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YouTube, creators, and fan communities have transformed the definition of “premium content.” Brands and agencies can either adjust to this new reality, or they can be left behind, argues Joshua Lowcock of UM Worldwide.

A version of this perspective previously appeared in Campaign.

Last year, we advised our clients (and all of you) to skip Cannes for VidCon. Many brands — the likes of Lego, Sony, and Johnson & Johnson — listened, and instead of mingling with creatives on a French beach, they got to see a new generation of creators interact with their excited communities of fans.

Because of the powerful effect it had on all who took part, we’re coming back to VidCon this year with double the clients.

If there’s one insight I hope they take away, it’s that YouTube, creators, and fan communities have completely changed the definition of “premium content.” And as an industry, we can either adjust our thinking to this new reality, or we can be left behind.

A new understanding of premium content

For decades, premium content meant prime-time television. After all, that’s where the scale was, the huge audience that was experiencing shared cultural moments. No other media opportunities could provide the same reach and relevance. I understand why the industry might be reluctant to move away from that model, because it worked well for a long time.

But here at IPG, our ongoing success lies in our ability to reach audiences in meaningful ways, wherever they are. And increasingly, those audiences are on YouTube, engaging with their favorite creators, even during the coveted prime-time slots.

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This isn’t just my instincts talking. It’s what the data says. On an average day in the U.S., more 18- to 49-year-olds visit YouTube during prime-time hours than any TV network.1

Prime-time stats aside, though, what this shows is that today, “premium” is less about placement and more about passion. And as VidCon makes abundantly clear, it’s YouTube creators who are making the content young people are passionate about. In just the past year, the number of YouTube users who follow creators and engage with their channels every day grew by a massive 70%.2 Even more amazing, 1 in 3 kids in the U.K. say they want to be a “YouTuber” when they grow up. (As do I, if I’m being honest.)

More than just ‘kids with cameras’

These young fans understand something that too many of us have been slow to pick up on: YouTube creators are not just kids with cameras.

The competition for audience love is intense, and the talent that rises to the top is exceptional.

Of course, not all creators have what it takes to excel in this field. But if you pay attention at VidCon and afterward, you’ll see a cadre of extremely talented, professional, and savvy YouTubers who are innovating in ways that legacy media companies can’t imagine. The competition for audience love is intense, and the talent that rises to the top is exceptional.

Take creators like Dude Perfect, who are innovating with serial content in their new series Overtime. Fans love it — last month’s episode already has over 21 million views — and the format demonstrates a high level of professionalism and production.

Today’s creators are data-driven. They’re as committed to their audience as their audiences are to them. And they’re constantly on the lookout for new content trends and ways to better use their platforms.

That professionalism and innovation extends to their brand partnerships as well. The first conversation with an established YouTube creator can be eye-opening, as you realize they’re as creative and capable as any other media partner producing premium content.

Going big at VidCon and beyond

It’s probably too late for you to get a VidCon ticket, but we’re seeing these trends and perceptions evolve quickly. Since last year’s event, many of our clients have changed their YouTube marketing strategies to include creators. Many more have increased their investment on YouTube. And some are now even going big at VidCon itself.

Johnson & Johnson, for example, is tripling its VidCon attendance this year, with representatives from more brands and more departments. Lego and Sony are sponsoring the YouTube Onstage live show, highlighting some of the platform’s top creators. Sony will also be launching a huge fan activation for its new movie, Hotel Transylvania 3.

But while VidCon only happens once a year, this passion is easy to see every day on YouTube. Dive into it, measure it, and build it into your plans. The content these creators are making is absolutely premium to their audience, and, given the audience’s engagement with it, should be premium to us as well.