YouTube's original series aren't setting the world on fire, and that's probably just fine for YouTube

  • YouTube’s ad-supported original series, backed by names like Ryan Seacrest and Ellen DeGeneres, are attracting a decent, if unremarkable, number of viewers.
  • It’s hard to say if these shows should be regarded as hits. The music-competition series “Best Cover Ever,” for example, has seen traffic ups-and-downs.
  • Regardless, the strategy behind this rollout was less about finding a breakout series and more about making advertisers feel better about YouTube.

YouTube’s new slate of ad-supported original series are generating a decent, if unremarkable, amount of viewership.

But these squeaky-clean shows are likely performing a far more crucial role than yielding water-cooler chatter – namely, making spooked advertisers feel good about YouTube again.

Back in May, when YouTube was in the early throes of a budding advertising crisis, with big brands yanking their ads off the site after a series of unfortunate placements, the Google-owned video hub announced a slew of original series that would be ad-supported and fully “brand safe.”

The list of new shows were backed by some big names: Ryan Seacrest, Kevin Hart, Ellen DeGeneres, and Demi Lovato.

So far, the initiative – presumably aimed at appeasing scarred marketers used to the predictable confines of TV advertising – seems off to a fairly respectable start.

True, they have had little effect culturally, or even in the ad industry. But for the brands sponsoring these shows, it probably doesn’t matter all that much.

Sure, they’d love to be attached to a buzzy new series. But, more important, YouTube wants to prove to these brands it can ensure a safe environment through which traditional companies can market their products.

‘Best Cover Ever’ is YouTube’s attempt to get in on people’s insatiable appetite for music-competition reality shows

Take “Best Cover Ever.” The music-competition show – sponsored by Johnson & Johnson – features up-and-comers performing covers of their favourite artists’ song, like an acoustic version of Flo Rida’s “My House.” The show is being produced by Seacrest and hosted by Ludacris, and it features talent like Katy Perry and Keith Urban.

Since debuting in November, the half-hour episodes have generated between a few million views to as high as 7 million views. Here’s a look at the viewing trends through nine episodes:

  • Episode 1 (November 20): 2.8 million views to date.
  • Episode 5 (December 4): 1.3 million views.
  • Episode 7 (December 15): 313,000 views.
  • Episodes 8 and 9 (December 22): 52,000 views and 31,000 views.

That’s not so bad, given the show’s length relative to lots of shorter YouTube shows. It’s also in range of many other YouTube channels. For example, Glamour magazine has recently introduced a similarly themed show on YouTube during which artists like Pink and Demi Lovato watch fans record their songs, and episodes have been landing in the 5 million view range.

The “Best Cover Ever” channel features lots of other companion videos (such as artist auditions), so there are more views to be had. Collectively the series has produced about 60 videos (between full episodes and clips), which have averaged close to 600,000 views apiece, according to the analytics firm ListenFirst.

“The powerful combination of top-tier talent and YouTube’s massive reach is clearly attracting viewership,” Meghan Cahill, the media strategy lead at ListenFirst, said.

Still, it’s hard to gauge whether the show is on the level of a TV “hit” since there are so few benchmarks. The similarly themed music performance series “The Voice” can attract upward of 9 million live viewers on a given night.

Outside of YouTube, “Best Cover Ever” has 2,600 followers on Twitter, and its clips have resulted in a few hundred extra views. It has just under 4,000 Facebook fans.

So “Best Cover Ever” is hardly a disaster, but far from an audience juggernaut.

As for YouTube’s other originals, DeGeneres’ “Show Me More Show,” which showcases extra scenes from her TV talk show, has yielded 117 videos, which averaged nearly 600,000 views per video, according to Listen First. DeGeneres already has a robust YouTube presence: Her clips regularly generate a few million views. and in this case may be competing with herself.

Perhaps the most successful YouTube original to date is a longer version of the popular creator duo Rhett and Link’s existing variety show “Good Mythical Morning.” That pair has 4 million YouTube subscribers.

YouTube isn’t a programmer, so it’s putting on a show for advertisers

YouTube is an algorithm-driven search engine for video, not a programmer. It reaches over a billion people each month and boasts of 400 hours of video being uploaded per minute. Can any one show really stand out?

It’s perhaps easier for YouTube to push original series on YouTube Red, a subscription product with a finite amount of content. And when it comes to original shows, the Red subscription service is clearly YouTube’s priority. Google was scheduled to churn out 40 original shows and movies for Red this year, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Bloomberg.

That’s compared to nine ad-supported “shows,” two of which were of the one-off special (Katy Perry) or documentary (Demi Lovato) variety rather than sustained series.

And truthfully, YouTube doesn’t really need these shows to take off. These ad-supported shows are designed to make worried advertisers feel good.

Johnson & Johnson, which sponsors “Best Cover Ever,” was one of the advertisers to publicly pull money from YouTube this year. It’s no accident they were part of the new ad-supported rollout.

If Johnson & Johnson is happy, so is YouTube.

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