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YouTube Jumping Into Interactive Programming, Led by Originals Exec Ben Relles

YouTube plans to take its original programming into a new dimension — with a new slate of content geared around interactive content and live specials.

The new initiative will be headed by Ben Relles, who previously was head of unscripted for YouTube Originals, a position he held since June 2015. Relles has been named to the newly created role of head of innovation for YouTube Originals, continuing to report into Susanne Daniels, global head of original content.

In the new role, Relles is tasked with overseeing a slate of interactive programming and live specials, designed to boost engagement with viewers and showcasing ways they can interact and participate with content. Relles’ team also will focus on integrating interactive features across the full range of scripted and unscripted YouTube Originals.

“We now have amazing new tools and opportunities to create and tell multilayered and interactive stories,” Daniels said in a statement. “Ben has an intuitive and experienced understanding of how the platform can enhance content making him the perfect choice to develop this exciting new division.”

YouTube said it will soon announce a new head of unscripted to replace Relles.

Interactive content has been around for years, but the concept got a high-profile boost with the release of Netflix’s “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” last fall. Now Netflix has doubled down on the format, with its next interactive original, “You vs. Wild” starring Bear Grylls, to premiere April 10. Others developing interactive scripted projects include Walmart-backed Eko. Meanwhile, there’s been the buzzy rise of HQ Trivia, a live, interactive mobile game show, which has spawned copycats.

Relles’ new role comes amid YouTube’s shift to a new programming strategy, which it calls “Single Slate,” to make all of its original programming available free to watch. That will include in some cases an exclusive window on its YouTube Premium service, which is priced at $11.99 per month in the U.S. The “Single Slate” move signaled a shift for YouTube Originals toward content with a wider appeal that can amass a big audience on the free, ad-supported side as well as SVOD.

Meanwhile, a recent Bloomberg report said YouTube was exiting scripted comedies and dramas and that Susanne Daniels was looking to leave her post. YouTube denied the report, although the YouTube Originals group did recently cancel a few high-profile projects, including sci-fi series “Origin.”

As the head of unscripted for YouTube, Relles led development of series including “What the Fit?” from Kevin Hart, “Mind Field” from Michael Stevens, “The Jump” from Will Smith and “Katy Perry: Witness World Wide.” In addition, he oversaw documentaries including “This is Everything featuring Gigi Gorgeous” and “Ariana Grande: Dangerous Woman Diaries.”

Before joining the YouTube Originals division in 2014, originally as head of comedy, Relles served as YouTube’s global head of creative strategy. He joined YouTube in 2011, when the video giant acquired online-video player Next New Networks, where Relles had been VP of programming.

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