If YouTube isn't a media company it sure put a show on like one with its inaugural YouTube Music Awards on the Lower East Side of Manhattan Sunday night.
Official viewership numbers weren't immediately available on Monday morning, but the livestream's watch page counts 873,288 views. That's a far cry from the 60 million people said to have voted on the awards or the 10.1 million views on the months-old clip announcing the show.
Ad Age counted only 217,244 concurrent viewers thirty-one minutes into the awards show, which seemed on the high end for the nearly 90-minute show. Minutes later during a promotional spot for show sponsor Kia featuring YouTube star Taryn Southern, the figure dropped to roughly 211,000 viewers and later fluctuated from 170,000 to 190,000.
Modest numbers for a site that averages more than 1 billion monthly unique visitors each month. MTV's Video Music Awards, the most direct cable-TV comparison, drew more than 10 million viewers in August.
Live programming is a lot tougher on the the web, where there is no TV guide or schedule. YouTube did plenty of its equivalent of tune-in advertising before the show by promoting the event atop its home page for weeks, in in-feed ads on Tumblr and with a Promoted Trend on Twitter on Sunday.
YouTube's home page highlighted the livestream, but its mobile apps and mobile site were devoid of any mention, despite 40% of YouTube's user base being on mobile.
The award show's commenting strategy was rather odd. Comments were disabled on YouTube during the livestream. Instead YouTube played the part of a traditional TV network and pushed the Twitter hashtag #YTMA hashtag during the event.
It's possible YouTube's award show was hampered by timing: 6 pm Eastern time on a Sunday. It's also likely that snackable clips from the show will do better on YouTube.
Some lauded its style as atypical of a TV-broadcast awards show -- spontaneous and unscripted despite bleeping Lady Gaga and appending subtitles to a Lena Dunham-penned skit. Others, such as YouTube creator Philip DeFranco (now working for Discovery), felt otherwise.
Watching the @YouTube music award replay and I'm reminded of why the Streamy Awards now use Dick Clark Productions. It's embarrassing.— Philip DeFranco (@PhillyD) November 4, 2013
One thing to say about the YTMAs is they did put the music front-and-center, unlike MTV's VMAs which have become more famous theatrics such as Miley Cyrus' twerking, Madonna making out with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, etc. The event's creative director, filmmaker Spike Jonze, is known for directing music videos like Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," not awards shows.
As if to underscore the point, YouTube described the musical performances as "live music videos," and the only YTMA videos available Monday morning on the YouTube Spotlight channel that is serving as the post-show hub are clips of those performances. None of the clips evince the awards show, like awards presentations or even hosts Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts emceeing the event.
On Monday the only evidence on the YouTube homepage that the site put on an awards show the day prior is the mention of "music awards" next to the Youtube logo in the top-right corner, which links to the YouTube Spotlight channel.
The video page that had hosted the livestream on Sunday informs viewers that "the live event is over." A YouTube spokesperson said the livestream will be made available in its entirety "soon" but didn't have exact timing.
For now, all that's left is the music, like this of pop violinist Lindsey Stirling:
Or this of Eminem rapping 100 words in 15 seconds: