YouTube Adds TV Inventory to Premium Ad Product

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YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki

The Google-owned streamer is giving advertisers the opportunity to buy some of its YouTube TV inventory as concerns over brand safety continue.

For years, YouTube has positioned itself as the antithesis of television. Now, amid growing concern from brands over unsavory videos on its platform, YouTube is changing its tune. 

Ahead of its annual pitch to advertisers, YouTube is unveiling a series of updates to its advertising products that will help brands reach a TV-watching audience. 

Last year, YouTube introduced a live TV bundle, YouTube TV, that now includes more than 50 channels. Soon, YouTube will offer some of that live TV inventory to advertisers through its premium ad program, Google Preferred. The streamer says some U.S. cable networks — it did not specify which ones — will be part of the Google Preferred lineup, giving advertisers the option of buying content from both top YouTubers and popular networks as part of one campaign. 

YouTube is also introducing a new function that will allow brands to reach viewers who are primarily watching YouTube on their TV screen, versus a mobile phone or computer. (A similar keyword is being introduced for those who want to reach cord cutters.)

"At YouTube, we've brought people back to the big screen by building a rich YouTube experience for set-top boxes, gaming consoles, streaming devices and smart TVs of all stripes," Debbie Weinstein, managing director of YouTube global solutions, wrote in a blog post published Sunday night. Television screens, she noted, account for over 150 million hours of YouTube watch time each day. 

The focus on the brand-safe TV environment comes as YouTube has faced an onslaught of crises over the last year. At last year's advertiser pitch, known as Brandcast, CEO Susan Wojcicki issued a mea culpa, apologizing to brands for allowing their ads to appear along side violent, racist and inappropriate content. But it didn't end there. In the weeks and months that followed, new reports revealed that ads were running next to exploitative children's content, conspiracy theories and other unsavory videos. 

No matter what YouTube does — Google is growing its content moderation teams by 10,000 people — the reports keep coming. In mid-April, CNN published the latest investigation, that ads from more than 300 companies were found on channels promoting white nationalists, Nazis and other extremist viewpoints. YouTube says it is working on improving the algorithm designed to catch these videos. 

By promoting its TV-quality inventory (and the user-uploaded videos that are worthy of a big-screen viewing experience), YouTube is focusing on the content that brands trust most. It is the first glimpse at how the company will message to advertisers when executives take the stage at Radio City Music Hall on the evening of May 3 for this year's pitch.