Michael Hirschorn on YouTube's Content Gamble: ‘The Walls Between TV and the Internet Are Collapsing’

Former Vh1 executive will oversee a programming slate that includes everything from telenovelas to Jay-Z

YouTube’s new premium content push featuring the likes of Madonna and Ashton Kutcher spurred speculation that the Google-owned site is issuing a direct challenge to the television industry.

That suspicion was given further credence by reports that Google is considering offering paid cable-TV services to consumers.

For Michael Hirschorn, chief creative officer of the recently launched IconicTV and one of the nearly 100 content providers participating in the initiative, there's something much bigger taking shape. The programming veteran believes that YouTube's initiative shows that walls between traditional television and digital video are collapsing.  

As evidence that the barriers are weakening, he cites the explosive growth of connected televisions and tablets. 

“The new terrain lives in between TV and the Internet,” said Hirschorn. “It requires a nimbleness and where appropriate, a  humility, to be open to all the change that is approaching.” 

Also read: YouTube Unveils Original Content Channels in Challenge to TV

Iconic is a joint venture between Ish Entertainment, the entertainment company Hirschorn (above) founded in 2008, and Larry Aidem (right). 

Aidem, the former chief executive officer of the Sundance Channel, and Hirschorn, a former Vh1 executive and the author of a controversial Atlantic piece on the demise of the New York Times, will oversee three programs for YouTube.

Iconic’s initial offerings are “Life and Times,” which will focus on Jay-Z’s cultural and artistic interests, “Uno Dos Tres,” a bi-lingual channel featuring music, dance and telenovelas; and “Myish,” a platform for emerging indie singers. 

Each channel will be responsible for 50 hours of programming a year. YouTube will advance the content creators funding against ad revenues. Hirschorn declined to comment on how any profits would be split.

Talks between Hirschorn, Aidem and YouTube brass began six months ago, with the video service deciding what channels would be part of the launch in August and early September. 

Hirschorn believes that YouTube may have found the right formula to make broadcast quality digital entertainment pay. 

“The battle for viewers’ attention has become ever harder, but being good in this medium requires a different set of attributes,” Hirschorn said. “This is a punk rock moment, it’s not an arena rock moment. Helicopter shots are not going to impress this audience. Instead you need to do it with an intelligence and speed and brevity and a really good sense of humor.” 

Hirschorn maintains that the new normal with regard to entertainment consumption is “a steady diet of cable TV, YouTube, Hulu, Yahoo, and Amazon.” As all of those offerings begin to be better integrated on various devices, the distinction between internet and television programming will become less stark. 

Ultimately, cable networks may begin making carriage deals with YouTube just as they would a cable provider, Hirschorn speculated. 

As part of the new offering, Hirschorn said that YouTube is shaking up the way it is organized — a rhizomatic format that may have helped turn “David at the Dentist” into a viral phenomenon, but hasn’t allowed the company’s modest efforts at hosting premium content to get off the ground. 

“With its Google TV interface, YouTube is attempting to solve the problems of their search based discovery,” Hirschorn said. “It’s a little unanswerable, but all this influx of new content will change viewership patterns.”