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YouTube Sets New Content Deals With Will Smith, Coachella and More, as CEO Promises Focus on Brand Safety

Video site renews deals for ad-supported shows Demi Lovato, Kevin Hart, Slow Mo Guys

YouTube now has 1.8 billion logged-in users each month — and with that huge scale comes huge responsibilities, CEO Susan Wojcicki said at YouTube’s Brandcast event for advertisers Thursday.

At the event, held at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, the company announced several content pacts. It’s renewing three deals out of the seven ad-supported original shows it announced last year: Season 2 of Kevin Hart’s “What the Fit?” comedy celebrity-fitness reality series Lionsgate and Hart’s Laugh Out Loud; a new untitled show from Demi Lovato in which she’ll raise awareness for issues she’s passionate about; and a second season of The Slow Mo Guys’ “The Super Slow Show.”

Chief business officer Robert Kyncl said YouTube has renewed its exclusive live-streaming deal with the Coachella music festival for an additional three years. And, he said, YouTube will now make ad inventory on all official music videos on YouTube available through Google Preferred, its premium advertising program, in partnership with Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Vevo.

Kyncl also announced YouTube is working with actor Will Smith, who on Sept. 25 (Smith’s 50th birthday) will bungee-jump from a helicopter over the Grand Canyon for a charity fundraising event — a stunt dubbed “The Jump Off,” which will be live-streamed on YouTube. Smith’s Grand Canyon leap will be produced in partnership with Westbrook Entertainment. The news drew gasps from the audience. Smith launched his YouTube channel in December, and already has 1.8 million subscribers.

In addition, Kyncl said YouTube has reached a deal with the NBA to bring LeBron James’ “Best Shot” docu-series about high-school basketball players to the NBA’s YouTube channel. YouTube also has ordered an original series with “Quantico” star Priyanka Chopra, called “If I Could Tell You Just One Thing,” in which she interviews people around the world on the best advice they have to offer. And he said “Training Days,” in which comedian-actor Jack Whitehall trains with the world’s top soccer players, will debut May 9 on Whitehall’s YouTube channel ahead of the FIFA World Cup. Sponsored by Wendy’s in the U.S., it’s executive produced by James Corden and Fulwell 73.

But the elephant in the room was Madison Avenue’s concern about the brand safety of YouTube, which Wojcicki addressed briefly at the start of the event. She said YouTube is committed to investing in solutions to the problem. Over the past year, YouTube has been roiled by multiple scandals in which marketers discovered their ads running against hate speech and other objectionable content.

“It is critically important to me, and to everyone at YouTube, that we grow responsibly,” she said. “There is not a playbook for how open platforms operate at our scale. But the way I think about it is, it’s critical that we are on the right side of history.”

Wojcicki didn’t offer any details about new steps YouTube will take to ameliorate the situation, aside from rehashing what it has already announced in response to the crisis. Changes in the last few months have included YouTube’s pledge to manually reviewing the ad-friendliness of every video included in Google Preferred, which comprises the top 5% of the most-popular YouTube channels, as well as selling stricter requirements before creators are eligible to earn ad revenue.

On stage, Wojcicki reiterated that Google will boost the size of its content-reviewing team to more than 10,000 employees by the end of 2018 (it’s not clear how big that team is today), in conjunction with enhancements in machine-learning systems to take down offending content.

“Together we will usher in the next era of entertainment and information,” Wojcicki told the crowd of media buyers and marketing execs.

A good portion of YouTube’s Brandcast was taken up by performances, including by music stars Ariana Grande and Camila Cabello, and a short set by OK Go, which is known for its viral videos. YouTube also brought out digital stars Anna Akana and Tyler Oakley to talk about their lives as YouTube creators.

Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” also made an appearance, explaining the genesis of “Between the Scenes,” the digital companion show on YouTube in which he interacts directly with fans. “YouTube has no boundaries, and that’s how I connect,” said the South African-born comedian-writer-host.

Noah threw out several barbed jokes about Donald Trump, saying he can envision Trump leaving the White House after two years and then bragging about it in the Rose Garden: “Folks, I did it half the time!” Noah said, in a not-terrific Trump impersonation.

Kyncl said the seven ad-supported YouTube originals greenlit last year garnered more than 700 million views to date. That included Katy Perry’s 96-hour live-streamed special. Shows not renewed under the initiative: Ellen DeGeneres’ behind-the-scenes series tied to her daytime TV show; Rhett & Link’s expanded “Good Mythical Morning,” which will revert to its original shorter format in August; and singing competition “Best.Cover.Ever” from Ryan Seacrest and Endemol Shine North America.

During her section of the presentation, Wojcicki highlighted the growth of YouTube viewing on TV. She noted that more than half of U.S. consumers 18-49 are “light TV viewers” –- who don’t subscribe to TV or watch less than the average American, according to Nielsen. But 90% of that demo watches YouTube.

The CEO called out three new programs targeting television ad budgets announced earlier this week: a new ability to target YouTube ads to “light TV viewers”; targeting ads on connected-TV devices; and plans to start selling local inventory on YouTube TV channels as part of the Google Preferred program, with those spots to begin running in Q4 2018.

YouTube didn’t make any announcements about YouTube Red originals, which makes sense, given that YouTube Red is an advertising-free subscription service.

Nearly 4,200 people attended YouTube’s Brandcast at Radio City — max capacity for the venue. It hosted a post-preso party at the Rockefeller Center plaza and ice-skating rink.

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