YouTube shifts Brandcast to upfronts in latest sign of streaming, TV convergence

Linda J. Dodson

Dive Brief:

  • YouTube will host its Brandcast presentation during the TV upfronts for the first time, breaking with a tradition of running the annual pitch to advertisers as part of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) NewFronts, according to a blog post.
  • Brandcast will take place on May 17, while the Google-owned video platform has separate plans for the NewFronts, where it serves as a principal sponsor and founding member. On May 2, YouTube will co-host a NewFronts discussion with MediaLink around the creator economy, kicking off its programming slate for the week. Venues were not named.
  • YouTube said its decision to shift Brandcast to the upfronts was informed by a more realized convergence of TV and streaming. The split approach suggests the company sees its connected TV (CTV) business as a substantial enough opportunity to warrant a standalone showcase that can compete with legacy networks.

Dive Insight:

YouTube pushing Brandcast to the upfronts season, when broadcasters spotlight new programming for potential advertisers, further blurs the line between traditional TV and streaming media. The video platform’s argument is that there’s no longer a meaningful distinction between the channels, while networks have seen their gatekeeper position usurped by online content creators with loyal followings who watch on their own schedules.

“More than ever before, our customers are asking us how they can tap into the streaming boom and continue to reach new audiences,” Debbie Weinstein, vice president of YouTube and video global solutions, wrote in the Google blog post. “Our answer is simple: Today, streaming and TV are one and the same.”

YouTube TV, the unit’s CTV offering, has played an increasingly large role at Brandcast as more consumers cut the cord on broadcast and cable packages. The pandemic further altered that equation, accelerating the adoption of streaming. YouTube’s remote NewFronts show last year granted a lot of airtime to YouTube TV, including by promoting features like “brand extensions” that let viewers send a URL to their smartphone after watching an ad to learn more about the product.

“TV was our industry’s most critical medium for more than a generation. But at this point, even those of you who negotiated good rates are paying more for less every year,” Allan Thygesen, president of Americas at Google, said during the May presentation. “This is a moment; an inflection point to reset, to reassess.”

YouTube’s share of the budding CTV market has become formidable. The blog post cited Nielsen data that indicates YouTube eats up 50% of ad-supported streaming watch time on CTV among viewers 18 and older. In December, YouTube reached over 135 million consumers on CTV devices in the U.S. alone, Nielsen found.

YouTube often felt like the top dog at the NewFronts, in pre-pandemic times hosting star-studded events to a packed crowd at Radio City Music Hall. Other NewFronts presenters in recent years have included rivals like Snapchat, Hulu and TikTok, along with Amazon, which made its first appearance — albeit a virtual one — last spring.

A bigger spotlight on the upfronts suggests YouTube is going after a different segment of media buyers and potentially different brands — ones that wield larger budgets suited to national TV. Even as TV ratings have struggled in the streaming era, ad space still commands a premium. NBCUniversal, the host of Super Bowl LVI earlier this month, received record-high prices for 30-second spots.

More traditional networks are also making moves to address digital’s ascent, bundling together their streaming and TV showcases. NBCUniversal kicked off the year with the announcement of NBCUnified, a solution that unifies first-party data across its portfolio of TV networks, streamers like Peacock and theme parks. It lives under the One Platform that covers ad sales across TV and digital video properties. NBCUniversal has also scheduled in-person upfronts for May, as have Disney and Discovery, the latter of which now owns the WarnerMedia catalog.

A closer melding of TV and digital has previously raised questions about the utility of the NewFronts as a standalone. But the NewFronts has in recent years signed on rising stars like TikTok and Amazon that are eager to prove their ad businesses have reached a higher level of maturity. YouTube, for its part, is using the venue to discuss topics like creators. YouTube Shorts, a TikTok lookalike that now surpasses 15 billion daily video views, was also mentioned in the blog post.

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