YouTube, the Google-owned digital video giant, knows that influencers and creators have slowly but surely taken over the digital media space, with new players like TikTok even going so far as to build their business models around the “creator economy.”
Now, it wants to reclaim it as its own, or at least remind advertisers which platform helped spawn the creator economy in the first place.
“The creator economy has substantially changed Hollywood and the world,“ YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl tells The Hollywood Reporter in an interview. “I can name 10 other companies in the creator economy, and the massive amounts of money being invested by venture capital firms, billion-dollar valuations, etc. It is clearly a force to be reckoned with.
“From our standpoint, the velocity of the creator economy today has made things completely undeniable to the rest of the world, and it is now being validated by the investment community,” he adds. “It is something that we just feel incredibly proud to have pioneered, and continue to lead in. And we are grateful that a lot of advertisers around the world have seen it, early on, and supported it and helped us make it what it is, and continue to do so.”
To hear YouTube tell it, the entire platform is built on the power of its individual creators, even as those creators helped propel the video site to a scale of epic proportions. As it does every year, YouTube rolled out a bevy of new data points that underscore its place in the video marketplace.
In September 2020, YouTube reached more adults age 18-49 than all linear TV networks combined, per a Nielsen study commissioned by YouTube … YouTube users watch 1 billion hours of video per day (“compared to 400 million hours for Netflix,” Kyncl says) … On TV screens, more than 120 million people streamed YouTube or YouTube TV in December, up from 100 million in March of last year …
TV sets are a priority for the company from an advertising perspective, with YouTube rolling out “Brand Extensions” on connected TVs this year. The ad product lets users learn more about a featured product without interrupting the ad experience. TV is a long play for YouTube, which has been slowly working with TV set makers to bake the app into their built-in software.
The strategy “will really pay off when people start replacing their TV sets,” Kyncl sets, noting that life cycles for TVs are much longer than for smartphones or computers.
Meanwhile, YouTube continues to invest in its original programming, even as it has moved away from scripted fare in favor of less expensive (and indeed, creator-driven) unscripted programming. Among the new shows on YouTube’s originals slate are a fitness series chronicling actor Will Smith “rebuilding his body into the best shape of his life and getting his groove back along the way,” and the Alicia Keys docuseries Noted (working title), both of which are produced by Smith’s Westbrook Media.
One of YouTube’s original scripted shows, Liza on Demand, will return for a third and final season this year (effectively marking the end of YouTube’s scripted originals), and MIGOS is set to produce a docuseries called Ice Cold “that uses the prism of hip-hop jewelry to explore deeper issues around racial inequity and the American Dream.”
LeBron James, Maverick Carter and Michelle Kwan will executive produce Recipe for Change, which will “bring together celebrities, chefs, activists and creators to celebrate API culture and discuss the recent and historic acts of hate and violence against the API community.” And YouTube will also run Barbershop Medicine, which “will bring together musical artist Masego, renowned physicians Dr. Italo Brown and Dr. Jamie Rutland, and community members in a storied barbershop to discuss today’s most pressing health concern, COVID-19.”
Finally, YouTube also sought to highlight its diversity efforts as part of the Brandcast pitch, suggesting that it is a natural extension of its platform, thanks to the open nature of its offering.
“YouTube is a mirror to the world, it is an open platform, anyone can publish,” Kyncl says. “We have much greater diversity of creators than any TV channel, or any subscription service could ever have, because we are open.”
So, going forward, “we are leaning into the various communities, to make sure they feel supported by us, beyond what they may see organically,” he adds.