NewFronts: YouTube Emphasizes Engagement With Help From Grace Helbig, John Green

Grace Helbig - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Grace Helbig - H 2015

The Google-owned video streamer made few announcements, instead focusing on a hard sales pitch to advertisers about the impact of its videos.

YouTube wants advertisers to know that its creators have influence and an engaged fan base. 

This was the theme that the Google-owned streaming platform drove home again and again Wednesday night at its Brandcast event in New York. 

Grace Helbig, who hosted the NewFront week presentation, made that point and took a subtle shot at YouTube competitors when she noted that her audiences are engaged in her videos and actively seek them out, adding that if brands want a passive audience "there are some three-legged dogs on Instagram that can get that done for you." 

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"If you're sitting here, I hope that's because you want more," she continued. "You want to know that people are actively watching my channel. Your ad resonates a whole lot more because these people are engaged. They're not just passively seeing it as they scroll by." 

To start off the night, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki highlighted a number of stats. Key among them was the fact that YouTube captures more people in the 18 to 49 demo on mobile than any cable network. But she didn't just focus on audience size. "Even though our reach and scale is impressive, one thing you cannot see in that number is the influence YouTube has had on pop culture," she added.

The rest of the night's presenters followed suit, with The Fault in Our Stars author John Green really hitting it home. "I"m not here to entertain you or educate you or to kiss up to you," he started his talk. "I'm here to scare you."

Green, who is one half of YouTube channel VlogBrothers with brother Hank Green, went on to discuss how the growth of his YouTube audience has boosted his book sales. He also took a pointed jab at TV, describing Deadliest Catch as something he watches to be distracted but YouTube content as something he loves. 

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"If you want to stay in the eyeballs business, that's cool," he said. "It's a good business, albeit a shrinking one. But you risk losing relevance with an entire generation of viewers."

The focus on engagement comes as many online video publishers have emphasized the sharability of videos posted to competitor Facebook, which has been pushing its own video player. 

YouTube made few announcements during the presentation, instead focusing on the pitch to buyers. The presentation made only brief reference to the original series that YouTube has started funding and Google Preferred, the premium ad tier that was announced at Brandcast last year and will return again this year. 

Brandcast, which was held in the theater at Madison Square Garden, was proceeded by a fan event, where YouTube creators Tyler Oakley, Lilly SIngh, Dude Perfect and the Slo Mo Guys had photo ops and other activities set up. Fashion and lifestyle vlogger Bethany Mota occasionally appeared on a small stage in the middle of the event to chat with fans and interview other creators, include musician Troye Sivan