Things got musical and a little meta at YouTube’s NewFront presentation at Radio City Music Hall.
What started as a staid talk by chief executive officer Susan Wojcicki — who stressed the Google affiliate’s dedication to removing the “violative content” that’s become a bigger issue for advertisers over the last year as they see their brands cropping up inside of and next to videos and comments that promote violence, hate speech or are just generally obscene — morphed into a show of “razzle dazzle” that could have impressed John Kander.
First, somewhere between 100 and 200 fans who had gathered outside of Radio City, apparently for a glimpse of popular YouTube personalities, were brought in to gather around the stage. Then out came Tyler Oakley, who has eight million YouTube followers and more than 650 million collective views, eliciting cheers from the audience and seemingly little recognition from the hundreds of advertisers and brand representatives in the seats.
Oakley spoke of the “perfect” brand “alignments” he’d had with 23 and Me and Procter & Gamble before the stage was taken over by Rudy Mancuso, another popular YouTuber who played a variety of instruments, which followed something of a live video montage that included a Spiderman dancing to a Bruno Mars song, a quick performance by Postmodern Jukebox and a similarly short set by Ok Go, whose distinctive music videos have collected hundreds of millions of views on YouTube. An extensive robot-themed dance number by several choreographers who claimed to have found an audience and success by posting performances to YouTube followed.
But the most dazzling of the razzle was a performance by Camila Cabello of her hit song “Havana,” and a closing three-song performance by Ariana Grande, both of which got everyone in the room on their feet, even if some did so with a slight groan.
It all got very self-referential when hundreds of phones, including nearly all of those held by the fans brought in, went in the air to record the performances. Some of the videos are probably already on YouTube, but many others looked to be going for live shots on Instagram.
This display was probably an intended part of the spectacle — to show advertisers in the room, who are surely aware of the risks such an open platform can create for a brand, that people watch the world today through a video recording, even when Ariana Grande is singing five feet away. If it’s not recorded and put on the Internet, did it even happen?
And the billions of videos, 300 hours of which are uploaded to YouTube every minute, are being positioned as the best way for advertisers to reach a new audience, even though the platform is still working out how to deal with so much negative content.
Wojcicki said there will be 10,000 dedicated staffers across Google working by yearend to combat content issues on YouTube, but admitted it won’t be a cure-all.
“There’s not a playbook for how open platforms operate and scale,” Wojcicki said.
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