YouTube’s standing with Madison Avenue fell several notches earlier this year after it came to light that some advertisers’ spots were running against hate videos. Meanwhile, the service was pumping more dollars into original productions for YouTube Red, its subscription-based tier which may not be getting the kind of traction execs had hoped for.
A solution? YouTube’s new slate of ad-supported original shows, engineered to give big advertisers a big audience — while guaranteeing their messages would be presented in an ultra-safe environment.
The first series in the bunch is Ellen DeGeneres’ “Show Me More Show,” a grab-bag of behind-the-scenes content, guest segments, and other bonus material from her daytime TV show. The twice-weekly show debuted last week, and included a bit in which Kim Kardashian West answers Ellen’s “burning questions” (e.g., “What’s your favorite body part?”). Watch the series on YouTube at this link.
Up next month: Documentary feature “Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated,” in which the pop star delves into the writing and recording of her new album. That will be followed by “Best.Cover.Ever.”, a singing-competition show from Ryan Seacrest and Endemol Shine North America, launching in November 2017, and a new spin on Rhett and Link’s “Good Mythical Morning” variety show in late 2017.
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Set for 2018 are “Kevin Hart: What the Fit?” comedy-fitness series and “The Super Slow Show” from the popular Slow Mo Guys. YouTube also has its first European ad-supported original in the works: an unscripted comedy series featuring soccer stars from executive producer James Corden.
YouTube’s ad-supported original shows are like broadcast TV — targeting a more mainstream audience — whereas YouTube Red is more analogous to premium cable, according to Susanne Daniels, YouTube’s global head of original content. The content going into YouTube Red, Daniels said, can be more “edgy.”
For YouTube, it was a necessary step, said Michelle Carney, VP of branded entertainment and film at Ketchum. “This is YouTube diversifying its portfolio,” she said. “YouTube is betting on more traditional ‘sure things’ — extensions of successful brands like Ellen and stars with box-office track records like Kevin Hart — instead of trying to compete with the TV networks solely with the power of YouTube-native, influencer talent.”
And, coming after YouTube’s missteps earlier this year, “this moves them pretty deeply into brand-safe content,” said Susan Schiekofer, chief digital investment officer for GroupM in the U.S. “They took the best of what was happening on [YouTube] Red and pushed it to the ad-supported platform.” Google has taken other steps to rebuild trust with brands and agencies, including introducing tools to let advertisers explicitly control which channels their spots run on.
YouTube is reportedly spending upwards of $500,000 to $1 million per episode for the ad-supported shows, which it announced in May. According to industry sources, “Best.Cover.Ever.” sold out the quickest — with Johnson & Johnson securing an exclusive sponsorship deal that includes brand integrations within the show.
Ellen’s “Show Me More Show” has landed initial advertisers LL Bean and STX Entertainment, which featured the trailer for “A Bad Moms Christmas.” It’s hard to gauge how well the initial episodes have fared, especially since “The Ellen Show” YouTube channel already attracts a healthy number of clicks from its more than 20 million subscribers. The Kim Kardashian clip has 1.4 million views — but DeGeneres’ spoof of Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” video from her TV show has scared up 5.9 million in three days. Her most popular videos have generated more than 50 million views apiece.
“The Ellen Show” several years ago decided to post the choicest segments from the show on YouTube, after “we were finding out our kids were watching ‘Ellen’ on their phones,” said Ed Glavin, who’s been one of show’s executive producers since its inception in 2003.
“Ellen’s Show Me More Show,” slotted to run for 14 weeks, is “The Ellen Show”‘s first foray into original content for YouTube. Glavin said YouTube gave them “carte blanche” to create some kind of unscripted show. The team settled on using material that previously ended up on the cutting-room floor and short clips featuring guests already booked for the TV show.
“We do a lot of stuff that doesn’t even make the show,” said Glavin. “Ellen is funny all day long. Why not create an opportunity for a new show?”
The “Show Me More Show” is being overseen by supervising digital producer Jackie Dunbar and producer Laura Scarpati, who were both already on staff at “The Ellen Show.”
“I have zero fear of it not being monetizable,” said Glavin, adding, “If we’ve learned nothing about the show over the years, it’s that putting stuff on digital platform has not hurt the TV audience. We used to think that way.”
Actually, YouTube considers its first ad-supported original production to be Katy Perry’s live-streamed special, “Katy Perry – Witness World Wide,” which ran for 96 hours from June 8-12. That broadcast, drawing more than 49 million total views, was sponsored by CoverGirl in the U.S. and by Motorola in Brazil. The broadcast followed Perry the entire time (including when she was sleeping), culminating in live performance of “Chained to the Rhythm” with Pentatonix.
Music-related content is extremely popular on YouTube, and one of the biggest of its ad-supported originals may turn out to be “Best.Cover.Ever,” scheduled to bow in November.
The 10-episode show is hosted by Ludacris and features a lineup of music stars — including Katy Perry, Demi Lovato, Keith Urban, Nicky Jam, Backstreet Boys, Joe Jonas’ DNCE, Charlie Puth, Flo Rida, Jason Derulo and Bebe Rexha — who will judge YouTube fans who have covered one of their songs. The grand-prize winner in each episode will perform a duet with the superstar artist.
“We are not doing ‘American Idol.’ This is a more authentic experience,” said Rob Smith, head of unscripted for Endemol Shine North America who’s overseeing “Best.Cover.Ever.”
It’s probably not exactly something you’d see on TV. In the creation of the show, Smith said, “the one thing we did was make it more authentic for the YouTube audience… We break the fourth wall sometimes.” While producers built a performance stage and used some special effects, overall the goal was to create a show that was “intimate,” he said. “This is people getting to perform with their music idols.”
According to Smith, the biggest challenge for the show was landing the A-list music talent, and then finding time in their schedules and getting them out to shoot the show at YouTube Space in L.A.’s Playa Vista neighborhood. Each episode of “Best.Cover.Ever” runs about 42 minutes of content. J&J, as the show’s sponsor, participated in the creative process, and “there are some normal integration elements, organic to the show,” said Smith.
Coming in the first quarter of 2018 is “What the Fit?” from Kevin Hart and Lionsgate, in which Hart is visited by a guest celeb and engages in different fitness challenges each week — from rodeo riding to sumo wrestling. Originally, the project started life as a weight-loss competition show for network television. (The previous working title was “Fat Nation.”)
Then YouTube came calling, and at first wanted “What the Fit?” for the YouTube Red side of the house. But Hart and Lionsgate were gearing up to launch Laugh Out Loud, a comedy service with free content available to view with ads on YouTube and other platforms. “It was important to us to have the show on the Laugh Out Loud channel instead of behind a paywall,” said Jeff Clanagan, CEO at Codeblack Enterprises and Hart’s longtime business partner.
All 15 episodes of “What the Fit?” have been shot, and are in post-production right now. Each episode runs about 15 minutes, “a middle-length, very consumable format,” said Laura Kennedy, COO of Lionsgate Television Group. Aside from the episode length, Kennedy said the show is “network quality.”
“The line between a digital production versus episodic content on linear TV is being blurred,” she said. “Now it’s about making the content to serve the audience [on the platform].”
YouTube is rolling out the initial ad-supported shows over more than half a year, rather than releasing them on a “season” cycle like TV historically does. Did it need a bigger burst out of the gate for its TV-like shows? GroupM’s Schiekofer doesn’t think so, saying YouTube’s measured approach makes sense.
She contrasted the current initiative with the Google-owned service’s hyped launch back in 2012 of its “original channels” initiative, funding content on around 100 channels with partners including Pharrell Williams, Madonna, Jay Z and Ashton Kutcher. The original channels ended up not delivering TV-size viewing numbers, Schiekofer noted.
With the current ad-supported lineup, “they needed to establish their approach,” she said. “This is more brand-safe content, with better production values — it’s a step in the right direction.”