YouTube Upfront Trots Out MrBeast, Lizzo and Other Big Creators, Platform Announces New Ad Frequency-Capping Solution

The TV upfronts are usually a dog-and-pony show where networks unveil their new content slates.


At YouTube‘s Brandcast presentation for brands and agencies, held for the first time during upfronts week, the focus was on the gigantic video platform’s popular creators, its scale across internet TVs — and a new solution for marketers to set limits on ad frequency, addressing one of the most irritating aspects of ad-supported streaming services.

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“The audiences you most care about are coming to YouTube to watch content,” CEO Susan Wojcicki told attendees at the event, held Tuesday evening at the Imperial Theater in New York’s Times Square. She cited Nielsen’s estimate that YouTube overall reached 230 million people 18 and older in the US in October 2021: “YouTube is the mainstream,” she said.

Among the YouTubers appearing on stage was MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson), a mega-popular creator with more than 95 million subscribers who specializes in elaborate big-money giveaways and philanthropic stunts.

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On brand for Donaldson (above left), he distributed hundreds of MrBeast-branded chocolate bars to the crowd in the theater. “I thought it would be fun to give you all chocolate bars,” he said. He also announced that the #TeamSeas cleanup fundraiser launched with YouTuber Mark Rober (above right) had exceeded their original goal — removing 32.5 million pounds of trash from oceans, beaches and rivers.

If MrBeast’s YouTube channel were its own streaming service, it would have more subscribers than each of the next most popular ad-supported services: Disney’s Hulu, HBO Max and Paramount+ (although MrBeast fans don’t pay to access his channel). The 24-year-old is estimated to be 2021’s highest-earning YouTuber, raking in $54 million last year.

YouTube also lined up singer-rapper Lizzo (2.6 million subs), who performed “About Damn Time,” “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell.”

“I’m so grateful to YouTube to provide a place where I can express myself,” Lizzo said. “Video is a really powerful tool. It allows me to fully express my creativity… and twerk-tivities.” The opening number featured Grammy- and Oscar-winner Jon Batiste.

Other creators featured live at the upfront included Rober, the former NASA engineer-turned-YouTuber who served as emcee; singer-songwriter-producer Nija; beauty guru Patrick Starrr; and tech vlogger Marques Brownlee. Those highlighted in prerecorded videos included talk-show duo Rhett & Link, Scary Pockets, AmbersCloset, Blogilates, Brave Wilderness and Jacob Collier.

At past Brandcast presos, YouTube has featured a lineup of original content — but earlier this year, it pulled back from scripted and unscripted fare even as it’s still funding new originals in the kids-and-family space and programming from Black creators (see below). Regarding the strategy shift, Allan Thygesen, president of Google Americas, told Variety in an interview, “What we concluded is we’re getting fantastic original content from our creator community, so that’s where we’re leaning in.”

YouTube did have one new bit of original content news: It announced the second-annual Beauty Festival, to stream live from LA on June 16. The event, hosted by YouTube head of fashion and beauty Derek Blasberg, for the first time will be shoppable — meaning viewers will be able to buy products during the show. The 2022 Beauty Festival will feature guests including Hailey Bieber, Tracee Ellis Ross and SSSniperWolf, who is the biggest female creator on YouTube. The show is produced by Den of Thieves with Jesse Ignjatovic, Evan Prager, Jared Morell and Jordan Barrow serving as executive producers.

Later this year, YouTube plans to intro two new shopping features for creators: the ability for two channels to cohost a single shopping livestream, and “live redirects,” which will let YouTubers start a shopping livestream on their channel then kick viewers over to a brand’s channel to keep watching.

YouTube’s big ad-tech pitch to Madison Avenue was the new ad-frequency capping solution. That will let advertisers using Google Ads set weekly limits on how often their spots appear to viewers. The platform recently partnered with Discovery+ to test a campaign for a new show’s launch, with a weekly frequency cap of three impressions — and that resulted in a twofold lift in awareness versus Discovery+’s historical best non-frequency-optimized campaign, according to Thygesen.

“We’re finally bringing sophisticated frequency controls to the CTV market,” Thygesen said. “It’s been a consumer pain point and massively inefficient for advertisers… This is not a marginal thing.” On average, he said, advertisers can expect to see a 5% reach per dollar increase when managing connected-TV ad frequency across YouTube and other CTV apps (like Hulu, ESPN+ and Peacock) rather than separately.

Another point Thygesen highlighted: According to Nielsen, YouTube has 50% of ad-supported watch time on TV screens among streaming services — echoing the 2022 Brandcast tagline, “YouTube Is the Main Stream.” In addition, he touted a Nielsen study (commissioned by YouTube) of 14 large brand advertisers. That found that, compared with linear TV, YouTube connected TV ads are on average 208% more effective at driving incremental sales per impression. According to the study, YouTube also is 54% more effective than other non-Google online video advertising.

“The TV screen is still prime real estate, and connected TV is a huge part of our scale,” said Thygesen, citing Nielsen’s estimate that 135 million people in the US stream YouTube on connected TVs as of December 2021.

The latest news and stats from YouTube come as the video platform’s ad sales for the first three months of 2022 displayed a significant slowdown: Revenue was up 14% to $6.87 billion, but that missed Wall Street expectations by more than $600 million, coming off pandemic-fueled growth a year earlier.

On the originals front, as previously announced, YouTube Kids & Family has greenlit four new projects: “Mindful Adventures of Unicorn Island,” an animated series from Lilly Singh set to premiere in 2023; “The Big Tiny Food Face-Off” from B17 Entertainment; “Buster’s Big Halloween” from Moonbug Entertainment; and music series “Jam Van.” It also renewed preschool series “Tab Time,” starring Tabitha Brown, for Season 2 and announced a development pipeline of 18 additional projects.

YouTube has set five new original projects from the YouTube Black Voices Fund (BVF). Those are headlined by “Recipe for Change: Amplifying Black Women” featuring stars including Mary J. Blige, Saweetie, Tabitha Brown and Jackie Aina who came together around the dinner table to the stories, traditions, identities and experiences of Black women.

YouTube also has ordered “Retro Tech: Future Tech With Marques Brownlee” (working title), in which the popular tech creator explores the technology of the future and its impact on underrepresented communities; “A New Green Book,” a special featuring Terrell Grice produced by Tastemade; “The Mandela Project” series celebrating the legacy of Nelson Mandela, produced in Africa by VIS, Paramount Global’s international studio; and “Spectrum Global: Being Black In…”, a special produced with Jubilee Media that reimagines a popular Jubilee video series and explores Blackness across the globe.

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