NEW YORK When Google announced its plans to fund 100 new channels of original programming on YouTube, many expected a transformation in television.
Google had disrupted other industries, and TV appeared to be next in line. The YouTube channels were trumpeted as the next iteration in television: Just as a handful of networks begat a few hundred cable channels, YouTube would foster the birth of thousands of channels online.
The revolution has not yet been YouTubed.
Though a year later such a cultural sea change isnt palpable and likely shouldnt be expected so soon YouTubes developing platform of original programming gradually is taking shape, building steadily into an enormous, global video ecosystem wherein the tools to produce a mini TV station are anyones.
YouTube now is doubling down on its investment. It recently expanded into Europe with another 50-plus channels. And now, YouTube is reinvesting in 40 percent of the channels that already have launched. That means more than half of the channels have failed to catch on, yet it is still a rate of success that any network programmer would kill for.
But for YouTube, success at this stage is measured less by view counts than by changing perception.
What were trying to do is galvanize the creative and advertising community, said Robert Kyncl, YouTubes global head of content and leader of its channels initiative. And were succeeding at that.
Since it was founded in 2005, YouTube has been predominately the home of user-created video. But by putting out a welcome mat to Hollywood, the site is trying to lure viewers to stay for longer and coax advertisers to pair their brands with known talent.
Kyncl says the first year has been one of defining where YouTubes channels fit into the media landscape.
I feel were 300 percent smarter than we were in January, he says.
YouTube has declined to make public the size of its investment. The initial channel launch reportedly was fueled by $100 million, a number YouTube executives dispute. Kyncl will go no further than to confirm the $200 million he pledged to spend marketing the channels at YouTubes TV-style upfront presentation to advertisers in May a flashy event capped by a performance by Jay-Z, who recently launched a lifestyle channel called Life and Times.
Jamie Byrne, director of content strategy, said the second round of funding would be relatively similar to the amount of the first round, on a per channel basis. Those not being offered more money arent canceled; they are encouraged to keep going, but will have to pay their own way.
A simple glance at the site reveals how central the channels initiative is to YouTube. The fabric of the video behemoth where 72 hours of video are uploaded every minute has been reoriented to emphasize a users playlist of channels, a move that has increased channel subscribers by 50 percent, executives say. It may sound like a small tweak, but behind it is the mission to alter the very nature of YouTube.
Up until now, the primary noun on YouTube has been video. You watch a video, you share a video, a video has view counts and so on, Shishir Mehrotra, director of product management at YouTube, said in a separate interview. Were gradually shifting the site so the primary noun on the site is the channel, and you tune into the channels that you care about.
Sometimes lost in the fanfare over YouTubes channels initiative is that its only a drop in the bucket for all of YouTubes channels. Through ad revenue sharing, more than 1 million content creators are earning money through YouTube, from pennies to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The channels that have received funding from YouTube arent separated from the tens of millions created sans financial backing by users, upstart production outfits and large media companies. Those funded by YouTube are just seedlings in endless pastures of video, planted with the hope of spouting more.
The first harvest, though, has not impressed some onlookers. Forrester analyst James McQuivey, who specializes in digital video and was among those who predicted YouTubes channels would be a landmark shift, has not seen the progress he expected. He would like to see YouTube try to produce some mainstream originals, as Netflix and Hulu have, in order to attract mass audiences, not just niche ones.
If the requirement for showing progress for Google is that theyve disrupted television, then they havent met that condition, says McQuivey. They havent really changed the way people watch TV. That said, to have expected to do that in a year would have been kind of crazy.
I see nothing in whats happened so far that says, Yep, Google has definitely sewn this up. Two, three years out, they will have changed the future of television, he says. I think theyve laid the groundwork from which they had learned how to do this, but its going to require significant investment.