YouTube is putting the breaks on original scripted programming for the time being as it refocuses its efforts on unscripted shows and specials, I have learned. It is part of a larger business model shift as Google’s video platform, which will be moving all YouTube Originals in front of the paywall to be ad-supported, creating a single Originals slate for both AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) & SVOD (subscription supported video on demand). .
Over the past couple of months, YouTube, which had been aggressively building a high-end scripted series portfolio for an SVOD distribution under Susanne Daniels, Global Head of Original Content, quietly stopped taking new scripted pitches. There were a few high-profile titles in the marketplace recently that YouTube would’ve pursued but remained on the sidelines.
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I hear there are currently no plans for YouTube to be taking in new scripted series for the foreseeable future though that may change as its parent company is currently reevaluating the platform’s original strategy.
Regardless, the projects currently in the works will remain in the pipeline, with enough original product estimated to keep YouTube in the original scripted game through 2020. That includes several new series, including the just launched Origin and the upcoming On Becoming a God in Central Florida and Wayne as well as three recently picked up pilots, drama Dark Cargo and comediesThe Edge of Seventeen, based on the critically praised film of the same name, and It’s a Man’s World.
“By any measure, 2018 was a breakout year for YouTube Premium and YouTube Originals. We expanded YouTube Premium to 29 countries, launched over 50 scripted and unscripted shows, and collected eight Emmy nominations and over 30 industry awards,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “As we look to 2019, we will begin making all of our YouTube Originals ad supported to meet the growing demand of a more global fanbase. This next phase of our Originals strategy will expand the audience of our YouTube Original creators, and provide advertisers with incredible content that reaches the YouTube Generation.”
It is unclear how a major change in original programming strategy at the Silicon Valley tech giant would affect Daniels. A seasoned and respected top TV executive, at the start of her career she spent two years at ABC as Director of Variety, Reality and Specials, covering ground similar to what YouTube 2.0 would require, before segueing to scripted series and subsequently overseeing all-encompassing original programming portfolios for a number of TV networks, including the WB, Lifetime and MTV before joining YouTube in 2015. A narrower programming mandate at YouTube may lead to Daniels looking for opportunities elsewhere.
Tech companies have had a complicated relationship with original scripted programming and SVOD content. Amazon was the first digital company with a core business not related to entertainment to jump in and challenge Netflix and Hulu though it has not been a smooth ride, with boss Jeff Bezos ordering a major course correction in 2017 toward global genre hits. Apple mulled a foray into the arena for years before finally committing last year. Snapchat announced and canceled plans for original scripted ramp-up multiple times. Going all-in on premium scripted content is a big investment even for the tech juggernauts.
For YouTube, there also has been the issue of brand identity. The Web portal was conceived as and remains known as a hub for ad-supported user-generated content available to everyone around the world for free. Adding curated, professionally produced high-end scripted series to paying customers via YouTube Red (later renamed YouTube Premium) in selected countries where the SVOD service is available, has been changing the perception of YouTube, and the Google brass are said not to be convinced that this is the way to go. YouTube will now revert to its original model of video content accessible by anyone and monetized via ads, something Google is a leader in. For those who prefer offline, ads-free experience, YouTube Premium will remain an SVOD option. It is a hybrid model employed by Hulu and CBS All Access.
The move to reassess scripted programming and make all content available as AVOD comes after YouTube scored its first global homegrown scripted hit with Cobra Kai, which has garnered 100M views and 100% Ratings Tomatoes score. There are also high hopes for the breakout potential of upcoming comedy series Wayne starring Mark McKenna and Ciara Bravo.
Meanwhile, YouTube also has found success with ad-supported celebrity docuseries and reality stunts, including Katy Perry: Will You Be My Witness and Will Smith’s recent heli-bungee jump over the Grand Canyon. I hear this is a direction YouTube is aiming to go into with its original programming, connecting celebrity with fans.
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