YouTube Execs Clarify Those Emmy Aspirations and Tease What’s Ahead for the NFL

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“It’s about acknowledging the legitimacy of the creative product they produce,” chief business officer Mary Ellen Coe tells TheWrap of pushing for awards consideration

YouTube Brandcast
YouTube CBO Mary Ellen Coe speaks onstage during YouTube Brandcast 2023 (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for YouTube)

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Mary Ellen Coe, YouTube’s Chief Business Officer, has a saying she uses frequently: “There’s only one YouTube.” It’s difficult to argue with her.

“When we say there’s only one, we think broadly about our fandom and our creators, who can really create on a canvas of multiple formats,” Coe told TheWrap prior to the company’s Brandcast presentation Wednesday.

That canvas includes a space for long-form content, live streaming opportunities, a TikTok and Instagram Reels competitor in YouTube Short and a live TV streaming play in YouTube TV.

“It’s what makes us unique, and also what makes it challenging,” Coe said, noting that this diversity requires the company to be “really conscientious” when it comes to its advertising campaigns. “Our campaigns outperform. We don’t say, ‘We’re just Shorts,’ or ‘We’re just VOD.’ You can work across the canvas,” Coe said.

“Historically, an advertiser would segment their budgets across areas that Mary Ellen said. They have some plain air TV budgets, they have some streaming budgets for connected TV, and then they have some social budgets,” Sean Downey, president of sales at Google and YouTube, told TheWrap. “We can merge all those … then you can have that consistency of messaging.”

As YouTube continues to grow, it has led to an unexpected focus for the company: wanting Emmys recognition.

The idea that YouTube creators deserve to be Emmys eligible was repeated multiple times during a press event on Monday. YouTube CEO Neal Mohan even penned an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter earlier this week entitled “It’s Time for the Emmys to Embrace Creators.” Considering that YouTube shuttered its original content play — YouTube Originals — in January of 2022, this call for awards recognition is certainly a surprising one.

“It’s not YouTube as an Emmy contender. [It’s] the creators as the Emmy contenders, which is a really important difference,” Coe clarified.

She pointed to the “Good Mythical Morning” creators Rhett & Link as well as the host of “Hot Ones” Sean Evans as prime examples of the types of creators the company is talking about with this push.

“These are big time creators and productions,” Coe said, noting that “Hot Ones” has roughly “300 episodes, a billion views.” “Any of those shows could be produced in a traditional studio environment. It’s much more about acknowledging the legitimacy and the quality of the creative product they produce.”

This push corresponds to how YouTube has grown in the living room. The company has seen 400% growth in TV viewing when it comes to the watch times of its top creators, an uptick that has led the company to talk about expanding to 8K uploads.

“We’re openly talking about [Emmy consideration] with the industry. The public is voting with their watch time,” Coe said. “The viewer legitimacy is there. It’s just interesting how there has been, historically, a bias toward studio content. We would say they’re all studios. Let’s make sure that we’re acknowledging the quality and sophistication of the creative work.”

Downey noted that some of YouTube’s creators have audiences as big as “historically, primetime shows” and that advertisers no longer question the content or the legitimacy of YouTube creators.

“They know who’s doing well. They know where the cultural zeitgeist is, and they know these are legitimate huge production places that they can put their brand next to,” Downey said.

When TheWrap noted that YouTube serving as a content platform rather than a studio puts the liability on creators rather than the company if something were to go wrong, both Coe and Downey acknowledged that they had “never thought of that.”

“That’s just how YouTube grew up,” Downey said. “YouTube is always about the user-generated content. They’ve become superstars because that’s what the viewers want to see, and then the quality increased.”

In line with its advertising innovation, YouTube launched a new initiative, YouTube Select Creator Takeovers, during its 2024 Brandcast. This will allow advertisers to tap into the top 1% of content on the platform. “It’s the opportunity for a brand to actually take over a creator channel,” Coe said. “It’s a unique relationship between the brand, the creator and the fans, and it gives that level of exclusivity and engagement with that audience.”

Other ad initiatives announced during the Brandcast included video reach campaigns non-skips, an AI-powered format that uses non-skippable assets across in-stream inventory, and branded QR codes.

A great example of the company’s ad innovations can be seen in YouTube’s collaboration with the NFL through the NFL Sunday Ticket. In 2023, YouTube signed an exclusive seven-year deal with the league, taking the package from DirecTV. The deal was reportedly worth more than $2 billion a season.

When the deal was being made, Coe noted that YouTube wasn’t interested in the partnership if the company could not integrate its creators. “We actually think live sports, as seen through the lens of and amplified by creators, is really the magic. And that’s played out,” Coe said.

Last year, YouTube used creator integration to strategically increase the NFL’s audience. The team “broadly” came up with several different angles of how content could be created around the NFL. They then drafted a roster of top creators who may fit this specific cross-section, such as talking about game day fashion.

“It’s a dialogue of ‘We have an opportunity. Is this right for you at this point in your career?” Coe said of the “cultivation opportunity.” “We want to make sure that we’re making the sport inclusive. We want to make sure that we’re attracting Gen Z and new audiences to the franchise. So we’ll look at audiences and then we’ll say, what are the different angles to reach those audiences?”

Looking ahead to the coming year, YouTube will be pushing “even deeper integrations” with the NFL. These will include more creator partnerships as well as systems that highlight stats, plays, scores and fantasy leagues. The company also plans to embrace the chat functionality of the righthand panel of its content.

Coe pointed to how the company used YouTube’s chapters and multiview functions during Coachella as an example of how the platform is still experimenting with its live offerings. The chapter function is an AI tool that automatically divvies up a video into sections to allow for an easy watching experience for the viewer, and the multiview function allows viewers to watch multiple live events at once.

“We used multiview on Coachella, which was really like a sampling window for different shows,” Coe said. “That will continue. You’re going to see us continue on live sports to do innovations like that.” Since the festival came to YouTube, there have been more than one billion views on official videos from the music festival.

Though the battle for live sports rights is still more intense and expensive than it’s ever been, for now YouTube is staying focused on the NFL. Investing other live sports is “not a focus for us.” “It’s been a rich partnership, and it takes a lot to do these greater integrations,” Coe said, noting that the company also has a great relationship with the NBA between being the home to the league’s clips and its NBA League Pass.

The NFL Sunday Ticket has contributed to YouTube TV as a whole growing. On Tuesday, Nielsen’s monthly The Gauge report revealed that YouTube accounted for 9.6% of total television viewing throughout the month of April, a metric that combines YouTube TV and YouTube’s viewership. This marked the company’s 15th consecutive month as the top streaming platform. Additionally, in February of this year, the company’s live TV offering hit 8 million subscribers.

Looking forward to the rest of 2024, YouTube plans to keep investing in its creators, specifically through more AI tools. The platform already has tools in place to help creators generate everything from titles, backgrounds and ideas to programs that automatically edit videos and add in chapters. The Aloud tool even allows creators to dub their videos in multiple languages.

“We’ve seen it’s increased audiences by fourfold,” Coe said. “These are the types of things that we think will really enable [creators] to scale their opportunities, so that’s our focus area.”

In the advertiser space, the company wants to embrace the community of YouTube. “Historically, advertising has been: you run your spot, get it scheduled and you measure your results. What all the big brands realize now is there’s a marriage between being engaged in community and at these moments … and in advertising,” Downey said. The executive has seen advertisers with the company start with a tried-and-true television spot before expanding into several different formats YouTube offers.

“That’s changed a lot of their creative strategies. It’s changed how they started thinking about buying content,” Downey said.

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