90 countries — “and those are only the logged-in ones,” she noted — and has hit several milestones in the past year. Among them was reaching 41 million total viewers of the Coachella music festival and the first video to hit 5 billion total views, “Despacito,” by Luis Fonsi, featuring Daddy Yankee. “This is the impact of an open platform,” she declared.
Quickly, though, Wojcicki segued to a much thornier topic: brand safety. Just as Facebook has faced an outcry this year over its use of personal data and role in the 2016 election, YouTube has encountered a less public but still ominous level of advertiser scrutiny. Several major brands have suspended their spending after discovering that their ads had appeared next to videos by ISIS, white supremacist groups and other objectionable sources.
“With openness come challenges, as some try to take advantage of our services,” Wojcicki said. The company, with support from parent Google, is deploying 10,000 staffers whose focus is identifying offensive content, along with investments in artificial intelligence tools. “There is no playbook for how open platforms operate at our scale,” she said. “But it’s critical that we’re on the right side of history.”
One key theme of the night was also YouTube’s maturation. Through its original-arm and pay-TV skinny bundle service, YouTube has become enough of a living-room mainstay that 150 million hours of its content are viewed every day on TVs. Seven in 10 YouTube subscribers saying they now watch on TV screens thanks to connected devices and gaming consoles.
Google Preferred, the company’s offering for a select tier of verified advertisers, will start enabling ads this fall in cable programming via YouTube TV. The company is also using third-party measurement through Nielsen, comScore and Moat to offer more reliability, an effort to curtail longstanding criticism that YouTube, like Facebook, “grades its own homework” in terms of viewing metrics.
Robert Kyncl, Chief Business Officer, put in a brief but news-filled appearance. He said YouTube Originals, which launched in 2016, has seven originals, which have racked up 700 million views.
He announced four new projects. They include Best Shot, a LeBron James-backed high school basketball documentary series; Will Smith: The Jump-Off, a special in which the star will bunjee-jump live over the Grand Canyon on September 25; Priyanka Chopra: If I Could Tell You Just One Thing, in which the actress meets the successful and inspirational people; and Jack Whitehall: Training Day, which sees the comedian and actor training with the world’s elite soccer teams.
Kyncl also said YouTube’s rich trove of music videos, including Vevo, will now be made available to Google Preferred brands. “This will give you the ability to advertise against virtually all music in the world,” he said.
The company also has renewed its livestream deal with Coachella for another three years.
After a first half that hit on a lot of corporate and advertiser notes, the latter half largely delivered the entertainment goods, making full use of the Radio City sound system, lighting, stage and confetti guns. YouTube creators Tyler Oakley (left) and Anna Akana addressed the faithful — with young fans filing in on either side of the stage thrust — and the night ended with a string of performances, culminating in a set by Camila Cabelo.
Daily Show host Trevor Noah delivered a short stand-up set, which also plugged YouTube as the means through which Jon Stewart discovered him. Ariana Grande capped the night with a high-energy performance that was easily the loudest pop-star moment of the NewFronts. NBCUniversal, which will holds its upfront event at Radio City in 10 days (during which it is likely to take many shots at YouTube), has a fairly high bar to clear in terms of showmanship.