CEO says it’s ‘redefining’ TV, platform launches ad takeovers for top 1% of creators

YouTube’s message to Madison Avenue: The video giant is not like traditional TV: it’s bigger, with literally billions of viewers, and better at targeting relevant audiences.

During the annual Brandcast event, which was held on Wednesday during the introduction week of the TV world, YouTube tapped into it in a big way. On average, viewers watch more than 1 billion hours of content on TV screens every day. According to Nielsen’s Total US TV and Streaming Report, YouTube has had the largest share of streaming watch time on US TVs every month since February 2023.

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“We’re redefining what TV looks like, helping creators reach new heights, and using AI to boost creativity,” said YouTube CEO Neal Mohan (pictured above), which kicks off the evening’s event on Wednesday.

With so much content, YouTube is now trying to make it easier to tap into the crème de la crème. The platform announced the formal launch and expansion of YouTube Select “Creator Takeovers,” which allows advertisers to buy out inventory on channels representing the top 1% of content on the platform. The program started as a pilot in late 2023 with creators like Jason and Travis Kelce’s “New Heights” podcast on YouTube.

“Our creators are the future of entertainment,” YouTube Chief Business Officer Mary Ellen Coe told the audience. “We’re adding more of our incredibly talented creators (to the YouTube Select Creator Takeovers program), including many you saw here tonight, so you have even more choice when deciding which creators you want to work with.”

Mohan argued in his opening remarks that YouTube creators should be eligible to win Emmy Awards. “Creators are drawing audiences to the big screen because they are the new Hollywood,” he said. “They have business strategies, writers’ rooms and production teams…Creators are redefining what we consider ‘TV.’ And they deserve the same praise as other creative professionals. I believe it’s time for a creator to win an Emmy.”

YouTube’s Brandcast 2024 took place at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall in New York City, which was packed to the rafters. A large banner outside the venue read: “With millions of creators, billions of fans and all the content we love most, there is only one YouTube.”

UPFRONT 2024: View Variety‘s Full Coverage

It is the third year in a row that YouTube is organizing the event during Upfronts Week. But YouTube is an outlier: While other media companies unveil new TV shows coming to their networks and streaming services, YouTube uses the stage to brag about its massive reach and engagement compared to traditional TV.

As before, YouTube handed the mic to an eclectic group of prominent YouTubers, as part of its pitch to marketers to spend their ad dollars on the platform’s most popular channels across content categories. Among them were Haley Kalil, Cleo Abram, Kinigra Deon, Ryan Trahan, Taty Cokley, Sydney Morgan, Zach King and top gaming streamer Valkyrae.

Also making an appearance (as he did last year) was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was there to promote the league’s deal with YouTube for the NFL Sunday Ticket subscription package of games. Goodell, who appeared on stage with former NFL player Shannon Sharpe (host of the weekly “Club Shay Shay” podcast), said Sunday Ticket’s YouTube distribution in the 2023-2024 season was “flawless”: “They really brought the game to our fans in a different way.”

The show ended with a relatively low-key performance by nine-time Grammy winner Billie Eilish with Finneas, including her Oscar-winning “What Was I Made For?” from the movie ‘Barbie’. (Eilish’s new album, “Hit Me Hard and Soft,” comes out Friday.) Brandcast previously featured sets from Benson Boone and K-pop boy group Stray Kids.

At the event, YouTube announced a new Google AI-powered format optimized for connected TV, using unskippable ad assets in In-Stream inventory. YouTube is also launching branded QR codes for advertisers on interactive placements.

In addition, YouTube said Wednesday that Google and Scripps Sports have reached an agreement to stream Friday night WNBA games on local television on ION on YouTube TV in the home and away markets of the teams playing. YouTube TV will be the only pay TV provider offering both local and national WNBA games this season, starting May 31 and continuing throughout the regular season.

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