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Q&A: YouTube's Jordan Hoffner

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A big chip in YouTube's effort to monetize its content is the professionally produced material it gets from content partners. The Google-owned video site has deals with Discovery, CBS, the BBC, PBS, Sony, HBO, Lionsgate and others. Most recently, MGM has begun offering everything from clips to full episodes.

The man behind those deals is Jordan Hoffner, YouTube's director of content partnerships. B&C's Alex Weprin spoke to Hoffner about how YouTube can stand out, weather the economic downturn and use technology to its advantage.

YouTube signed a deal with MGM last week, and there was a deal you made with CBS a couple of weeks ago. MGM has the American Gladiators Channel, CBS has some of its classic shows, but if you can't watch something new like The Office or Lost, is there still a business there?

There is certainly an opportunity for studios to distribute the content that's in their library. There's a whole home video business; for us I don't see it as anything different. If we become that repository, to eventually become the largest VOD platform, then that's a good thing for everybody.

YouTube is still primarily user-generated content (UGC) in terms of what's uploaded. Do you risk losing something by moving into professional longform content?

Not at all. We've been doing long-form content for a while now, we just haven't been that vocal about it. But HBO's been uploading full-length shows of In Treatment and Real Time With Bill Maher, Showtime has done some things with us over time, C-SPAN, and now MGM is on board, so there's room for all of it there.

Thirteen hours of content is uploaded every minute onto YouTube, so there's still demand in terms of uploading and watching it on the site. I wouldn't be dismissive of user-generated content because that's what gets us the big numbers to give the big audience to the professional content.

How will the economic downturn affect your business in terms of forging partnerships?

I don't think its going to affect it because the trends of people watching video online are still continuing and I don't believe that's an economic issue.

There was a quote in CableFax Daily [November 12] from John Zehr, senior VP of digital for ESPN. He said “I'm not sure we will remember YouTube in 10 years,” referring to the growth of professionally produced content compared to UGC.

I don't think they are mutually exclusive. Everybody is entitled to what they believe in. I am focused on helping build a long-term business.

How do you differentiate yourself from Hulu and Joost?

First and foremost we have the YouTube audience that knows us. We have well over 74 million uniques U.S.; I don’t think anyone else can claim that. We’re able to serve that audience in many different ways through long-form content that can come from network studios, or all the way down the line into archive libraries, independent films, documentaries. You’re differentiating in that you have such a large audience with so many different needs and wants and are able to cater to many different content owners.

Will the economic downturn affect YouTube in terms of the advertising?

Potentially, but you know marketers still have to advertise their products, they just have to find a way that’s most efficient in order to get a return on investment. With the tools we have in terms of YouTube Insight, and better targeting and so forth, we create those efficiencies and I think that will help off-set any type of downturn.

Do you do anything special with the advertising for the long-form content that you don’t do for the short-form content?

For the long-form we are running pre-rolls, mid-rolls and so forth, and we hadn’t been doing that on the short-form content at all. There is also the theatre view option. It’s a 16x9 player, which is a nice environment to watch long-form content.

Discovery is using their partnership to ask for user-generated content as part of a contest. Do you talk to content providers about the different ways that they can utilize YouTube?

Absolutely—we’re certainly leveraging our vast community and creating new opportunities for folks and not only in terms of contests, but also in terms of technology tools like YouTube Insight, where people can understand who’s watching their content, from where, how long, and specific areas that they are really watching it. We’ve got this big technology platform to help protect their content, so we come in there with this full package and they’re very receptive.

YouTube uses Video ID, which locates copyrighted content uploaded by users and allows companies to place ads on them rather than remove them. Has that made potential partners more eager to work with you?

First and foremost, it certainly makes the conversation a lot easier to have with them, because we are like, ‘Look, we understand where you’re coming from, this phenomenon happened in terms of people being able to upload content and we’ve figured out a way to help protect your content and respect the rights of copyright holders.’ So you start off with that and say you know, ‘We’re acting in your interest and we’ve heard you,’ and then a productive business conversation can take place after that.

Varying partners have varying needs, and so we’re able to use that tool in order to either protect their content, or turn a defensive situation into an offensive situation and allow them to start monetizing that content, and we’re seeing that 90% of all the claimed videos are being monetized right now.

Are there any goals for the number and types of deals you’d like to make over the next year?

We certainly have goals in terms of what we want to bring to the community but we also understand that the folks who own content have their own strategy for how they want to window it and manage it. We just want to prove the case that we are a great place to be and then let the strategies on the content side be what they may. But we are certainly out there proving our case at this point and utilizing what we have in terms of being a technology company and a vast distribution platform.