YouTube Upfront: CEO Says It’s ‘Redefining’ TV, Platform Launches Ad Takeovers for Top 1% of Creators – Variety

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YouTube‘s message to Madison Avenue: The video giant isn’t like traditional TV — it’s bigger, with literally billions of viewers, and better at targeting relevant audiences.

At its annual Brandcast event, held Wednesday during the TV biz’s upfronts week, YouTube drilled home massive scale. On average, viewers watch more than 1 billion hours of content on TV screens daily. According to Nielsen’s total TV and streaming report for the U.S., YouTube has had the No. 1 share in streaming watch-time every month on American TVs since February 2023.

“We’re redefining what TV looks like, helping creators reach new heights and using AI to expand creativity,” said YouTube CEO Neal Mohan (pictured above), kicking off the evening’s event Wednesday.

With so much tonnage of content, YouTube is now trying to make it easier to tap into the crème de la crème. The platform announced the formal launch and expansion of YouTube Select “Creator Takeovers,” which will let advertisers buy out the inventory on channels representing top 1% of content on the platform. The program began as a pilot at the end of 2023 with creators including Jason and Travis Kelce’s “New Heights” podcast on YouTube.

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“Our creators are the future of entertainment,” YouTube chief business officer Mary Ellen Coe told the crowd. “We’re adding more of our incredibly talented creators [to the YouTube Select Creator Takeovers program], including many you’ve seen here tonight, so you have even more choice when deciding which creators you want to work with.”

Mohan, in his introductory remarks, argued that YouTube creators should be eligible to win Emmy Awards. “Creators are drawing audiences on the big screen because they’re the new Hollywood,” he said. “They have business strategies, writers’ rooms and production teams… Creators are redefining what we think of as ‘TV.’ And they deserve the same acclaim as other creative professionals. I believe it’s time a creator won an Emmy.”

YouTube’s Brandcast 2024 took place at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall in New York City, which was filled to capacity. A large banner outside the venue declared, “With millions of creators, billions of fans and all the content we love most, there’s only one YouTube.”

UPFRONTS 2024: View Variety’s Full Coverage

It’s the third consecutive year YouTube has held the event during upfronts week. But YouTube is an outlier: Whereas other media companies unveil new TV shows coming to their networks and streaming services, YouTube uses the stage to boast about its massive reach and engagement relative to traditional TV.

As it as done before, YouTube handed the mic to an eclectic group of prominent YouTubers, as part of its pitch to marketers to spend their ad dollars on the platform’s most popular channels in different content categories. Those included Haley Kalil, Cleo Abram, Kinigra Deon, Ryan Trahan, Taty Cokley, Sydney Morgan, Zach King and top gaming streamer Valkyrae.

Also making an appearance was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (as he did last year), who was there to promote the league’s deal with YouTube for the NFL Sunday Ticket subscription package of games. Goodell, who came out on stage with former NFL player Shannon Sharpe (host of the weekly “Club Shay Shay” podcast), said YouTube’s distribution of Sunday Ticket in the 2023-24 season was “flawless”: “They really brought the game to our fans in a different way.”

The show was capped off with a relatively quiet performance by nine-time Grammy winner Billie Eilish featuring Finneas, including of her Oscar-winning “What Was I Made For?” from the “Barbie” movie. (Eilish’s new album, “Hit Me Hard and Soft,” is out Friday.) Brandcast earlier had sets from Benson Boone and K-pop boy group Stray Kids.

During the event, YouTube announced a new Google AI-powered format optimized for connected TV, using non-skippable ad assets across in-stream inventory. YouTube also is launching branded QR codes for advertisers in interactive placements.

In addition, YouTube said Wednesday that Google and Scripps Sports reached an agreement for locally televised WNBA Friday night games on ION to be streamed on YouTube TV in home and away markets of the teams that are playing. YouTube TV will be the only pay-TV provider carrying both local and national WNBA games this season, starting May 31 and continuing through the regular season.

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