The YouTube "brandcast" could open in no more fitting way than it did: with the musical-comedy group CDZA playing today’s pop hits live on stage. CDZA is a homegrown YouTube success story, and here they were covering songs by Ke$ha and others who have benefited greatly from the millions of views they get on YouTube. Perhaps no musician of late has benefited more from YouTube, though, than Macklemore—an independent artist who became a huge star last fall on the strength of a self-started song and YouTube video. He closed out the event. The two performers represented the emphasis on YouTube’s star-making power at the channel’s digital content "new-front," or "brandcast" event. In between these two performances, of course, a series of speakers explained how brands could benefit from YouTube nearly as much.
Google chairman Eric Schmidt spoke first, painting a picture of the sheer breadth of YouTube’s ever-expanding reach. (Currently one billion viewers a month.) He also described how mobility is increasing connectivity overall, with more people coming online every day due to smartphones.
"You think a billion is a big number? Wait until we get to 6 or 7 billion," he said, channeling Justin Timberlake in The Social Network and maybe George Orwell.
Next up, Felicia Day, the actress and producer behind Geek and Sundry, explained how YouTube helped her build an Internet empire with more than 500,000 subscribers. She stressed that niche content focusing on board games like Dungeons & Dragons may not fit anywhere else, but it will always have a chance on YouTube. The direct connection with those who have similar tastes makes communication a two-way street on the web platform and helps form a community. Day also cited her partnership with Target, which noticed a big bump in the board games it sells whenever they were mentioned on the Geek and Sundry show. Like several other enterprising online celebrities, Day has now expanded beyond a show to having her own multishow channel, with a second channel on the way.
The emphasis on channels, rather than single videos was a recurring theme throughout the night. Perhaps the most dynamic speaker of the event, YouTube’s global head of content, Robert Kyncl, cited all the entertainment heavyweights who’ve formed their own channels recently—Simon Cowell, Sarah Silverman and Michael Cera, and Ricky Gervais for starters. Kyncl claims that YouTube is a more efficient audience conduit than TV, reaching more 18-34-year-olds than any single cable network. And these audiences aren’t just available for entertainment, of course, but for brands, too.
"Success is a video people self-select to watch and then share with friends," Kyncl said. "A McDonald’s TV ad might get some play on YouTube, but a McDonald’s Canada video made specifically for YouTube last summer got 8 million views." The key apparently is to not look anything like a commercial. At least not until, like the recent Jeff Gordon test drive video (35 million views), you rip off a fake mustache at the end and reveal your true identity (Pepsi).
In order to demonstrate the different types of interests succeeding on YouTube, the event was filled with CEOs, YouTube celebrities, and celebrity-celebrities. In a half-hour period, the so-called dubstep violinist Lindsey Stirling performed a song, Awesomeness CEO Brian Robbins brought on Jeffrey Katzenberg to announce the new deal between Dreamworks and Robbins’ teen-centric YouTube channel, and Snoop Lion performed a couple of songs, altering lyrics to fit the occasion ("Watch YouTube every day," he sang at one point). Later on, the Internet-famous Kid President appeared as well to give the crowd a pep talk.
Before bringing on Katzenberg, Robbins made a food analogy to describe how teens consume content—continuous snacks as opposed to meals. Rather than have a handful of shows to watch each week like an adult (according to Robbins), teens are always hungry, requiring the seemingly infinite stream of content that YouTube provides.
Of course, there’s also the potential on YouTube to create a group meal—something everybody is invited to join in tandem. Red Bull Media House’s Sal Masekela came out to talk about creating cultural events that the whole world will want to be a part of. Felix Baumgartner’s space jump last fall, for instance, quickly became the most live-streamed event of all time. Apparently, 8% of the Internet’s bandwidth was spent keeping up with viewers. (YouTube was nominated for an Emmy for this effort.) Masekela drove home the point that Red Bull really is just a sports drink at heart, and any other brand could emulate its success. All it takes is authenticity and word-of-mouth. Oh, and YouTube.
[Brandcast Images: Instagram Users | Jash Network Image: Courtesy of WireImage]