As TikTok looms, YouTube plans to remain the 'clear founding ground' of British talent

The Drum 30 Jan 2020 12:00
YouTube: the cast of People Just Do Nothing.

YouTube’s UK boss says its role as the launchpad for the careers of successful British musicians, actors, comedians and producers is finally being recognised. Now, in the face of rising competition from the likes of TikTok, its 2020 mission is to attract and develop more creators.

“We sometimes talk down our potential,” says Ben McOwen Wilson, who is returning to focus on YouTube’s UK business as managing director after a nine-year stint overseeing it in Europe. 2019, he says, was pivotal in proving the business' value to marketers, agencies and the British creators.

Advertisers, for example, were able to finally see how it stacked up against other mediums. The Ofcom Media Nations report gave a single view of YouTube’s performance relative to TV and on-demand video. It ranked YouTube as the second-largest commercial channel, third overall behind the BBC and ITV.

“That was pretty mind-blowing to us. Because we knew were quite big but I don't think we had a real sense that we were that big. And then the second thing Ofcom did was cut it by demographic," he adds.

Other media groups, by extension, started investing more in YouTube. ITV began creating special edits of flagship programmes like Good Morning Britain, This Morning and Love Island in an effort to get in front of these younger-skewing audiences.

Wooing British talent

Artists like Stormzy, Conor Maynard, Dave (the rapper), actors and filmmakers like Asim Chaudry – the star of 'People Just Do Nothing' (pictured) – began their careers on YouTube, finding small audiences before being snapped up by the traditional players in the industry.

"YouTube is this clear founding ground for British talent to cut their teeth," says McOwen Wilson.

But this is getting harder. Since McOwen Wilson last managed the company in the UK in 2011, there has been a spike in the number of YouTube-alternatives for these young artists to take their work.

The four year-old video-sharing platform, owned by Chinese company Bytedance, has surpassed a billion downloads and has 500 million active users, according to GlobalWebIndex. Its arrival in the UK in 2018 came with a big marketing spend and it has since continued to grow its own operations, and users, in EMEA. Last October, in a concerted effort to target musicians, it forged a partnership with Youth Music to launch its first Awards to give exposure to emerging musical talent.

"Everything else is just noise. As long as we are the best place for somebody with a creative idea that can be expressed in video that is what will sustain us. There are already plenty of competitors around us who have built specialisms in different areas, with different funding models, different lengths of content and specific genres of content. You can learn from all of them and they always help you raise your game, but fundamentally, is YouTube still the best place for somebody who's got brilliant creative idea? Because if we are, that means the best creatives will come to us. Then consumers will spend their time with us. And then for sure it's where brands should want to be."

“We need brands and advertisers to get behind the viewership that is on it to make sure that that talent can grow," says McOwens Wilson. "And if the next Stormzy is going to be unsigned for eight years, where their only source of income is that ad revenue, then YouTube has to be a platform that can sustain them.”

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