You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Susanne Daniels: How YouTube Red Will Turn Its Homegrown Stars Into TV Talent

Before she left her job as president of MTV late last year, Susanne Daniels brought one of her three children with her to the network’s tentpole event, the Video Music Awards. She watched her then-13-year-old daughter, Charlotte — a representative of MTV’s target audience — pay little attention as celebrities milled around them on the red carpet.

“We passed one mega-star after another,” Daniels recalled in an interview last month at the Sundance Film Festival. “We were with the head of publicity and she was asking Charlotte, ‘Do you want to meet Scarlett Johansson?’ ‘No.’ ‘Do you want to meet Will Ferrell?’ ‘No.’ And then all of the sudden she screams, and it’s Logan Paul. And I was like, ‘Who is that?'”

To fans of the social-video platform Vine, the 20-year-old Paul is the Ferrell of six-second video loops. He is a icon from a universe distant to the network that long prided itself as being the ultimate haven for adolescent entertainment.

Perhaps then it shouldn’t have come as much surprise in November when Daniels decamped MTV for YouTube, where she is now global head of original content. It was a stunning development; while there isn’t a more seasoned executive in Hollywood who has programmed to teen TV audiences more capably than Daniels between her stints at MTV and the WB, she was essentially exiting what’s formally perceived as the television business to move to the Internet world, a place where she’s had little experience beyond watching her children’s evolving media habits.

Daniels acknowledged she’s gone through something of a culture clash. “It is true that I have never heard the word ‘algorithm’ as much as I have heard it in the last three months,” she joked. “I had to get used to that.”

She came aboard to lead a division known as YouTube Originals, which was charged with providing better financing and production infrastructure to some of the site’s biggest stars, including the Fine Bros. and Smosh, to yield more ambitious projects. What didn’t become clear until December was that this programming was intended for a newly launched subscription arm of the site, YouTube Red, which hopes to command $10 per subscribers per month from a site that was heretofore almost entirely free.

Now YouTube is launching its first long-form scripted movies and series later this month, the first of what could be as many as 25 projects that get released in 2016. Still more are expected internationally with regional editions featuring creators from England, Japan, France, and Germany.

By volume alone, that merits calling YouTube Red a significant challenger to the incumbent subscription VOD players who are much farther along into their original programming efforts: Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. But whereas those networks are succeeding with programming indistinguishable from premium cable, YouTube is trying to break through with a slightly different strategy by sticking largely with the stars who are already on the platform doing a very different thing than what’s seen on TV.

On the one hand, it makes sense: Divert even a fraction of the massive YouTube audience willing to pay to see more content from the stars they already enjoy free, and you’ve got yourself a significant business. But on the other hand, these are stars who are being asked to do a style of programming they aren’t accustomed to doing. Such a transition is difficult enough for the endless amount of TV stars who have been thwarted trying to jump to movies (and vice versa); what YouTube is doing now seems like an even bigger leap.

But Daniels has faith that the hands-on experience YouTube creators have in all aspects of their craft — particularly with regards to audience feedback — gives them a unique sense of what their limitations are.

“I think YouTubers have the opportunity to choose well for themselves as they grow because, as opposed to actors who don’t always make the best choices with scripts, they understand why their audiences love them,” she said. “That gives them insight into what they’re doing and gives them great potential in the future.”

That said, YouTube Red’s SVOD rivals have already been blurring the lines between so-called digital-native talent and mainstream actors. Last December, Hulu got into business with Freddie Wong for the semi-scripted comedy series “Rocketjump: The Show.” Netflix recently inked another YouTube star, Miranda Sings, to her own scripted comedy series.

Now YouTube will see if it too can capitalize on the talent taking root on its own platform, but keeping them around for bigger projects on YouTube Red to avoid having them help homegrown talent walk away with the audience they themselves bred.

That said, Daniels doesn’t rule out the possibility of seeing the kind of traditional premium content she shepherded at MTV make its way to YouTube Red. “We should definitely play in this lane that celebrates YouTube creators and want to do that for the majority of our programming but I think for the right content that is more in the HBO/Showtime/Hulu lane, there is ideally room for both on the platform,” she said.

More Digital

  • Velvet Buzzsaw trailer

    Netflix Original Movies: What to Look Forward To in 2019

    Following the biggest fourth-quarter worldwide subscriber gain ever and some controversy around increased prices in the U.S., Netflix looks to keep its momentum going into 2019. From Jan. 18 through March, the streaming site will release 10 original films, including action-packed thrillers, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi, quirky comedies, inspirational dramas, an artistic horror movie and a viral [...]

  • The Beatles Eight Days a Week

    Imagine's Documentary Arm Sets First-Look Pact With Apple (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Documentaries has set a first-look pact with Apple to develop non-fiction features and series. The deal comes as Imagine is investing heavily in the premium non-fiction arena. The company in June recruited RadicalMedia veteran Justin Wilkes to head Imagine Documentaries as president. The deal suggests that Apple sees docu [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Unveils Financial Data for DTC Unit, Sets April 11 for Investor Presentation

    Disney has rejiggered its business segments for earnings reporting to make room for the new unit housing its global streaming operations. Disney on Friday released restated earnings for fiscal 2018, 2017 and 2016 to give investors and financial analysts better visibility into its spending on the launch of the Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and other [...]

  • Facebook Logo

    Release of Docs to Reveal How Facebook Made Money Off Children

    Documents related to a 2012 lawsuit against Facebook in which children, sometimes unwittingly, spent their parents’ money on games via the social site will be unsealed, according to a Monday ruling from the United States District Court. The court gave Facebook ten days to file unredacted documents in accordance with the ruling. The 2012 lawsuit [...]

  • Facebook Logo

    Facebook Sets Up New Product Group for AR Glasses (Report)

    Facebook has restructured its augmented and virtual reality research division and set up a new group tasked with building augmented reality (AR) glasses, according to a new Business Insider report. Facebook acknowledged the move in a statement given to the publication, saying that the move affected “a few hundred people.” The group has already built [...]

  • nba-the-bounce-logo

    NBA, Turner to Debut Three-Hour Primetime Live Studio Show on Yahoo Sports

    Coming next week: a new NBA primetime show — delivered over the internet — covering all the live action and storylines of the evening. The NBA is teaming with Turner Sports and Yahoo to produce a live nightly show designed for mobile viewers in a three-hour block, slated to run five nights per week on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content