The Future Is You (Tube).

I have a friend who is one of the more regular consumers of these musings, for which I am most grateful.  If I had, say, a few million more of him out there, I might have been able to have been included in yesterday afternoon’s YouTube Brandcast.

But, alas, at this point, I can fairly easily count how many there are like him, on some days on merely my fingers and toes.  And lately, said friend/fan has been challenging me, nay, imploring me, to think more like a futurist.  Reliving the past and regurgitating the present only takes one so far, he contends.  My retorts have essentially been “when something comes along to inspire me to be that, you’ll be among the first to know”.

Well, thanks to yesterday’s heavily attended presentation that served as an appropriate coda to a week of upfront presentations in New York that began with a couple of networks touting linear ratings and night-by-night schedules where the insertion of a Reba McEntire sitcom was considered an aggressive strategic move, I am as inspired as I’ve been in a while.

VARIETY’s Todd Spengler aptly captured the energy and confidence on display, not to mention the data points to support why that was to such a degree:

The video giant isn’t like traditional TV — it’s bigger, with literally billions of viewers, and better at targeting relevant audiences.  YouTube drilled home massive scale. On average, viewers watch more than 1 billion hours of content on TV screens daily. According to Nielsen’s total TV and streaming report for the U.S., YouTube has had the No. 1 share in streaming watch-time every month on American TVs since February 2023.

And as we regular readers know, Nielsen still only measures “what hits the glass” on connected screens.  YouTube content is consumed on every kind of screen imaginable, without the limitations of a schedule, a daypart or even a continent.  They register every single interaction and can create a data template for anyone who uploads a video.  Google Analytics is as ubiquitous and as nuanced a measurement tool as anything to come out of Florida in years.

And in his remarks to the attendees, YouTube CEO Neal Mohan announced that his platform was developing new ways for advertisers to take fuller advantage of this kind of scale, let alone the obvious demographic positives they offer:

The platform announced the formal launch and expansion of YouTube Select “Creator Takeovers,” which will let advertisers buy out the inventory on channels representing top 1% of content on the platform. The program began as a pilot at the end of 2023 with creators including Jason and Travis Kelce’s “New Heights” podcast on YouTube.  Said Mohan: “We’re redefining what TV looks like, helping creators reach new heights and using AI to expand creativity.”

The balance of the event was turned over to some of the more significant creators that make up that 1%.  Sure, there were a good deal of clickbaitable influencers with hot takes and hotter bodies, the kind that are easy to troll.  But there were others whose stories are downright inspiring.

Take Cleo Abram, who is defined thusly:

Abram is an Emmy-nominated independent video journalist known for her captivating storytelling. As the creator of “Huge If True,” a refreshingly optimistic show centered around technology, Cleo serves as a beacon of hope amidst the overwhelming uncertainties of our world.  In one of her recent videos, Cleo dives into the world of particle physics and explains the mind-boggling science happening at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). 

Or Ryan Trahan:

Originally inspired by Gary Vaynerchuk,[19] Trahan started a month long series, dubbed the “Penny Challenge”, in June 2022. The premise of the challenge was, starting in California with a single penny, to travel to MrBeast in North Carolina and deliver the original penny, using only funds derived from said penny. Trahan originally set a target to fundraise $100,000 for the nonprofit Feeding America, which he was able to fulfill, raising $1.38 million by the end of the month.[20]

Trahan financed the challenge through completing online surveysmowing lawnsdog walking and selling items such as soft drinksbottled water, and golf balls, among other methods.[21] To help garner funds for Feeding America, Trahan created incentives for donations, in particular “THE GREAT RESET”, where a $50,000 donation to the fundraiser would reset his earned funds to a penny.[22] In addition to this, for $100,000 donations (of which he received three), Trahan had donator-chosen designs tattooed on himself.[23] The series was largely sponsored by PayPal Honey.[24

And as the likes of Netflix valiantly chases the gaming world, a point they drove home in their own ad presentation earlier yesterday (not that more than 80 per cent of its global subscribers can receive ads yet to begin with), you should know who Rachell Marie Hofstetter is:

(B)etter known as Valkyrae, (s)he is a co-owner of the gaming organization 100 Thieves and has been YouTube‘s most-watched female streamer since 2020.  While working at GameStop, Hofstetter began sharing her gaming hobby on Instagram, gaining a following. After being encouraged by her followers, she started live streaming on Twitch in 2015. On January 13, 2020, Hofstetter left Twitch for an exclusive streaming contract on YouTube.[15] In her first three months on YouTube, she averaged around 1,500 concurrent viewers.[16] Her stream then experienced significant growth and, in late 2020, regularly peaked at concurrent viewer counts exceeding 100,000.

Even contributors to more typical areas of  interest for Gen Z and Gen Alpha have fascinating back stories, such as Taty Cokley.  RAYDAR’s Malcolm Tratt described her earlier this year.

Taty Cokley isn’t your average 24-year-old influencer. She’s a powerhouse in beauty and fashion, a fresh-faced entrepreneur, and a self-love guru who’s rewriting the rules of female empowerment.

Taty’s path to self-discovery kicked off with a curveball at 13—a misdiagnosis claiming she couldn’t have children. The bombshell forced her to peel back the layers of traditional womanhood, finding strength not in societal norms but in her own resilience and smarts. She puts it bluntly, “I was more than enough of a woman and unlearned everything society tells us that a woman should be.”

Small wonder that Spengler reported this is how much Mohan believes in these people:

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

I first encountered this ‘tude when Sony was supplying what was then called YouTube Red with its first breakthrough scripted series, COBRA KAI.  The complicated bait-and-switch strategy for what was supposed to be a de facto competitor to Netflix involved putting the first two episodes in front of a paywall and the remainder behind it. We aggregated millions of views for the premiere, but never did learn how many were watching the remainder.  What YouTube management realized was that its audience had a distate for paying anything beyond their initial monthly costs, and that they had more than enough options at their disposal with real people who truly connected with them, not ones created by professional writers and producers.  Despite the success COBRA KAI had initially (and has expanded upon with its subsequent success on Netflix), YouTube jettisoned the series, not to mention the staff and the concept of YouTube Red.

What they will invest and deviate from this mission from involves the kind of passion that hard-core NFL fans bring.  Spengler reported that at least a couple of familiar faces took to the podium:

Also making an appearance was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (as he did last year), who was there to promote the league’s deal with YouTube for the NFL Sunday Ticket subscription package of games. Goodell, who came out on stage with former NFL player Shannon Sharpe (host of the weekly “Club Shay Shay” podcast), said YouTube’s distribution of Sunday Ticket in the 2023-24 season was “flawless”: “They really brought the game to our fans in a different way.”

I strongly suspect the likes of those profiled above were faces and names largely unfamiliar to many in attendance, especially the key decision-makers at agencies and broadly targeted advertisers.  I know I didn’t know much about them, and I’m also willing to bet a nickel my fan/friend didn’t either.

But I’m even more willing to put a second nickel on the fact that those under 30, who couldn’t tell you what channel number NBC is on (or, perhaps, what is NBC) knew damn well who Valkyrae, Abram and Trahan were, not to mention had already consumed a lot more of their content than I was able to in discovering a bit more about them than I already knew.  And I also know there’s a lot more of that kind of consumption going on by a lot more people than even Nielsen is capable of counting.

So I’m going out on a limb in saying that I don’t think it’s that far off when YouTube will be kicking off weeks like this, in an even more prominent position of leadership in a world where the pursuit of eyeballs is so crucial and so many more traditional ways to do so can’t get out of their own way with overly expensive scripted projects that underdeliver on promise and profit, frustrated and Wall Street-slavish CEOs unable to look beyond the current quarter, and boardroom infighting that only underscores exactly how vulnerable and dinosaur-like so many of them are.

I can’t say it will necessarily be tomorrow.  But I know after just a smidge of self-education, I’m sure hoping for my sake it will be sooner than later.  For both me and my fan/friend, the future may be limitless, but it isn’t eternal.

Until next time…

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