Peter Kafka

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YouTube and Hollywood Finally Link Up: Here Come the Channels

YouTube and Hollywood, which have been circling each other for years, are finally getting together.

But instead of moving movies and TV shows to the world’s biggest Web site, they’re trying something different: Google is handing out more than $100 million to dozens of partners to create new “channels.”

The idea is to make “professional” content that advertisers will pay a premium to be near, instead of the grab bag of videos that dominate the site and that often sell at very low prices.

This isn’t news, of course: YouTube reps have been holding meetings and auditions for most of the year, led by former Netflix executive Robert Kyncl. And we’ve known about the deal terms, and many of the partners, for some time.

But now the site is finally talking about them publicly and promising that it will start unveiling some of the new programming next month. Some of the channels — each of which will have a couple hours of original programming per week — will feature people you’ve heard of, like Madonna, Jay-Z,  Ashton Kutcher and “Modern Family” star Sofia Vergara.

But the channels aren’t all premised around the idea of celebrities and Hollywood per se — just the idea that someone with some idea of how to make good stuff will start making stuff specifically for the site.

For instance, BedRocket Properties, the video start-up backed by the Huffington Post’s Ken Lerer and run by cable TV veteran Brian Bedol, will do four channels, including a soccer-themed channel in conjunction with Major League Soccer, and an action sports channel produced along with Wasserman Media Group.

Another example: IGN, the videogame Web site being spun off by News Corp., will produce a game-themed channel along with the Shine Group, the TV production house recently purchased by News Corp. (News Corp. also owns this Web site).

It’s worth noting that some of the channels will be run by people who are well-versed in creating Web video — and video for YouTube in particular. Machinima, for instance, which also specializes in game-themed stuff, is already one of YouTube’s most prolific partners, and essentially runs a network within YouTube’s network.

Maker Studios, which is producing three channels, is another outfit that already specializes in YouTube. And Demand Media went public this year, in part because it had figured out the art of cranking out Web videos very, very, quickly, at very, very low prices.

YouTube may not be releasing all of the channels and partners today, perhaps because it doesn’t actually have all of its deals signed yet. And at least one partner told me that some of the mechanics of the deals, like control of ad sales, had yet to be worked out.

That’s hard to imagine, given the amount of time that YouTube has been at this. But it’s also hard to imagine why you’d announce a big consumer-focused deal at the end of a Friday. So, who knows.

We do know the general outlines of the deals, though: Google will advance most of the creators up to $5 million, and in return will get commitments to produce a couple hours of programming a week for the channel. Once the programmers have earned back their advance from YouTube, they’ll split ad revenue with the site. The programming will be exclusive to YouTube for at least the first year of the three-year deals.

What we don’t know is how this stuff will actually work: $5 million won’t go very far if the partners use traditional TV and film budgets, so many of the partners are going to have to supplement that money with investments of their own — and they’re going to have to work on a tighter budget. And just because there’s a bit of Hollywood shine associated with this stuff doesn’t mean that people will actually watch — or, most crucially, that advertisers will pay up.

Google may also try other methods to get high-end video stuff. The company made a stab at Hulu when that video site was on the block. And it has indicated that it’s interested in licensing some content in international markets, where it thinks it can get more bang for its buck.


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