Last year Google made a splash by announcing it would invest $100 million in an effort to create channels on YouTube. The effort, which involved partnering with a number of celebrities and well-known web properties like Machinima, was part of an attempt by Google to make it’s large video site more “TV-like.”
That’s bold move, but it’s also what you’d expect more than six years into the YouTube era. After all, the search giant has long been trying to raise the site’s low CPMs, and by simultaneously investing in original content and packaging the output into channels, it was hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.
So a year later after Google’s big experiment, how did it fare? The results are mixed. Entering Google’s second season, the company has announced it will once again fund another round of content but that only 30–40 percent of the effort’s inaugural partners will get re-upped.
Some have cited the low renewal rate as a sign that Google still doesn’t know how to weave YouTube straw into content gold, but I think this is the wrong way to look at it. After all, the channel effort is in itself a big experiment, and a low renewal rate isn’t synonymous with a low rate of return. Google now has some 25 channels that are garnering one million views per week that it didn’t before, and, according to Ad Age, the company made sure to protect against downside by requiring each partner to pay it back before it can start to run its own ads against the views.
But really, this effort needs to be measured beyond just the financials. The company is building a platform that seems to be making headway in changing the opinions of many in Hollywood about the site, not an easy feat given the historically bad relationship YouTube has had with Hollywood. By giving seed money and freedom to creative partners, YouTube is beginning to be seen as a potential place to incubate quality content. And while YouTube may not exactly be the next HBO yet, in a few years it might actually have some lightning to catch in that bottle.
But I wouldn’t blame anyone for remaining skeptical. As with anything Google, you have to remember the company’s willingness to kill its own grand experiments. Even if the company has shown itself remarkably patient with YouTube, who’s to say Larry won’t get impatient with the great channel experiment in another twelve months?