Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

YouTube’s Ad Pitch, Take Two — Buy Our Stars, Not Hollywood’s

felicia dayLast year, YouTube gathered advertisers for a splashy event in New York, in hopes of getting marketers to move their dollars from TV to the world’s biggest video site.

Last night, YouTube tried the same thing, but changed its pitch. Instead of trying to convince ad buyers that YouTube’s stuff is as good as what’s on TV, YouTube is now arguing that the stuff people watch on YouTube is better than TV — because they’re watching it on YouTube.

Gone from last year: YouTube’s efforts to push its “funded channels” program, where it handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in an attempt to get to more “professional content” on the site. Also missing: Testimonials from traditional actors, directors, producers, etc.

Instead, YouTube kept hammering on its huge audience — a billion viewers a month — and played up the stars that are mostly famous to that audience.

Actress/VJ/producer Felicia Day got a long monologue where she explained that she turned to YouTube after hitting a wall in Hollywood. Following a clip where she was reduced to tears on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling explained that YouTubers embraced her after Piers Morgan gave her the cold shoulder.

And hip-hop sensation of the moment Macklemore, who doesn’t have a record label but has a big YouTube presence and the second and third-biggest song in America right now, finished the show with a mini concert.

A handful of people who made their mark off of YouTube made their way onstage, as well, but only in a YouTube context: Producer Brian Robbins, who just sold his AwesomenessTV YouTube channel to DreamWorks, came on to talk about how his teenage sons don’t watch TV; DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg followed him to talk about how great Brian Robbins is.

And the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg, who is now signed up with YouTube network Maker Studios, showed up to slouch through a couple of songs, backed by a group of YouTubers.

If you were a skeptic, or a YouTube competitor, you might argue that YouTube had stopped trying to promote “real” stars on its site, because it spent the last year doing that, and many of those projects have underwhelmed.

You might also note that, unlike other Web video sellers, YouTube spent very little time trying to convince advertisers that it was willing to sell them video ads the way many advertisers want to buy them — that is, the way they buy TV ads.

A lot of people who make videos for YouTube think that’s a real problem that will prevent the site from ever achieving the TV-like ad rates it wants to command. And some of them are hoping/planning to take their stuff elsewhere, where they think they can make more money.

The flip sides of those arguments: Every other Web video site pitching at this week’s “newfront” sales events are making a big deal of the TV and movie stars they’ve signed on — Yahoo has Ed Helms! AOL has Sarah Jessica Parker! Hulu has Seth Meyers! — so YouTube’s approach will help set them apart.

And while lots of people would like YouTube to approach sales the way old-media buyers like to approach sales, that’s not very Googley. The pitch might alter again next year, but I’d be surprised if YouTube made a fundamental switch in the way it sells its eyeballs.

I’m guessing that at some point YouTube will have nice-looking video available from last night’s event. Because they’re a video company and all that. Meantime, you can get a flavor via some user-generated footage — via YouTube, of course.

Here, via BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield, is Lindsey Stirling:

And here, via Storyful’s David Clinch, is some Macklemore and a cast of dozens:

(Image courtesy of Felicia Day/Instagram)


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald