Back in South East England, rolling through the mists of time (well, the late ’70s…), to when my main mode of transport was a space hopper and Pong was the ultimate in console gaming, I was taken to the cinema by my parents every week. Back then, local adverts were played between the B and A movies as part of the show: ‘Wedding dresses…’, ‘The sharpest suits…’, ‘The best chicken tikka in town… only 50 yards from this theatre’, they would announce with pride. Here’s a relatively high-production value advert for Cobb Gate Fish Bar, in case you are unfamiliar with the format.
That was how local advertising began, before commercial TV stations really took root in the UK. The US were working on it from their side too, and in no time local commercial and cable television advertising had arrived—effectively taking the best of local radio commercials and adding visuals. That very quickly grew into national TV advertising and from then into the pan-continental advertising that we know today.
As viewers, we barely noticed this progression; it was something we grew up with and something that we as eager adopters would never question. We quickly consigned ‘50 yards from this theatre’ to the scrap heap of time and didn’t give it a second thought. It’s an embarrassment from the past… we thought as our brains struggled to comprehend the eye-popping technology behind ads for Quatro.
We’re going to be doing that all over again. Last week, in another statement of intent in taking on conventional television broadcasting, YouTube announced a fresh, 50-channel-strong pan-European video strategy supported by many of the best UK, French and German professional TV production companies. This comes in addition to the 100 channels launched in the US last year, with a further batch of channels set to launch there in very near future. They provide daily content to ‘niche’ audiences around the globe; more on that later…
As one of the largest members of the Google Content Network, the Original Channels video output is supported by a steady stream of highly targeted advertising. Set that against conventional daytime television, in which the majority of advertising is loosely targeted (accident insurance, gambling and budget sofas) and you can see the power of their opportunity.
When you also consider that many of these ‘niche’ channels cover subject matter including sport (Fox), music (Pitchfork), education (TED), science (BBC Topical Science, fronted by Top Gear’s James May), nature ([BBC] On Earth), entertainment (Guinness World Records), drama and food (The Jamie Oliver Food Channel), you easily begin to see that they aren’t really that niche at all and in reality tap directly into the information that people look for daily.
Success Thus Far
Even at this early stage, Original Channels have already proven a great success for YouTube, which have just announced quadrupled viewing figures for mobile devices. The top 25 claim an average of more than a million views a week, and subscription rates are doubling. YouTube’s skippable ads are now making as much in revenue an hour as cable television in the US.
The phenomenon has even started to go the other way. One YouTube show—Recipe Rehab (brainchild of Mark Koops, the man behind MasterChef and The Biggest Loser)—has even made the jump from online to television, repackaged into TV-friendly 30-minute episodes ready to air soon on US TV network ABC on Saturday morning.
Not More Channels. Better Channels
The problem until now, however—Recipe Rehab notwithstanding—has been in emulating television-quality production values, just as those old local cinema adverts had problems emulating their high-budget commercial counterparts (James Bond wouldn’t eat chicken tikka 50 yards from a cinema…). It’s fair to say that the world doesn’t need more channels; it needs better ones. This is where the likes of BBC, ITN, Endemol and FremantleMedia come in. They can retain their own production values and decrease the cost of delivery whilst dramatically increasing the speed of turnaround to millions of eyes. With the big production houses on board, the big celebrities become excited… and then you can start to attract some very big brand partnerships.
Will the quality rank against traditional television? Well, of course it won’t be HBO, but it is unlikely to be digested in the same way. These are intended to be short, sharp time fillers for an audience with a hectic schedule. They’re essentially a free extension of pay-per-view, without the pay. The channels are likely to contain content that is highly shareable, not just via social networks but as instant chat, with viewers dropping in and out whenever they please—finally dispelling the last knockings of the ‘appointment to view’ ethos, which has been much discussed since the world began illegally downloading television shows. They are also likely to be chapterised, as the recent BBC Olympic coverage was, so that viewers can dive straight into the content most pertinent to them.
Google is reported to be investing a cool $200 million in the channels, paid as an advance against advertising revenue. This comes on top of the $100 million they invested last year to generate further profit on what is already a successful ad revenue stream. This diversion from conventional broadcasting is being taken very seriously indeed.
The Opportunity for Brands
If we take a moment to look at the development of ‘local’ (read niche) advertising in the 34 years between Cobb Gate Fish Bar and where we are nowadays, it’s easy to see how instrumental YouTube can be by getting a strong foothold in the future of broadcasting. Recently, in what can be taken as a exceedingly bold show of strength, they have shattered their own records with the Red Bull Stratos #livejump, attracting eight million concurrent viewers—a perfect example of performance-branded advertising.
These small steps into ad space are giant steps for brandkind. Ashton Kutcher, Amy Poehler and Shaquille O’Neal are already successfully broadcasting in the US, and Jamie Oliver is launching his very own Food Channel in the UK in the coming weeks. On one hand, it is reasonable to say that the best Jamie Oliver’s Sainsbury’s Finest Chicken Tikka in town won’t be 50 yards from your theatre, or even on television—it’ll be much closer.
‘And where can we see this phenomenon in action?’ we hear you cry. Well. Here are YouTube’s Original Channels, available to browse now, with rollout expected over the coming weeks. You can thank us later.