YouTube’s NewFront Brandcast Wednesday night gets points for style, scale and a kind of puckish in-your-face verve. Not many NewFronts feature a presenter lecturing the buyers, in this case Vlogbrother John Green, telling a roomful of would-be advertisers how he doesn’t really care too much about them and that they will become increasingly irrelevant to young viewers if they don’t get in the participatory YouTube frame of mind, pronto.
“If you want to stay in the eyeballs business, I think that’s cool,” Green said. “I don’t blame you; it’s a good business-- albeit a shrinking one. But you risk losing your relevance with an entire generation of viewers that look to video not just for distraction but also for engagement and connection.”
It was a good, unexpected eloquent scold (brother Hank Green expounds, here), and was probably appreciated at least by the several rows of young, non-advertising YouTube fans let in to the big show at the Madison Square Garden theater, after thousands and thousands more lined up to meet YouTube stars at a “meet up” earlier in the day.
Hosted by the just damn affable Grace Helbig--how could E! have screwed up her new show?--the evening was a celebration of community and commerce, all told in big flourishes. YouTube presented stars (wow, Bruno Mars, and Nate Reuss) and moguls (BuzzFeed’s ZeFrank gave another tutorial on how YouTube videos communicate information and emotion and give communities of users a common identity) and its executives explained the newest gigantic YouTube metrics.
Try this: CEO Susan Wojcicki said YouTube reaches more 18-49s via mobile alone than any cable network. Robert Kyncl, the head of global content and business operations, near the end of the evening said, “I predict in the next five years, a majority of ad-supported video will take place either on a mobile device or mediated through them. That means in the not-too-distant future, ad-supported equals mobile video… Don’t believe me? Just watch.”
All this, as YouTube just celebrated its tenth birthday.
I’d love to have interviewed the kids invited into the room after the show. I’m impressed YouTube did it, but I wonder if it’s a little like that thing about not wanting to know how the sausage is made. At the beginning of the night, every positive big, big, big data stat Wojcicki uttered got wild enthusiastic applause from the young YouTubers in the room, but then, it seemed to me, less and less cheering occurred when, for example, Helbig explained how she risked her career to take “Daily Grace” from My Damn Channel, where she was just a hired hand, to launch “It’s Grace” on her own. That was just business, with that ugly underbelly thing.
The back room of film promotion and advertising tie-ins that came up throughout the evening, it might have seemed to the uninitiated, made that world changing YouTube community seem little more than an artificial video shopping mall to sell stuff. But maybe, to the extent it is, YouTube users already know it. After all, both Green and Helbig, and others last night, explained how avid fans buy their books and merch and keep them going, and on YouTube it’s common--ritual even--for YouTube stars to pitch their fans, hard. In that regard, John Green and advertisers have something in common.