YouTube Touts TV Viewing, Creator-Led Originals Slate in Virtual Brandcast Pitch

Demi Lovato - YouTube Publicity -H 2020
Courtesy of YouTube

The Google-owned streamer has new projects in the works with Demi Lovato, Markiplier and David Blaine.

YouTube took its annual Brandcast pitchfest virtual this year, making the case for the enduring value of its platform amid a global pandemic that has forced many people into lockdown.

On Thursday morning, the Google-owned streamer sent personalized videos — dubbed Brandcast Delivered — to ad buyers that gave them a window into some of its most popular video categories, from comedy to food to sports to education to music. The coronavirus has helped drive increases in viewing for many of those genres, the company explained. Food programming, for instance, has seen a 45 percent increase in viewership since last year as cooking from home has taken on new importance. Videos about cutting hair and self-care have also been on the rise.

“With film and TV production halted and cinemas closed, so much of our mass entertainment has ground to a halt. But what’s happening in the digital video space is arguably as relevant as it’s ever been in YouTube’s 15-year history,” Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s head of culture and trends, said in a video pre-recorded from his Queens apartment.

YouTube has long argued that marketers should give the same weight to the billions of videos on its platform as they do Hollywood TV productions, and shift more of their budgets to its platform. Now, the company is illustrating that people are watching its videos like they would traditional programming. In the last year, there has been an 80 percent growth in YouTube watch time on TV screens, and more than 100 million monthly viewers watched the platform’s videos on TV sets in the month of March.

YouTube’s presentation comes as many industries, particularly the tech, media and entertainment fields, grapple with their role in America’s long history of racism. In response to protests that have played out across the country following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, YouTube pledged to create a $100 million fund to support Black creators. At the beginning of the Brandcast videos, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki acknowledged, “We have always been a platform that celebrates a diverse set of voices, but we’ve recognized that we need to do more, in particular with the Black community.”

The Brandcast videos also featured appearances by both homegrown stars like Rosanna Pansino and Lilly Singh — who now also hosts a late night show on NBC — and more traditional talent who have taken to the platform like Gordon Ramsey and Alex Rodriguez. Musicians including Lizzo, Questlove and Tones and I were also featured.  

After a flirtation with star-studded scripted programming, YouTube is focusing on unscripted series and putting the emphasis back on endemic talent. A new slate of programming announced Thursday includes renewals for Instant Influencer, a competition series from beauty guru James Charles; The Creator Games, a virtual live stream hosted by MrBeast; and Retro Tech with Marques Brownlee.

YouTube is also working on a new, four-part docuseries with Demi Lovato that will serve as a follow-up to 2017's Simply Complicated, and it is developing a new interactive special with gaming creator Markiplier. Meanwhile, Steph Curry — who has a YouTube channel with more than a million followers — will host virtual competition series Ultimate Home Championship, and David Blaine will star in an upcoming live event. 

On the scripted side, YouTube will debut kids series Lockdown, a mystery that developed and filmed remotely during the shutdown, on June 26. It is also prepping the third season of Liza on Demand starring Liza Koshy. 

The shutdown has put a new spotlight on digital-first programming that can be produced from home, something YouTube creators have been doing for years. "The pandemic has accelerated trends around video consumption and video creation," chief business officer Robert Kyncl tells THR. He points to recent YouTube projects that have taken advantage of these trends, including the Andrea Bocelli concert on Easter that was viewed by more than 40 million people and the virtual commencement event Dear Class of 2020 that featured Barack and Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and others. "We've invested in content that brings people together," he says. 

Kyncl called the the last year "a transition year" as the company moved its focus from scripted originals made for subscription product YouTube Premium to an ad-supported, predominantly unscripted slate. "We're a place where, whether you're an advertiser or creator, you come here to reach the largest audience. Therefore, we shouldn't be limited access to the content." But he said of projects that YouTube has abandoned like Cobra Kai, which is moving to Netflix, "I'm personally very happy that the projects found new homes."