Digital Video NewFronts

YouTube Trots Out Kevin Hart, James Corden to Woo Back Brands

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Kevin Hart and YouTube Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl onstage at the YouTube Brandcast at Javits Center in New York City on Thursday.
Kevin Hart and YouTube Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl onstage at the YouTube Brandcast at Javits Center in New York City on Thursday. Credit: Photo by Noam Galai/FilmMagic for YouTube

After a spring of bad PR and advertiser boycotts over offensive video on its platform, Google's YouTube emphasized the safest content it had to offer at a presentation to ad buyers Thursday evening.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki opened the event, which it calls Brandcast, by acknowledging the recent advertiser strife and committed to the changes being made to curb objectionable content. She reiterated a company apology on the subject, taking responsibility for ads that appeared near the worst types of content.

But YouTube also paraded a stream of brand-friendly celebrity talent across the stage, including James Corden, Kevin Hart and Katy Perry, who will appear in unscripted original series on YouTube. It also promoted a singing competition with Ryan Seacrest. And it pointedly identified the exclusive sponsor of the Seacrest show as Johnson & Johnson, one of many major marketers that halted spending with YouTube in March.

"In addition to a major investment in Google Preferred," said Robert Kyncl, chief business officer at YouTube, "Johnson & Johnson Consumer Brands has signed on as the exclusive sponsor of one of these new shows, a talent competition produced by Ryan Seacrest called 'Best.Cover.Ever.'"

Google Preferred is another safe zone for brands on YouTube, a curated package of video inventory that YouTube calls its most-viewed and most engaging, where marketers can be more certain of the content they're buying.

The presentation came during the yearly Digital Content NewFronts, when digital video publishers try to stoke the market for their content, much like TV networks promote their upcoming series at the upfronts.

YouTube said the original shows will run on its primary platform and with commercials, a new format for the company, not on the ad-free subscription service introduced more than a year ago with shows featuring its homegrown stars.

Creating shows to be supported by ads helps ensure that YouTube has premium content open to brands, not just user-generated or semi-pro content that could include unexpected landmines. It also comes as ad-free environments, from Netflix and HBO to Hulu's, proliferate.

"We see these shows as a way to partner with you to buck that trend," Kyncl said, adding that the amount of ad-supported programming is in decline.

Other shows announced involve Ellen Degeneres, Demi Lovato and The Slow Mo Guys. Katy Perry will debut her next album live on YouTube, the company said.

Wojcicki also used the Brandcast event to show off the still-powerful, less-polished side of YouTube, reminding people that the platform is the home of "double rainbow guy" and giraffes giving birth. It has a billion visitors a month and an army of smaller creators with their own followings.

"YouTube is not TV. And we never will be," Wojcicki said. "The platform that you all helped create represents something bigger. Together with our creators, you built one of the most dynamic, creative and inspiring communities in history."

YouTube brought out Casey Neistat, one of its most popular vloggers, to talk about the impact the site has had on his life and his fans' lives.

Smaller creators, however, have felt the squeeze from this year's advertiser scrutiny. Some of its creators handle subjects that brands don't want to support, and YouTube has turned off the ad flow to many of them.

Most obviously, earlier this year YouTube star PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) was dropped from Disney's talent roster after posting videos featuring anti-semitic jokes. Since then, more brands were spooked by even worse videos popping up on the site.

YouTube is not alone in the digital muck: Facebook recently suffered a shock after someone live-streamed an up-close shooting death.

While some advertisers had to review their strategies on YouTube, most observers don't think the impact will be lasting. Brands still need to reach audiences, and YouTube continues to be uniquely positioned to do that.

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