YouTube Courts Sundance For Indie Filmmakers, Advertisers

Google's Video Service Aims to Draw Attention to Its Artsy Fare

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Advertisers aren't wild about user-generated content, so YouTube is making a big push at this year's Sundance Film Festival to court indie filmmakers whose TV-ready videos might better catch their eye.

YouTube-created trailer for award-winning short film
YouTube-created trailer for award-winning short film

YouTube has created three two-minute teaser trailers that will air before the festival's short-film screenings. Each trailer promotes a short film already available on YouTube -- from the Australian Theatre for Young People; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and production company Zealous Creative.

Outside of Park City, Utah, the only place to watch those trailers is at the end of this article.

YouTube created these trailers to draw attention to its under-the-radar short-film library, and to attempt to get the attention of indie filmmakers, who might distribute on YouTube, and advertisers, who might support them.

"Most people don't think of this amazing content when they think of YouTube," said YouTube VP-marketing Danielle Tiedt.

Playing up quality
When most people think of YouTube, they think of viral videos. That's a marketing challenge for Ms. Tiedt. For people to turn the channel from regular TV to YouTube -- and for ad dollars to follow -- YouTube needs send the message there's quality there, if you look for it. That's why YouTube has been hosting "theme weeks" over last year to promote genres like comedy and "geek." Now it's doing essentially the same for independent film.

"We did a party [at Sundance] last year, but this is the first year we have a space on Main Street and are there for the duration of the festival," Ms. Tiedt said.

As the official sponsor of Sundance's Shorts Program, YouTube worked with the Sundance Institute to compile 15 short films to stream on the Sundance Festival's YouTube channel and will present the YouTube Audience Award to the film accruing the most views during the festival.

YouTube has also set up shop on the festival's main drag to hold panels and happy hours. That production studio will be home to a YouTube-produced daily live show called"Live@Sundance." YouTube stars Shira Lazar, Casey Neistat and Jimmy Conrad will host "Live@Sundance" and highlight each day of the festival.

Competition for indies
YouTube has competition in courting indie filmmakers. Its smaller rival Vimeo is more readily identified as the online hub for independent film and has tried to secure that reputation of late. Last September Vimeo offered filmmakers presenting at the Toronto Film Festival $10,000 to debut their work first on its streaming video on demand service. Thirteen filmmakers have taken Vimeo up on the offer, the company announced this week.

Indie filmmakers may have less financial incentive to distribute on YouTube, where they'd be largely reliant on advertising dollars. For those who don't bristle at the thought of a pre-roll ad preempting their minor opus, there's the lack of control over ad content to consider. Independent filmmakers may not have an ad sales staff or be part of a YouTube network that does like Maker Studios or Fullscreen. That means their videos get bundled with the rest of YouTube's content, and ad-targeting can prioritize who's watching a video instead of what that person's watching. Ms. Tiedt said that YouTube has put in "a lot of work" in improving the quality of ads on YouTube as more highly produced content is available on the service.

However YouTube isn't asking indie filmmakers to only distribute on YouTube. Animated video network Mondo Media took a 73-minute film and cut it into 12 ad-supported episodes that streamed on YouTube but also sold downloads of the full version on Apple's iTunes and Google Play. "The primary focus for most independent creators in the beginning is building an audience and fan base for their voice," Ms. Tiedt said. The trailers below are YouTube's way of building an audience of those creators for its service.

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