Why Studios Prefer YouTube for Their Biggest Trailer Debuts

YouTube gives studios more control — and social reach — than mainstays Apple and Yahoo

When Sony finished trailers for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “22 Jump Street” last month, it posted them on YouTube.

That may not seem novel since everything is on YouTube — including this video of a woman leading a poodle aerobics class — but it actually reflects a significant shift in studio marketing strategy.

Three or four years ago, movie studios used Apple or Yahoo’s video players to debut the vast majority of their trailers. That has changed over the past year as social media has grown integral to marketing the biggest studio releases, and studio resistance to YouTube, a behemoth that keeps growing, has softened.

Many studios now use YouTube’s player to debut trailers for their most popular releases. No studio executives wanted to go on the record about the topic with TheWrap for fear of alienating Apple and Yahoo — both still valuable partners — but conversations with executives at several studios confirmed that they increasingly use YouTube to debut trailers.

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Rich Raddon, co-founder of ZEFR, a Venice-based company that helps movie studios track and monetize clips on YouTube, described the move as “one of the most interesting things in the industry that nobody is attuned to.”

“A couple years ago, Apple and iTunes and Yahoo owned the market for trailers and that has absolutely changed,” Raddon told TheWrap. “People recognized that YouTube owns 65 percent of internet video traffic around the world either on YouTube.com or through the YouTube player.”

Trailer views on YouTube increased by more than 100 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to Angie Barrick, head of Industry, Media & Entertainment at parent company Google. Complete numbers for 2013 are not available, but the site crossed 1 billion monthly unique viewers last year.

“The key moviegoing audience is on our platform,” Barrick told TheWrap.

Scale is a big reason studios have embraced YouTube, but studio executives told TheWrap that the rise of the social web is just as important.

“YouTube has become a vehicle for more distribution of trailers than before because of the ease in sharing and in social media distribution,” one digital marketing executive explained to TheWrap.

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Studios want materials for potential blockbusters like “Man of Steel” or “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,”  to reach as many people as possible. They mount an entire social campaign around the launch of a trailer, spreading assets to Instagram and Twitter that link back to the trailer.

YouTube is a social network of its own – one of the largest in the world – and the YouTube player makes it easy for news outlets and fans to embed the video and share across their social networks.

Facebook is the exception: Because YouTube uploads don’t show up as well in user feeds as video uploaded directly to that social media site, studios often upload the video directly to Facebook as well.

While YouTube and Facebook share all kinds of data about views and the spread of a particular video, Apple has not been as open about sharing such information. A few different executives labeled them a “difficult partner.”

“Everyone’s goal is to have a really viral piece of content,” Barrick said. “The secondary goals are to understand the metrics beyond the view counts. How many shares are they getting? Which digital partners are supporting them? When they give the YouTube URL to online platforms, it is easy to see who is running with it and helping them drive the view count.”

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Apple has always had the advantage in quality, and they retain the cachet of being one of the world’s most respected technology brands. Yet studios’ resistance to YouTube lessened after it introduced HD-quality video.

“Even those in the industry who wanted to be with the prestige brand have come around to this: You have to fish where the fish are,” Raddon said.

Much as scale and social nature have worked in YouTube’s favor in a positive way, they also forced studios’ hands. When a movie studio debuts videos using Apple or Yahoo, users will inevitably scrape the trailer and post it on YouTube before the studios can put it up on their own channel.

That rewards other people with more views, and often means an unsanctioned version of the trailer will show up first in search results on the website. To get around that, studios building up their own YouTube channels. Warner Bros. now boasts more than 750,000 subscribers on YouTube and Sony has topped 250,000. Many others remain below 100,000.

That places control back in the studios’ hands, and control is central to this shift. Using YouTube, studios can post trailers at the exact time they want, and coordinate the rest of that campaign to begin at the same time. Apple demands all the assets a couple of days ahead of time, and has, on occasion, posted the trailers hours before they were supposed to go up.

After a studio debuts a trailer on YouTube, they can bring featurettes or additional footage to other partners.

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Studios still debut trailers using Apple and Yahoo – Apple in particular. Two studio executives said Apple delivers the same viewership numbers as YouTube, and that Apple is still be the preferred destination for movies with a smaller social footprint. A trailer for a movie like Spike Jonze‘s “Her,” for example, might get lost on YouTube.

Yet trailers for movies with built-in audiences (blockbusters and sequels) or viral potential (low-budget horror and comedy) are increasingly debuting on YouTube, where sharing on social will happen organically.

In other words, YouTube will offer fans a first glimpse of the movies studios expect to make the most money.