October 15, 2008

Google Launches PopTub On YouTube

Internet search leader Google Inc. quietly launched a new video series on its YouTube site September 8 entitled "Poptub".  The online videos were a collaborative effort between Google and Embassy Row, the production company run by Pepsi and Michael Davies, creator of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire".

The work is yet another trial in content distribution for Google, and even more ambitious than its recently launched original animation from "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, which became a big YouTube hit. As with "Cartoon Cavalcade of Comedy", Google plans to distribute "Poptub" on its Google Content Network (GCN), an ad supported network that reaches hundreds of thousands of Web sites beyond YouTube.

But while "Cavalcade" was a collection of 50 short episodes, "Poptub" will server more as an "Entertainment Tonight" for YouTube viewers, and will include thousands of episodes.

"For Seth, it's about launching episodes on a weekly basis," Alexandra Levy, director of branded entertainment at Google. Told Reuters.

"With 'Poptub,' we're creating an organic destination on YouTube meant to live there for a longer period," she said.

Both "Poptub" and "Cavalcade" utilize Google's branded entertainment program, which allows content providers to use advertisers to finance programming, which then gets distributed over a "hub and spoke" model.   In this case, the hub is a YouTube channel, while the spokes are in GCN's vast selection of Web publishers that can be targeted demographically.

GCN embeds the video on these Web pages in applications called Google Gadgets, which allow viewers who trial an episode to link back to the "hub" channel to sample additional programming and sponsors' marketing messages.

Combining GCN and YouTube provides guaranteed reach, which addresses a major concern advertisers have about paying for online content.  "Poptub" alone promises to deliver 3 billion impressions by the end of the year.

Beyond pleasing advertisers, Google's branded entertainment program could also attract additional programmers to go online by offering monetizable distribution with the scale of film or TV while offering the ownership retention of intellectual property.

"It allows a content creator like Seth MacFarlane to do what he does best and forgo the traditional network model, connect with an audience of similar size and turn a profit," George Strompolos, YouTube's manager of content partnerships, told Reuters.

However, despite strong sampling for "Cavalcade", Google is not about to load up on new content additions.  Instead, the company is being selective about admitting partners to its branded entertainment program.  Initial trials with GCN, including a 2006 experiment with MTV Networks, did not do as well as "Cavalcade".

"Poptub" follows up on "Cavalcade", but uses a somewhat different strategy. Instead of distributing on both YouTube and GCN at full blast, as it did with "Cavalcade", "Poptub" was intentionally kept under the radar so it could generate a YouTube following before broadening its exposure on GCN. And although there has been a trickle of "Poptub" ads on GCN, Google and Embassy Row are waiting until there's more momentum on YouTube before broadening the scope.

So far, "Poptub" has more than 100 content segments produced after a month in operation, with several released each day. The programming ranges from edgy interviews with YouTube-generated sensations such as Obama Girl and "What the Buck" host Michael Buckley to more traditional red-carpet coverage of Hollywood releases such as "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist".  There's also a ratings report that shows the top draws on YouTube each week.

"Poptub" is somewhat of a recycled version of "The 9," a daily Web series produced by Embassy Row and hosted exclusively by Yahoo before its cancellation in April after a successful 18-month run. Leftovers from "9" include on-air host Maria Sansone and sponsor Pepsi, but "Poptub" differs from its predecessor in its coverage of pop culture. Whereas "The 9" featured typical Hollywood household names, "Poptub" is more heavily weighted in homegrown personalities.

"In our world, Michael Buckley is just as important as the stars of 'Entourage' because on YouTube they're as big as each other," Davies said.

"Buckley may be even bigger."

"Poptub" had only 3,594 subscribers on YouTube as of October 13, although that number could climb after its GCN component begins. 

Despite Google's vast reach, some critics claim it doesn't deliver when it comes to engagement, and say GCN is still just an ad window on a Web page a person clicks on while viewing other content. Others say the Google Gadget application does not enable enough interactivity.

"It's the old way of doing content syndication," Jennifer Cooper, CEO of social media company Mixercast, told Reuters.

But Dan Goodman, digital division president at Media Rights Capital (MRC), credits GCN for attracting plenty of YouTube's traffic. Indeed, more than 112,000 people who viewed "Cavalcade" signed up as subscribers to the SethComedy channel.

"One of the things we've been extremely surprised about is the community that has built around the show on YouTube," said Goodman, whose firm was responsible for bringing together MacFarlane, sponsor Burger King and Google to produce "Cavalcade".

"Cavalcade" drew 14 million streams across its YouTube channel, GCN and SethComedy.com during its first three weeks. The majority of viewers are believed to have come from YouTube, although none of the participating parties disclosed usage patterns beyond the 14 million figure.

"Cavalcade" is nearing the end of its 10 Burger King-sponsored episodes, and MRC is not disclosing who will sponsor the other 40 episodes. Goodman said agreements are in place, although the next sponsors might not show up until January.   In the meantime, "Cavalcade" will stay current by releasing a few advertiser-free episodes, a convenient way to release a few MacFarlane creations that are likely too risqu© for most sponsors.


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