YouTube Outlines New Content Deals, as CEO Reiterates Promises to Improve ‘Brand Safety’

YouTube now has 1.8 billion logged-in users each month — and with that huge scale comes huge responsibilities, CEO Susan Wojcicki said at YouTube’s Brandcast event for advertisers Thursday.

At the event, held at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, the company announced several content deals. It’s renewing three of the seven ad-supported original shows it announced last year: Kevin Hart’s “What the Fit?” comedy celebrity-fitness reality series, a show from Demi Lovato, and The Slow Mo Guys’ “The Super Slow Show.”

Chief business officer Robert Kyncl said YouTube has renewed its exclusive live-streaming deal with the Coachella music festival for an additional three years. In addition, YouTube will now make ad inventory on all official music videos on YouTube available through Google Preferred, its premium advertising program, in partnership with Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Vevo.

Kyncl also announced YouTube is working with actor Will Smith, who on Sept. 25 (Smith’s 50th birthday) will bungee-jump from a helicopter over the Grand Canyon for a charity fundraising event — a stunt dubbed “The Jump Off,” which will be live-streamed on YouTube. Smith’s Grand Canyon leap will be produced in partnership with Westbrook Entertainment. The news drew gasps from the audience. Smith launched his YouTube channel in December, and already has 1.8 million subscribers.

In addition, Kyncl said YouTube has reached a deal with the NBA to bring LeBron James’ “Best Shot” docu-series about high-school basketball players to the NBA’s YouTube channel. YouTube also has ordered an original series with “Quantico” star Priyanka Chopra, called “If I Could Tell You Just One Thing,” in which she interviews people around the world on the best advice they have to offer.

But the elephant in the room was Madison Avenue’s concern about the brand safety of YouTube, which Wojcicki addressed briefly at the start of the event. She said YouTube is committed to resolving them. Over the past year, YouTube has been roiled by multiple scandals in which marketers discovered their ads running against hate speech and other objectionable content.

“It is critically important to me, and to everyone at YouTube, that we grow responsibly,” she said. “There is not a playbook for how open platforms operate at our scale.”

However, Wojcicki didn’t offer any new details about YouTube’s steps to fix the problem, aside from rehashing what it has already done in response to the crisis. Changes in the last few months have included YouTube’s pledge to manually reviewing the ad-friendliness of every video included in Google Preferred, which comprises the top 5% of the most-popular YouTube channels, as well as selling stricter requirements before creators are eligible to earn ad revenue.

On stage, Wojcicki reiterated that Google will boost the size of its content-reviewing team to more than 10,000 employees by the end of 2018 (it’s not clear how big that team is today), in conjunction with machine-learning systems to take down offending content.

“Together we will usher in the next era of entertainment and information,” Wojcicki told the crowd of media buyers and marketing execs.

YouTube’s Brandcast was somewhat light on news, with a good portion taken up by performances including by music stars Ariana Grande and Camila Cabello and OK Go, which is known for its viral videos. YouTube also brought out digital stars Anna Akana and Tyler Oakley on stage to talk about their lives as YouTube creators.

Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” also made an appearance, explaining the genesis of “Between the Scenes,” the digital companion show on YouTube in which he interacts directly with fans. “YouTube has no boundaries, and that’s how I connect,” said the South African-born comedian.

Also during her presentation, Wojcicki highlighted the growth of YouTube viewing on TV, noting that more than half of U.S. consumers 18-49 are “light TV viewers” –- who don’t subscribe to TV or watch less than the average American. But 90% of that demo watched YouTube.

The CEO called out three new programs targeting television ad budgets it announced earlier this week: a new ability to target YouTube ads to “light TV viewers”; targeting of ads on connected-TV devices; and plans to start selling local inventory on YouTube TV channels as part of the Google Preferred program, with those spots to begin running in Q4 2018.

Nearly 4,200 people attended YouTube’s Brandcast at Radio City — max capacity for the venue.

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