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YouTube, to Keep Its Stars Happy, May Fund Content and Arrange Hollywood Hookups

YouTube execs have been reaching out to Hollywood producers to potentially play matchmaker with some of the top-tier talent on the Google-owned video site — and YouTube is prepared to selectively invest in original programming.

But this isn’t YouTube trying to build its own “House of Cards.” Nor is it a reprise of the site’s original channels initiative originally launched more than two years ago.

The goal is essentially to ensure the Internet’s No. 1 video destination continues to meet the needs of its most popular creators, and keep the creme-de-la-creme within the YouTube fold. “It’s YouTube saying, ‘What can we do to help? Where does it make sense to invest?'” said a source familiar with the talks.

Asked for comment, a YouTube rep said, “We are always exploring various content and marketing ideas to support and accelerate our creators,” declining to provide additional details. The YouTube effort to reach out to producers was reported Sunday by Reuters.

At this point, YouTube has not struck any deals under the new effort that pair Hollywood players with YouTubers or provide funding. So far, the website has had “exploratory conversations” with several parties. But in all cases, they are along the lines of supporting existing YouTube partners, according to sources.

The YouTube outreach effort may be a response to projects undertaken by creators that are being distributed through non-YouTube channels. The new initiative “seems ‘Camp Takota’-inspired,” said a senior digital exec at a talent agency. That’s a reference to the full-length comedy film starring YouTube personalities Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart that was released this year and is available for purchase through VHX and iTunes.

In any case, YouTube is not making a second run at its original channels effort. Announced in late 2011, the video site spent some $100 million in channels, from partners including Deepak Chopra, the Onion, Thomson Reuters, Ashton Kutcher and Varsity Pictures, while it pledged $200 million more to market them. Although many of those channels are now dormant, YouTube execs insist that initiative had the desired effect of jump-starting original content development for the platform.

YouTube’s new original-content program is much less formal, a source said. There’s not a specific budget set aside, nor is there a timeline for the projects. Any of the deals would be “purely tied” to one-off series or projects, the source added.

In a pitch to one producer, YouTube suggested funding a Web series for $1 million to $3 million, Reuters reported. However, there’s a wide range of projects that YouTube is considering backing for varying amounts, according to sources.

As for what strings would be attached to YouTube’s funding of original content, that too is not set in stone. The site could mandate the type of content produced under the deal, or could specify an exclusive window on YouTube.

For YouTube, the program — even as ad-hoc as it is — represents the next logical step in its talent-promotion and development efforts. This year, it launched mass-media marketing campaigns promoting such partners as Michelle Phan, Vice News and Epic Rap Battles of History, and announced several enhancements to the platform for creators at last month’s VidCon.

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