For a platform like YouTube—which receives billions of visitors per month—community is the center of everything. It generates its users, creators, subscriptions, and most recently, its original content.
“Our corpus of content and consumer behavior is so massive that it allows us to really understand the type of content that we should be creating,” said Wes Harris, head of marketing, YouTube Originals.
YouTube prides itself not only on its consumer insight, but its desire to foster a community. It’s a characteristic that’s unmatched in comparison to other streaming services, Harris says.
“[YouTube] Premium content is a really unique experience that can’t be replicated because of the scale and the community that we have on our platform,” he said.
And it’s that mentality that drives the success of its original programming, including Cobra Kai, the Karate Kid continuation series that’s YouTube’s biggest hit to date. Harris largely credits the platform’s established community ability for the show’s success.
But although having an established audience is an advantage, it poses a different obstacle: ensuring original content rises above user-generated content. This requires its own strategy, one that involves emulating the creators who made YouTube what it is today.
“When we were tasked with building a show like Cobra Kai from scratch, we had to act like a creator was building a channel,” Harris said. “That meant releasing a lot of content ahead of time—both from the show, behind the scenes, character profiles and vignettes. We used what creators have done on YouTube and applied it to what we’re doing for YouTube Originals.”
YouTube’s consumer insights manager, Kaley Mullin, agrees with notion. However, there’s a caveat:
“We try to use the best practices that creators have already established with user-generated content, but we try not to trick people into watching the premium or original content,” she added. “We want it to be ‘clicky,’ but not click bait.”
Everything from the headlines to the thumbnail—which Harris deems the “modern-day billboard—” are carefully tailored to “invite people into the world of the show that they understand is not user-generated content.”
“We have to make it clear that it’s a show, but also understand that if it’s ending up in someone’s home feed—which is how the majority of people consume content on YouTube—it has to be relevant to a wide group of people,” Harris said.
A big part of achieving that is YouTube’s continuous effort to research its audience, gather feedback from the comment sections, and re-strategize, when needed.
“That pre-work helps people understand what they’re coming for and helps us deliver what they actually want,” Mullin said. “We constantly check in to make sure [content] is performing the way we want. If we see an incredibly steep drop off, maybe it is a problem with how we’re packaging the content and it’s not meeting viewers expectations.”
YouTube also uses this insight to determine creative ways to develop additional content. Harris uses Cobra Kai’s recent partnership with ESPN as an example.
This partnership sparked from YouTube’s awareness that most of Cobra Kai’s audience comprises older, male sports fans.Therefore, they collaborated with the sport network for the “30 for 30 spoof,” which portrayed the Karate Kid’s 1984 All Valley Tournament as a real sporting event with real ESPN commentators. The video not only generated buzz among viewers—it became additional content that YouTube used to promote the series on its platform.
“And again, that’s the total YouTube formula,” Harris said. “That’s a piece of ancillary content that released before the show to build up that community. People watch that video, subscribe to the channel, and we can remarket to them when the show actually comes out.”
It also inspired the show’s recent partnership with car rental company Enterprise. Similar to its partnership with ESPN, YouTube saw a great opportunity to speak to its predominantly male audience.
It’s this insight, paired with YouTube’s ability to foster community, that separates it from others and allows it to create community-driven content—especially in light of YouTube’s recent decision to narrow the scope of its now free, ad-supported original content.
“I think us moving to more personality- and talent-driven content fits within [our current] mold,” Harris said. “This move feels like a complement of what’s already working on our platform in a way that will help us choose, market and launch content that will break through [today’s] cultural chaos and content noise,” Harris said.
Wes Harris and Kaley Mullin will be joined by Civic Entertainment Group’s Sarah Unger during the 2019 Promax Conference at the J.W. Marriott at LA Live June 4-6. Check out their session “Launching Original TV Content When It’s Not On TV” during the Tuesday Deep Dives.