YouTube NewFront: Jeffrey Katzenberg Hypes Acquisition; Snoop Lion Performs

Jeffrey Katzenberg
Jessica Chou

DreamWorks Animation

Google makes its pitch for more ad money by showing off YouTube stars.

On Wednesday night, Google pitched advertisers on YouTube, going back-to-basics with an explanation of viral phenomenon like the Harlem Shake.

Google made the presentation at Pier 36 in New York, part of a weeklong schedule of upfront-style events from leading digital companies. Google's NewFront featured an appearance by DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, fresh off an announced multi-million dollar acquisition of AwesomenessTV, one of the most subscribed-to teen networks on YouTube.

"YouTube has provided a platform for innovative content that connects with millions of consumers," said Katzenberg. "It's a whole new entertainment paradigm. It is something that we need to be apart of ... The essence of the content is short form but the potential value is enormous."

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At last year's presentation, besides featuring a performance from Jay-Z, Google announced that it was putting $200 million worth of promotion into the YouTube Original Channels initiative. The company launched all sorts of new channels then, and then later in the year, cut some channels loose. YouTube's presentation last year wasn't a total bust. It got some commitments from big brands like Unilever, Toyota and GM, but the company has also realized that it needs to do more, reportedly lowering the price to advertisers on the video sharing site.

At this year's NewFront -- or "Brandcast" as Google/YouTube calls it -- the digital giant stressed the numbers and the moment.

"The future is already here," said Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. "When I started, there was 54 million people connected globally, That has grown to two billion, with one billion coming to YouTube ... The remaining five billion people not currently online will be coming online via smartphones. Screens are simply everywhere."

If YouTube brought out stars like Pharrell Williams and Flo Rida in 2012 to celebrate new programming and new initiatives, the 2013 event was more geared towards showing ad buyers names they might not be familiar with, but popular on the video website. That included Felicia Day, actress and producer of YouTube's indie geek culture channel Geek & Sundry; Lindsey Stirling, who was thrown off of America's Got Talent and founded YouTube's Lindseystomp channel; Ryan Higa, the creator of YouTube's Nigahiga; and yeah, Kid President and Macklemore.

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"I'm part of the first generation to grow up knowing that social connections can be made online," said Day.

Of course, Google couldn't help but bring out one big name. This year, Snoop Lion became the headline performer.

Google hopes a package of YouTube-starring violinists, break-dancers and beat-boxers is enough to entice ad buyers to shift their money from television to online. Digital ad executives participating in this week's event have privately set a $1 billion goal. Not everyone is sure what it will take to make that happen. In the past, analysts have blamed everything from imperfect metrics, too much inventory, too little inventory or that ad buyers just don't understand the best ways to pitch consumers online.

For those who say that YouTube is popular but without any channel or show that's seen as must-see digital TV, Google's executives have a message.

"People are watching YouTube 50 percent more than they were a year ago," said Robert Kyncl, global head of content at YouTube. "Twice as many people are subscribing to YouTube channels and there are more than a billion people coming. That's 15 percent of all humanity."

He added that "YouTube is Generation C," the letter standing for "connected."

And if that pitch doesn't work, maybe the booze on the Hudson River will. After the NewFront, the ad executives were scheduled to be ushered to post-event party cruises around Manhattan.

Twitter: @eriqgardner