×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Susanne Daniels Throws Out the TV Rulebook to Lead YouTube Red

When YouTube decided to get serious about developing high-end content for its YouTube Red subscription product, the Internet behemoth turned to a seasoned TV pro.

Susanne Daniels, who joined YouTube as global head of content in July 2015, helped birth such notable series as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dawson’s Creek” during her tenure in programming at the WB Network. She also logged stints at ABC and Fox and, more recently, Lifetime and MTV.

All of that experience at broadcast and cable networks taught Daniels, one of this year’s Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award honorees at the NATPE conference in Miami, the rules of the road for developing TV series, even those that were unconventional from the start such as “Buffy.” But most of that rule book has been thrown out now that she’s working in the always-on environment of the world’s most-watched video platform.

“There’s such a broad audience that uses YouTube. There’s such a big opportunity to appeal to a really wide demographic and to diverse audience (segments),” Daniels tells Variety. “In some ways it’s freeing and in some ways it’s daunting. When the skies the limit, you’re constantly thinking about ‘What am I not thinking of today?’ “

Daniels is driving the content side of YouTube’s push into the subscription VOD arena. YouTube Red, which formally launched in February 2016, has exceeded its initial year-one subscriber goal. YouTube hasn’t disclosed the subscriber base for Red, but Daniels said its benchmark sub target was reached in late November.

Among the high-profile projects on Daniels’ slate is a dance-themed scripted drama from Lionsgate TV adapted from the “Step Up” film franchise. The series is expected to bow in the summer. Dance-related content is such a big part of YouTube’s general audience base that the “Step Up” theme made sense for Red. It’s also a subject that travels well around the world, Daniels said.

The development team that Daniels has pulled together during the past year has the wherewithal to draw on the traditional Hollywood creative community for material as well as the gigantic incubator that is YouTube. She’s excited for the potential for a project in development at present with Liza Koshy, a young personality who has been bubbling up. YouTube Red last month fielded a backdoor pilot for Koshy with the holiday special “Jingle Ballin’. ”

The newly launched YouTube production space in Playa Vista — a resource open to YouTubers with more than 10,000 followers to produce content for their YouTube channels — has also been a source of inspiration for Daniels’ team.

“YouTube stars are a breed unto themselves — and they are not to be underestimated,” Daniels says. “We are just starting to really take a deep look at that talent base and produce shows that can appeal to a broader audience beyond their core YouTube loyalists who follow them already.”

The comedy duo Rhett and Link has been an early success story for YouTube Red. “Rhett and Link’s Buddy System” is a scripted series with episodes running about 13-15 minutes. It’s a good example of how an SVOD service can differentiate itself from linear TV offerings, Daniels says. Rhett and Link came to Red with a fully formed idea for the show, while talent such as Koshy is undergoing a more traditional development process.

“The essence of what we do is the same that I’ve done for many years,” Daniels says. “I want these shows to appeal to as large an audience as possible. But the paths that we take to get there are different.”

For one, marketing and scheduling of an SVOD series is very different from a linear TV launch.

“I don’t think about marketing in advance anymore,” Daniels says. “We don’t want to start marketing until our show actually drops. We don’t think about scheduling in the same way. Primetime versus daytime, fall launch versus midseason launch — those questions don’t matter anymore.”

Building a level of interactivity, on the other hand, is a big focus. So is virtual reality and live event programming. Daniels hints at projects coming together with Dan Harmon and a comedy set in the world of eSports.

For Daniels, receiving the Tartikoff Award recognition at a time when she’s working in such a path-breaking environment is particularly significant. She worked with the late Brandon Tartikoff on several projects during his time as an independent producer after his storied run NBC and brief tenure at Paramount. Tartikoff, known for his  unbridled ambition and boundless creativity, undoubtedly would have thrived in the current content landscape.

“I think there’s so much upside. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we’re capable of so much more,” Daniels says. “It’s exciting days at YouTube.”

Susanne Daniels and Cynthia Littleton are co-authors of “Season Finale: The Unexpected Rise and Fall of the WB Network and UPN,” published in 2007 by HarperCollins.

(Pictured: Daniels, right, with YouTube star Lilly Singh)

More Digital

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Sirius Logo

    SiriusXM Unveils $8 Essential Plan for Consumers Without Cars

    SiriusXM wants to cater consumers without cars, or cars without compatible stereos, with a new $8 plan for mobile and in-home listening. Dubbed SiriusXM Essential, the plan offers access to 200+ channels featuring the network’s entire music programming, as well comedy, news and select sports channels. Consumers will be able to test the new plan [...]

  • Mueller Report Book Editions Top Amazon's

    Mueller Report Book Editions Shoot to Top of Best-Seller Lists at Amazon, Barnes & Noble

    Robert Mueller is now a best-selling author. Book publishers’ forthcoming editions of the special counsel’s report zoomed to the top of the Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s lists of book best-sellers Friday. That comes a day after the report was publicly released, culminating the nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election [...]

  • Marques Brownlee - Retro Tech

    YouTube Orders Marques Brownlee 'Retro Tech' Original Series

    YouTube has turned to one of its homegrown stars — technology vlogger Marques Brownlee, aka “MKBHD” — for its newest original series. The video platform has greenlit series “Retro Tech” featuring Brownlee, in which he’ll unbox and review vintage technology products that have defined pop culture. The show, slated to debut in December 2019, follows [...]

  • Netflix Tests Random Episode Button in

    Netflix Starts Testing Random Episode Button

    Netflix is testing a button to play random episodes of select TV shows, the company confirmed Friday morning. “We are testing the ability for members to play a random episode from different TV series on the Android mobile app,” a Netflix spokesperson told Variety. “These tests typically vary in length of time and by region, [...]

  • Netflix Our Planet Sophie Darlington

    Netflix's 'Our Planet' Roars to Life With Work by Top Wildlife Cinematographers

    In terms of scope, production time and — very likely — budget, Netflix’s “Our Planet” is one of the most ambitious projects from the streaming service to date. Narrated by David Attenborough and made available worldwide on April 5, the goal of the eight-part series is to capture diverse habitats across the globe and highlight [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content