In its 11th year, YouTube (GOOG) is finally done convincing the world that it is a worthy place for advertisers. Gone are the defensive, backhanded references to competitors. No more explicit, desperate-sounding requests for ad dollars. YouTube is done trotting out a pack of teens to scream every time a YouTube star takes to the stage, just to prove the point that yes, YouTube’s homegrown stars are legit stars.
Instead, YouTube did what the TV networks do for their Upfronts presentation: It put on highly produced, relatively generic commercial for itself in a massive warehouse with plenty of booze, food, star power, and spending power. A red carpet. A cameo from Big Bird. An overly sincere montage of teenagers coming out of the closet on YouTube. A dinner catered by famous YouTube chefs, complete with book signings. A recorded video of James Cordon, host of The Late Late Show, crooning, “YouTube, you’re the reason to liiiiiiiiive! Click click click!” A performance by Sia.
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YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki touted the company’s massive audience, saying it reaches more 18- to 49-year-olds on mobile alone than the top ten TV shows combined. TV execs would quibble with the details of that comparison, noting the importance of how long those viewers are watching and what they’re watching.
No matter—YouTube didn’t have to scare or warn advertisers about what they’re missing when they don’t advertise on YouTube, something the company dispatched video star John Green to do last year. By now, everyone in advertising knows how important mobile video is, and they’re spending heavily.
This week advertising holding company Interpublic (IPG) announced it would move $250 million of its ad budget earmarked for TV to YouTube’s Google Preferred ad program. Jack Hollis, Toyota’s group vice president of marketing (though he’d prefer the title of “team captain,” he said), delivered an endorsement littered with buzzwords like “moonshot” and “fail fast.” Toyota has increased its investment in Google Preferred by 400% in the last year, he said.
“Gone are the days of testing this platform. That is soooo 2013,” YouTube star and host Lilly Singh declared.
On each of its last three earnings reports, YouTube parent company Google has touted YouTube as a major driver of its revenue growth. The company does not break out YouTube’s revenue; sources have told Fortune the figure could be as high as $10 billion this year.
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There was no mention of YouTube Red, the subscription service YouTube launched last year. YouTube has commissioned original content from many of its top stars for YouTube Red, but brands can’t advertise against it.
The only real news announcement was the fact that YouTube’s Google Preferred advertising program, which separates the highest quality videos from the user-generated schlock, will now include trending videos that go viral. Before, premium advertisers could not advertise against a viral video that came out of nowhere, because those unknown creators would not have been a part of the Google Preferred program.
Now, Google can identify when a video—“brand safe,” of course—starts to trend, like “Watch me (Whip/Nae Nae)” a rap video that’s been viewed 831 million views since it was published last summer. Silento, the artist behind the song, closed out YouTube’s Newfront event with a dance performance. At the end, two massive confetti guns sprayed gold flecks over the crowd.