YouTube unveils pro channel push

Kutcher, Poehler among celeb partners

The long-awaited suite of channels YouTube unveiled Friday marks parent company Google’s bid to revolutionize the TV biz stocked with star-studded programming from premium content providers.

Google is expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to launch as many as 100 channels. The first will bow next month, but the rollout of channels will continue through 2012.

In a blog post on the YouTube site, global head of content partnerships Robert Kyncl billed the channels as coming from “well-known personalities and content producers from the TV, film, music, news and sports fields.”

Programming partners range from production companies like Electus and BermanBraun to well-known brands including the Onion, Wall Street Journal and WWE. Some channels will see celebrity involvement from the likes of Tony Hawk, Jay-Z, Ashton Kutcher, Rainn Wilson, Amy Poehler, Deepak Chopra and Shaquille O’Neal. Brands already well rooted on YouTube will be represented as well, including Smosh and Machinima.

YouTube built its business on the back of amateur uploads; the new venture marks the most significant shift in its strategy since Google acquired it in 2006. By allying itself with pedigreed producers, YouTube is hoping to get a bigger chunk of advertising dollars that have eluded the site.

Google’s strategy is to create formal channels of programming aimed at niche audiences much the way cable approached the broadcast business with the launches of MTV and CNN in the 1980s. Word of the new venture has been circulating for much of the year as Google has had meetings all over Hollywood to draft talent on both sides of the camera.

YouTube is intent on raising CPMs for its content, and that will require closing the gap between the 15 minutes of viewing time per day spent on average on YouTube vs. the five-hour average TV commands.

The company is also hoping to gain more traction with the talent blitz than YouTube has had on the licensing side. YouTube already suffered a false start with the launch of a moviestore two years ago that had little top-shelf content.

Earlier this year the company relaunched the storefront with a trove of more than 3,000 movie titles from Warner Bros., Sony and Universal for $3 or $4 a pop, but sources indicate there’s been little uptake.

YouTube is also coming late to a game in which other new-media giants from Yahoo to Hulu have enjoyed quite a head start, taking in talent of their own in a bid to unlock more dollars from Madison Avenue.

The announcement comes just a day after the company disclosed details of an upcoming upgrade to Google TV, a service melding TV and Web video that struggled when it launched last year. The YouTube original channels will become one of the new features Google is counting on to help rejuvenate Google TV.

By inserting YouTube original channels onto Google TV, it will help Google counter criticism that the service lacks compelling content options — a shortcoming magnified by the fact that the broadcast networks blocked access to their programming shortly after launch.

Google TV will also be enhanced by a simplified interface, a new app that allows users to search for video across both TV and the Internet and the introduction of the Android marketplace. The upgrade will take effect this week on Sony iterations of Google TV, followed by Logitech models later in the year.

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