Some Thoughts on the YouTube Music Awards

YouTube Music AwardsAdmittedly, I’m about to do something I often tease the media for doing: commenting on something I haven’t seen.

It seems blasphemous that the media would go about commenting on things they have no direct knowledge of, but it happens all the time in politics, sports and business news. And while it goes against the few fibers of newsperson I have left in my body, I’m going to proceed and comment on the YouTube Music Awards–of which I did not see.

I didn’t fail to watch the YouTube Music Awards, because I was watching something better, I didn’t have an internet connection or was too busy rocking out to music from yesteryear–you know, when music was good? Instead, I failed to watch the YouTube Music Awards, because I forgot about them.

Which brings me to why I’m writing this post. As someone who works at Google, and has to be careful about what I do and don’t say about the inner-workings of the company, I’m probably going out on a limb by writing this post. And because I like my job and don’t plan on getting fired any time in the near future, I will probably stay away from any direct critique of the YouTube Music Awards and instead pose a few statements about what the YouTube Music Awards mean for digital content going forward.

1. You Couldn’t Watch the YouTube Music Awards on TV
In talking to a few people, both who watched and didn’t watch the show, the prevailing theme, was “it should have been on TV.” Now, my initial reaction was that there was no way YouTube would do that given that their entire thing MO is that YouTube is a destination that is disparate of your TV.

However, what I failed to discover, until today, is that many people could not watch YouTube on their TVs even if they had many of the popular SmartTV devices installed with a YouTube app. The live streaming YouTube Music Awards were limited to laptops and mobile devices, which meant, if you wanted to give the YouTube Music Awards its proper due with your 55″ flat screen and surround sound speakers, you couldn’t do it (unless you used Google TV or Chromecast).

That’s very unfortunate. I understand YouTube’s desire to be the TV away from TV, but to tell some of its most sophisticated, technically-savvy, SmartTV users that “this Bud’s not for you” was a weird move. It was kind of “cable operator-like” in that they required you to watch their show in a specific fashion that called for you paying for one of their devices. I don’t know if that was intentional or a technical limitation for the time being, but there certainly is a lot of feedback circulating the interwebs and encouraging the YTMA’s to change their ways next year.

2. Did You See Any Traditional Marketing for The Show?
Remember when I said I missed the show? That’s due in large part to the lack of television commercials. Again, this is me speaking out of my ass and without facts, but I didn’t personally see much in the way of traditional advertising for the YTMA’s. Now, I haven’t been watching that much television as of late, but I have watched more than my fair share of sports, where I usually see advertisements for pop-culture events like this, and there were no YTMA commercials on when I watched the MLB, NHL, NFL and NBA in the two weeks leading up to the show.

That said, I did see a ton of emails! Perhaps this was YouTube taking another step in the direction of proving their model completely devoid of television’s help. I guess it would be ironic for YouTube to say, “We put on this great event, which would have never have succeeded without the great advertising platform that is traditional television!” Still, it was the first edition of the YTMAs, and I’m not sure they would have taken a lot of flack for advertising on every mechanism available to them. In fact, a 360 marketing plan coupled with an incredible viewer count, could have been an even better argument for multi-platform marketing.

3. Watching Things Online Often Means I Can’t Tweet 
I’ve never been a huge believer in the fact that the second screen is going to become this unbelievable, unstoppable force that is plentiful with profits. And I really think this latest growth plan by Twitter to become a billion-dollar revenue company through the exploitation of television ads is doomed. That said, there’s no denying that there are some marketing-worthy facts around the second-screen, including the fact that people can be targeted online based on the fact that they are watching a specific show or commercial offline.

But word on the street was that the YTMA’s weren’t as plentiful with their tweet-generation as one might have predicted. Forbes reported that the show garnered a little over 300,000 tweets in a 3-hour span. To put that in perspective, the BET Music Awards generated 2.5 million tweets during its show. That said, “The Walking Dead” generates only 500,000 tweets per episode, but that’s within just an hour’s time span and it’s not live TV!

Despite the wonderful technology in this world, doing two things on your personal computer or mobile device is not always easy. You want to watch the awards show online and use Tweetdeck? Well, that sounds like a recipe for disaster on most home wi-fi networks and older computers. I don’t see a whole lot of things getting tweeted out when people are watching all of these shows on Netflix! And if you were watching the show on your mobile phone, it becomes virtually impossible to tweet and watch live video at the same time. Difficulties aside, I’m sure YouTube will make a bigger push to make social-buzz a bigger component of its marketing and content strategy next year. 

4. Great Opportunities 
When he’s busy speeding around Los Angeles neighborhoods, it’s easy to forget about Justin Bieber’s roots as one of the first ultra-successful YouTube phenoms. But when you think about it, that’s what YouTube music is  all about: discovering people we’ve never heard of before. Sure, entities like Vevo make YouTube a contributor to the status quo and dominance instituted by the major music labels. But at the end of the day, the music on YouTube has been maded popular with the advent of amateur covers, brand new bands and unlikely people with powerful singing voices, whose videos go viral because of their hidden talents.

The YTMAs gave viewers a good dose of up-and-comers during the show. Lindsey Sterling and CDZA were apparently all the rage at the awards, and I think it’s the “homegrown” talent that’s going to truly separate the YTMAs from every other run-of-the-mill music awards show. In years to come, I bet you will see more of the Lindseys and CDZAs, and fewer of the Lady Gagas and Eminems. Now, I don’t think that will make for a huge live viewing audience–at first–but again, going back to YouTube’s roots, the real victory with any of their shows should lie in the extended viewing, not just its live audience. After all, YouTube’s not doing TV!

5. Be Interesting
With a reported 220k viewers at its peak, the YTMAs were not a media phenomenon of any kind. Heck, CNN gets that many viewers (burn!). But the popularity goes back to one thing that Colin Cowherd always reiterates: be interesting. While the YTMAs are a great idea and have tremendous potential going forward, they weren’t all that interesting. In hindsight, the show was executed more like a concert than an awards show. And while I’m certainly not one who seeks out a lot of information on the latest music events and venues, I have had very few instances in which somebody I knew went to a concert and felt compelled to tell me about it the next day. Don’t get me wrong; everything in the digital-sphere that could be done to  make this show a popular one was done. Big name hosts, singers and up-and-comers are buzz-worthy events. But if you want big results in media, you have to think small, i.e. target! MTV prides itself on being the voice of the next young generation. BET goes after black people. And CMT…well, it’s CMT.

Listen, I understand the Grammys, Emmys and Oscars go after general audiences and do quite well, but they also pay a lot of money for the rights to those things…and they are on broadcast TV! While I wholeheartedly believe YouTube has the ability to become the broadcast TV of the next generation, it’s not doing it today. And if the YTMAs decide to find a niche, cater to it, and then grow it, that’s going to be the recipe to success for that show, subsequent awards shows and all shows on YouTube.

*All opinions expressed in this article are those of Uzo Ometu and not those of Google, Inc. or Black Oak Enterprises. 

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