Digital A-List 2012

Ad Age Digital A-List: YouTube

Original-Content Channels Mean Transitioning 'Stars' and Developing Audiences -- You Know, Like Regular TV

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You could say that actress, writer, web-series creator and geeky sex symbol Felicia Day is a creation of YouTube. She starred in Joss Whedon's "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and created "The Guild," a series that has amassed more than 74 million YouTube views.

"Web series have been my life and career for the past four years," Ms. Day told Ad Age .

Can YouTube turn her into a mogul? Its $100 million investment in original-content "channels" is well under way; 96 channels have been announced, culled from a mix of indie producers, TV and film veterans, and traditional media companies. But YouTube also bets that some of its stars can turn their small operations into something substantial.

Actress-writer Felicia Day and vlogger Ryan Higa
Actress-writer Felicia Day and vlogger Ryan Higa Credit: Jimmy Turrell

Ms. Day, 32, is launching "Geek and Sundry," a channel that will turn her one-woman show into a network of sorts. "I can hire the people I need while I do the top-level creative stuff to make sure the shows become what I had in my head," she said.

Ms. Day will also select programs she likes -- in effect stamping the network with her quirky sensibility, with shows on niche subjects like comics, games and books.

Robert Kyncl, Google's VP-content, has banned the use of "viral" in describing YouTube's shift in strategy. Rather, he wants to create appointment viewing. It's a gamble that more TV-like, serialized content will result in more TV-like brand advertising. In other words: Bottle the lightning and sell it to advertisers.

The transition also means that prominent vloggers such as Ryan Higa and Kevin Wu, who are launching a channel for young Asian-Americans called "Yomyomf" ("You Offend Me You Offend My Family"), will be doing less of what made them famous and more writing, directing and acting.

"YouTube keeps changing, and you have to change with it," Mr. Higa said. "If you stick to the old format you're going to be left behind."

"Yomyomf" will have a dozen serialized shows, and the creators will continue vlogging.

YouTube invested between a few hundred thousand and $5 million in each channel partner -- advances against ad revenue. Two of the world's biggest advertisers, Toyota and Unilever, have agreed to exclusive, multimillion-dollar deals.

At the very least, YouTube and the wider media universe will learn from this experiment. Media companies will try to think smaller, to scale content for YouTube's world. And some YouTube startups get to see how far their talent can take them.

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