As a distributor / producer, All3 and similarly BBC Worldwide do seem to be well placed to build new channels on YouTube. They have the resources to invest, along with the investment from Google, and they have the content and brands to attract subscribers, but most importantly, they are in early and are learning quickly. It strikes me that the broadcasters must be feeling a little itchy about that, so I cross town to talk to Jen Topping, Channel 4’s digital business manager, to find out.
Channel 4 has been working with YouTube for a few years. They were one of the first channels to partner with them, and so have a lot of experience with the growth of Youtube.
Jen sees the platform and the recent changes as a fantastic addition to the video eco-system. “It’s the place to find new talent, try out ideas and also build communities.” Stressing her final point, she adds “the big difference between online and on-air is the feedback. Online, the audience want to — and do — engage with you in a way that traditional broadcasting wouldn’t allow.”
Does Channel 4 see YouTube as a threat? “No”, replies Jen. “It’s one of the places our audience hangs out, they go there for their favourite shows and talent, and to discover new stuff. We’re working on how to integrate that behaviour into our thinking.”
So, is Youtube the new Sky or Canal+? Are All3Media the new MTV or Food Network?
Not yet, but the sense that the ground is shifting again is certainly powerful, and it does seem like it’s time for TV producers to start treating YouTube more seriously.
But without Google investing in your channel idea, what can you do to get in on the act?
Dan has been the resident geek at Maverick for a few years now, and has seen his department grow from making simple websites for their range of TV shows, to becoming a major player in the digital content sector and now the production hub for some of All3media’s new channels. Dan points out: “you have to forget everything you know as a TV producer.” He goes on: “the audience is part of the channel, their feedback is instant and they expect to be listened to, so we have to react quickly to them.”
Maverick are working with a mixture of experienced TV people and some new talent found on YouTube – such as Electra (the daughter of one of the presenters of How to Look Good) and some from their stable of TV talent from shows like Embarrassing Bodies. “We’re integrating these channels into our overall development efforts,” Dan says: “in some cases we hope to build a sustainable brand on YouTube alone; in others we are experimenting with new people and ideas.” Dan doesn’t see YouTube as an revolution, more an evolving part of Maverick’s overall content production business. And certainly, the buzz in his Euston office/studio/edit suite seems to suggest it’s also fun.
After a day of wandering between broadcasters, distributors, producers and tech giants, I am I any wiser? Yes. Youtube is certainly stepping up its game and encouraging a startup ethos to creating value on its platform and it looks like the more astute television companies are stepping up to the challenges.
The sense that creating a YouTube Channel is similar to the early days of cable and satellite TV in the UK is present everywhere. Those who are experimenting now seem to have a first-to-market advantage in what could be a new race to create global entertainment channels. So if you’re not in the game now, perhaps you should dip a toe in – you may even enjoy making television again.