YouTube Starts to Look Like a TV Network

youtube-lollapalooza-no-logo-2011YouTube may be a technology company at heart, but more and more it speaks the language of traditional TV programmers. The site is unveiling a new deal today with sponsors Dell and AMD to live stream two music festivals: Lollapalooza, during the first week in August, and Austin City Limits in mid-September. The first day of the Lollapalooza festival will be carried on the YouTube’s front page, which has a daily viewership in the U.S. of fifty million people.  “We’re continually looking at how to bring our users exceptional content,” says Dana Vetter, a Music Marketing Programs Manager, sounding every bit the cable executive she isn’t.

As sites like YouTube look to monetize their platforms by courting sponsors and advertisers, many have had to start behaving like traditional media companies (whether they want to admit it or not). That means scouting out programming that will entice consumer eyeballs and big advertisers to their screens.

“We started out dipping our toe in the water with single events,” says Vetter. “Our first big event was an Alicia Keys program sponsored by American Express [in 2009]. And we started to realize we might be on to something.” Vetter says that after the Alicia Keys live stream, YouTube marketers began having conversations with a variety of festivals about the possibility of coming to a similar arrangement.

YouTube settled on Bonnaroo in June 2010 as the first major festival backed by a major sponsor (Ford) to be live streamed on the site. YouTube also streamed the Coachella Festival earlier this year. There’s one major difference between YouTube and the  TV networks, though: Vetter says YouTube has no interest in producing this sort of content on its own. “It’s about facilitating programming rather than creation… It’s about finding a partner who has the content who can deliver a phenomenal webcast.”

Still it’s all evidence of a seismic shift in the media sponsorship landscape. Ten years ago, if a company like AMD had been interested in backing the broadcast of a major music festival, they would have approached a cable network like MTV.

Leslie Sobon, Vice President of Product Marketing at AMD, says more and more of its marketing resources are focused elsewhere now.  “The classic, half-billion dollar ad budget for traditional media are very difficult to break through, especially for the crowd that’s under thirty,” she says. “They don’t watch commercials, they DVR or stream everything. You have to reach them in different ways.” Neither Sobon nor YouTube’s Vetter would disclose a dollar amount for the festival sponsorships, though Sobon described the figure as “significant. ”

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