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YouTube Outlines Originals Strategy in Europe, Middle East, Africa

As it pushes forward with its original-content and premium-subscription strategy beyond U.S. borders, YouTube is looking for character-centered dramas with international potential and comedies that depart from the usual sitcom template, said Luke Hyams, the online platform’s head of originals for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“In scripted, we’re looking for personality-driven, authored pieces that have potential for international appeal and that take us into a new world or environment that maybe we haven’t seen in a drama before,” Hyams told a packed auditorium at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Wednesday. “Focus[ing] on one person’s narrative works really well for us.”

He cited “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” an upcoming YouTube original starring Kirsten Dunst as a woman in 1990s Florida who works her way up the ranks of a Ponzi scheme-like company that drove her husband to financial ruin.

On the comedy side, while he still likes the 30-minute format, Hyams said he was on the lookout for “more serialized half-hours than your usual sitcoms.” Standup performances, plenty of which exist on the online service already, are out.

Hyams was speaking barely a week before his new boss, outgoing FremantleMedia CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz, is expected to take the reins of YouTube’s EMEA operations. His comments come as YouTube tries to promote its YouTube Premium subscription service (formerly YouTube Red) in a world where other platforms such as Netflix and Amazon have run ahead with original production.

Unlike those two giants, however, YouTube already has a vast array of free content and needs to convince viewers to switch to its premium service. That doesn’t mean taking popular YouTubers on the free service and simply moving them behind the paywall, Hyams said.

It does mean working, at times, with big-name talent such as Dunst and also Robert Downey, Jr., who is working with YouTube on a documentary series on artificial intelligence, said Hyams. But he said that the service is “really trying to keep a balance” between known and emerging figures.

Along with comedy and drama – including sci-fi show “Origins,” a brief clip of which was screened in Edinburgh – Hyams said he was seeking content able to make a social impact, including “female-led stuff.”

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