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Videocracy: a new bar for the upfront

What do you get when you bring 500 media executives to a low-lit Manhattan nightclub at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon? Apparently a new bar for Internet advertising, compliments of Google and YouTube.

The event, dubbed “YouTube Videocracy,” was positioned as the inaugural online video “upfront.” For those more accustomed to signing insertion orders, television as an upfront is a lavish advertising sales affair hosted by the major networks with the goal of signing up advertisers months in advance.

A day after I signed a decently sized deal for a homepage takeover for a client, an invite arrived with sparse details. The awkward transition from daylight to a dark nightclub didn’t help; my pass provided a long list of the afternoon’s entertainment, but no formal agenda. One glass of wine later, I had run into a few familiar Google faces, happened across advertisers such as Colgate and Wyndham Hotels, had a good chat with a group of YouTube lawyers, and met up with Ian Schafer of Deep Focus, but nary an SEM agency was in sight (If I missed you, my apologies). Clearly, the event was for a different type of agency and a different type of spender.

By the end of the evening, five major points were anchored in my head.

  • First, the platform is a Petri dish of content. An endless number of people discovered via YouTube were paraded in front of the audience, each diligently citing tens or hundreds of millions of views. They included William Sledd, a 24 year old in Kentucky whose online fashion videos have recently garnered him discussions for a show of his own, and Esmee, a singer signed by Justin Timberlake after he saw her cover clips.
  • YouTube will launch tentpole initiatives in 2008. The YouTube Games appears to capitalize on this Olympic year with a user-generated twist, Living Legends will feature famous personalities and The YouTube Global Gathering will be a simultaneous video event held around the world.
  • YouTube is complementary, not competitive to the networks. Anderson Cooper reminded us that for better or for worse, the snowman featured in the CNN/YouTube debate is now part of our election history. Since this time, every debate has had some online video component, as well as user-generated content.
  • New bells and whistles are being added this year. Passive users will enjoy active sharing functionality and collaborative filtering style recommendations. Content creators of all kinds will be thrilled to see new editing tools as well as distribution to mobile devices and beyond. Finally, the launch of analytics is a boon to advertisers, despite being glossed over only briefly.
  • Google made a good investment. Just a few years after launch, the platform has radically changed the media consumption ecosystem. Unlike other acquisitions in the space, YouTube provides value to the end user like no other platform does. The democratization of video consumption and creation might not thrill the big networks, but it is here to stay.
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