YouTube pushes British content and working 'alongside TV' at UK upfronts

Distinctly British. Almost humble. Eager to work "alongside TV". Could this really be YouTube's UK upfronts?

Google’s online video platform radically changed its tune at this year’s upfronts, Brandcast, after last year’s American-ised event went down badly, particularly its claim that brands should move 24% of their TV budget to YouTube to reach 16- to-34-year-olds.

Right from the start, when James Corden bounded on stage, this presentation for about 800 advertisers, marketers and YouTube influencers at London’s ExCel had a British feel – albeit that he has made his name most recently in America with The Late Late Show.

Virtually every vlogger who spoke in person or on-screen in the 80-minute show was British or British-based – from YouTuber Colin Furze, who builds wacky engineering gadgets, to rap poet Suli Breaks to 80s singer Rick Astley. Americans were notable by their absence.

Matt Brittin, the president of Google, EMEA [pictured below], used emollient language: YouTube is "the world’s platform for creativity" and it works best with TV, not without it.

Brittin cited the recent research carried out by Les Binet and Peter Field for the IPA that showed broadcast TV and online video are the two "most powerful" media channels when they are used together. "Video helps you win," he declared.

Others on the stage hammered home the same message: YouTube and TV together are best.

Corden explained how his Late Late Show airs at 12.35am on American TV but the Carpool Karaoke slot has gone viral globally with over two billion views.

He also sang a suitably saccharine song with a big band about how YouTube is "Your reason to live". Corden must have been well-paid for this gig.

Cécile Frot-Coutaz, chief executive of Fremantle Media, makers of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, went further in her guest spot [pictured below].

She told the story about how the production company’s mindset has "fundamentally changed" from 2009 when clips of Susan Boyle’s appearance on Britain’s Got Talent went viral and Fremantle considered suing YouTube.

The following year, Fremantle began uploading its own clips of its show and got one billion views. This year, it should be 20 billion as Fremantle begins posting online clips even during a live TV broadcast.

YouTube gives the programmes a huge "digital after-life", reaches millennials who might be watching less traditional TV and offers a "brand-safe" environment, she said, adding the next big global talent show will be created on YouTube.

Brittin claimed 18- to 34-year-olds are watching 45 minutes of YouTube a day and it isn’t just big on mobile, tablet and desktop.

He said viewing of YouTube on the TV set is the fastest-growing device and has doubled this year.

Again, he stressed the British aspect. 220 UK-based influencers have over one million subscribers on YouTube, he said.

Brandcast also tried to claim credit for the success of John Lewis’ "Buster the Boxer" Christmas ad – just as ITV did at its Upfronts Gala two weeks ago.

The message from Ronan Harris, the new managing director of Google UK & Ireland, was that it was YouTube, where the "Buster the boxer" film debuted, that really turbo-charged this year’s John Lewis campaign.

An approving soundbite from Craig Inglis, customer director of John Lewis, talked about how online has got "bigger and bigger" each year for the department store’s marketing.

No mention, of course, about how YouTube, with 22.7 million views of the ad, may have been overtaken in importance by Facebook, with 35 million views, according to the latest figures for John Lewis’ official video on both sites.

Harris signed off by telling brands: "Let us work with you alongside TV. Let us partner with you. YouTube is made for brands."

What was missing from this evening was a sense of what YouTube has planned for 2017, although it has been experimenting with virtual reality and super-duper high-definition 8K video.

The other disappointment of the night, for those in the know, was that Sir Elton John failed to appear for a surprise performance for the finale, following a joint announcement earlier in the day that the veteran singer was collaborating with YouTube on a talent search.

Marketers and media buyers in the audience were impressed. Dan Clays, chief executive of OMD UK, said:  "The key take-out this year was Google recognising You Tube alongside, and not instead of, TV, reflecting the reality of how agencies will be treating video planning. So it was exactly the right move forward."

Paul Frampton, UK & Ireland chief executive of Havas Media Group, said: "YouTube felt more comfortable in its dual role as a home for digital-first content creators and a complement to TV. Notably the narrative was less combative with linear broadcasters.

"You Tube is arguably losing out to Facebook in short-form online video but it does feel they could credibly own mid-form and re-define entertainment formats and franchises for the elusive millennial set."

Despite all the talk of YouTube being more collaborative, Corden used his opening comments to make a few digs.

Yahoo staff would be coming along to Brandcast, just as soon as they used Google Maps to find the ExCeL, he said. And if people in the audience happened to bump into a member of the "print media", they should "take a moment to console them".

Those barbs weren’t Corden’s ad-libs. They were in his YouTube-approved script, which was visible on his autocue screen.

No-one should be fooled into thinking Google has suddenly got all humble.

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