October 2015

Back in the day I worked in TV, for 20 years in fact, and back then the television upfronts were a spectacle of showmanship that positioned the new season’s programme highlights as the centrepiece. The industry would file to Bafta in Piccadilly to see the flamboyant Sales Directors from broadcasters like Granada, LWT and Thames unleash the masterpieces of their upcoming schedules.

These days TV celebrities are the main ingredient broadcasters use to add seasoning to these showcases, but the main objective remains unchanged. Upfronts exist to stir up enthusiasm for the medium, help marketers plan campaigns and tantalise buyers in anticipation of the season’s trading battles to come.

What has changed is the arrival of an upstart that’s marched right into centre stage: online video. Thanks to increasing smartphone penetration and the roll-out of 4G, digital video consumption is escalating through the roof – since March 2014 the number of daily YouTube watchers has grown 40% year over year. These people are seeking entertainment, information and inspiration while out and about, seated at their desks or relaxing at home.

Importantly, online video complements TV – it doesn’t replace it. Brands can embrace online video to extend reach to audiences who aren’t consuming a lot of TV. In a sense, online video continues the groundwork established by Sky and Channel 4, both of which entered the arena with a promise to help clients reach niche audiences and light ITV viewers.

YouTube today is a home for all the world’s passions. With vast content, there’s something for everyone – including those who rarely tune in to TV. The platform has generated an entirely new set of stars, offering a new definition of celebrity. In fact, 40% of 16- to 25-year-olds in the UK would prefer to become a professional vlogger than a reality TV star (6%) or work in industries like politics or law (34%). Leading vloggers including Zoella and PewDiePie not only have devoted fan bases that tune in regularly, but their audience numbers rival the most popular shows on television like The X Factor.

Reach is only one of online video’s advantages. Because viewing figures can be digitally measured and verified, advertisers gain contextual and demographic data that can be used to produce valuable insights. These enable planners to better understand intricate customer journeys. It is possible to know what interests a YouTube user at any given point in time thanks to the signals embodied in their search behaviour. When brands combine this data with tech tools, they can serve consumers relevant, tailored messages at precise moments.

Digital video now quite naturally deserves its own upfront. Our Brandcast event next week promises to be a showcase of the best content, but also an illustration of why YouTube belongs on the modern-day media plan. Online video offers an unmissable chance to engage with audiences in the moments that matter to them. We’re looking forward to seeing how creators and brands are using the unique qualities of YouTube to bring incredible creative ideas to consumers and to recognise how online video is an ‘and’ game, not an ‘or’ game to TV.