'Brand Channels:' What is YouTube's advertising plan, really?

Posted by Scott M. Fulton, III

San Mateo (CA) - News sources today covered an announcement made by YouTube CEO Chad Hurley in the Hollywood Reporter, saying the company will launch the first of what it hopes to be many "brand channels" where advertisers and YouTube partners can pitch their wares through opt-in videos. Users may select these videos, and even rate them and comment just as they would for unsolicited items.

But the move is far from YouTube's first venture into video advertising subsidy, despite various press reports that touted Warner Music star Paris Hilton as YouTube's premiere video advertising partner, to star in her own "brand channel." A Wall Street Journal report widely cited this morning billed the news as a major agreement between YouTube and Time Warner. However, Time Warner is no longer the parent company of Warner Music Group, and has not been so for quite some time. This afternoon, Reuters found itself issuing a correction to its citation of the WSJ story.

Furthermore, YouTube launched a similar concept with advertising partner NBC just last June, launching what continues to be called "The NBC Channel" on YouTube.

It's Paris vs. Peter as the pop diva goes up against YouTube's most popular star, Britain-based 'Geriatric1927'

It's Paris vs. Peter as the pop diva goes up against YouTube's most popular star, Britain-based "geriatric1927"

Channels in YouTube are listed in order of popularity, and the "ParisHilton" channel - as of today - is featured on the first page of the Channels list, though not at the top, and not with any exclusive treatment. Hers is the eighth most popular channel today in terms of subscribers with 627. The NBC Channel is not among YouTube's list of top 40 most subscribed channels this week.

The difference between a brand channel and a regular channel appears to be in the layout department. While regular users' channels are subsidized using traditional click-through ads, "The Official Paris Hilton YouTube Channel" featured a custom layout including an ad for Hilton's guest appearance on the Fox TV show "Prison Break."

But whether this new channel is, as Reuters' story proclaimed earlier today, an attempt by YouTube "to integrate advertiser brand names into the YouTube community," appears to be contradicted by early evidence. Assuming Paris Hilton is the advertiser here and not Warner Music Group, her name - or more accurately, her handle - appeared no more prominently on YouTube pages than any other member's handle, with the exception of within the context of her brand channel.

Meanwhile, a 79-year-old British sculptor with the handle geriatric1927, and the first name of Peter, takes the lead on today's YouTube Top 40 subscribed channels list, with 22,183 subscribers. Peter's channel consists of thoughts about life and going back to college, recorded from his breakfast table. Unlike many of Paris Hilton's more famous videos, Peter's are shot with the lights turned on.

For what is purported to be one of the most viewed Web sites on the Internet, apparently few in the press appear to be watching it, and perhaps fewer still have a clue as to what the channel is really about. But the fear among some YouTube users may be that the site could inevitably become what many in the press believe it already is. Among YouTube's real-world members, one who viewed the Paris Hilton video this morning commented, "Let's hope YouTube doesn't turn into the new MTV and just plaster nonsense sponsored content everywhere."