With the success of Karate Kid follow up series Cobra Kai serving as a powerful calling card to audiences, YouTube is scaling up its Premium content service globally in a mission to persuade viewers to pay to view its output.
The Premium service was rebranded from YouTube Red. This signaled Google’s ambition to create video that wasn’t backed solely by advertising, and it has scored an unequivocal hit with the continuing story of Daniel LaRusso and his age-old nemesis Johnny Lawrence.
Nearly a year into the role of helming YouTube’s original content in EMEA is Luke Hyams who joined from Disney last December. He spoke to The Drum from the Edinburgh TV Festival about the strategy behind growing the Premium strategy out of the UK.
He describes Cobra Kai as “a terrific success story” with over 43 million views on the first episode alone. The strategy behind the series, which contained 10 episodes, was to open the first two up to the public to view for free, with a charge then being introduced for those who wishes to continue viewing the series to the end.
“It’s a great example of something that really hooks you, it’s warm, it’s character-led and it has pop culture references and is full to the brim with personality. A lot of the things that make YouTube successful will be those things that we look for when we are looking to create programmes for Premium,” he explains.
Soon after the launch of the series on YouTube earlier this year, the second series was quickly announced. YouTube believes it has continued appeal. However the free-to-view element will vary from show-to-show as it continues to trial the best methods to hook audiences.
“With other shows we look at different versions of how to release, so with every single show we look at it on a case-by-case basis around what is going to drive the best audience for this. With Step Up: High Water we were able to go ‘ok let’s give out four episodes free because dance is so big on YouTube’ and the clips from the Step Up movies are so popular so let’s allow people to get four episodes into the story and then put four episodes behind the paywall, then they can get engaged and feel like they when they have connected to the show, feel justified in spending the money in Premium to see the rest,” he explains.
Asked if the success of content previously published on YouTube is what leads to the commissioning of original series, he agrees that it does offer strong insights at to what audiences enjoy on the platform.
“People come to us with ideas and sometimes people are smart enough to think about what is really working on YouTube and if it is something that has an adjacent connection to an audience trend on YouTube then that’s really helpful for us. Our new music celebrity show; ‘Sugar’ is a great example of that. The song, by Maroon Five, which was released a few years ago, has had over 2.5bn views now because the brand surprised people at various weddings. That’s a good basis for a show.
"We saw that that video was so popular that we decided to explore it into a multi-episode format with different artists coming to surprise different rewarding fans, not just weddings, and it has that great connection. The story has over 2bn views, it’s in the YouTube community’s consciousness, so let’s transition that idea into a format and see if it works.”
He insists that despite leading the EMEA part of the business, that there is very much a global commissioning strategy and that the content commissioned in one part of the world is expected to be popular outside of that region too.
“We are working on a global strategy – that is one of the key things that we want to do here; make sure that it doesn’t feel like a subdivided entertainment offering. We talk to the US team every single day of the week and we are completely aligned on all the commissioning and development decisions moving forward. We are not making siloed offerings, we want something that feels like a holistic whole when people are paying the money whether they are in Newfoundland or New Mexico or West Bromwich.”
The company has already launched across 17 markets, with around 20 foreign-language shows from across countries such as Japan, France, Mexico and India in the works, with 50 original programmes slated for release in 2019. Part of what Hyams is seeking is content that will create social impact and shine a light on world issues to inspire.
“We really want these to be entertaining. We want to have stuff that gives you a message and give you that message in a way that is buzzy and gives you the same feeling from other entertainment that you’re connected with. It’s about how producers frame some of these stories, which is a really interesting question that we are looking at as we move forward,” he reveals.
Asked about the potential for more live content to be produced, Hyams is clearly unsure that such a format will work behind a long-life paid-for model but is open to attempting it more: “We are always experimenting, and we are always open to ideas to take us in that kind of direction. We did the finale of our football show ‘Training Days’ as a live event and it’s important to always look in different directions.
“Our offering can’t just be the same. Live behind the premium paywall is a question that we need to experiment with because we really want the stuff that we do there to be evergreen so if it’s stuff that happens in a moment and really needs to feel live and then it’s gone, that might not be the best way to play it. But absolutely, in terms of entertainment, the Will Smith 'Jump' show that we are doing on September 25, the Katy Perry ‘Witness’ thing [see above] that we did last year; two examples of that and we have other things that we are soon to announce; there are some very interesting entertainment live events and we’d be interested to hear some ideas that take the social impact entertainment in a live direction for sure.”
He concludes. “It’s about great characters and with a great story that is usually the way to make stuff that people will connect with and pay for."