In Depth

YouTube Gets Flexible to Pull in Network Partners

As YouTube tries to win over television programmers and the brand advertisers that want to sponsor their shows, the site is offering more flexible terms for providers of premium TV content.

The new inducements? Functionality that lets programmers run pre-roll ads before shows and a policy that lets networks use their own video players on the site.

During last week’s upfront presentation, ESPN touted its recent YouTube partnership, noting that, starting in July, ESPN content will be featured on YouTube using the ESPN player. ESPN will run pre-roll ads in front of some of those clips. Those conditions were part of the deal that ESPN parent Disney inked in late March with the video giant.

Disney will be the third programming partner to use its own video player on the site, following similar moves by Sony and CBS.

“It’s part of our evolving relationships with partners, and a lot of them have their own fan base, so what we are trying to do on a partnership basis is to be more flexible,” said Chris Dale, a spokesman for YouTube.

YouTube also lets partners sell their own advertising inventory if they choose. CBS sells its spots on YouTube and Disney has the option to sell its YouTube inventory.

For now, the ESPN content on the site includes display ads and overlay ads that run on top of videos at YouTube.com/ESPN. The network is currently using YouTube’s player for short clips.

YouTube would not share data on the performance and effectiveness of pre-roll ads on the site.

CBS is the first programmer to experiment with pre-roll ads on YouTube, placing them before many of its classic shows such as “MacGyver” and “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

YouTube said the addition of premium content and the new “shows” section for premium providers has increased views. Advertising opportunities likewise have increased.

“The results have exceeded our expectations in terms of views,” Mr. Dale said.

Pre-roll ads don’t work for all types of content. They’re not a good fit for short videos, but they work well for longer material.

They’re also a must-have for many programmers. Using the Sony-owned Crackle.com player was a condition of Sony’s deal with the site announced in April, said Sony Pictures Television spokeswoman Paula Askanas. With the player, the studio maintains content protection, serves the ads and counts the traffic, she said.

“All the people who watch our movies on the site—the traffic is registered as Crackle traffic,” she said. That helps Sony build its Crackle brand rather than just the YouTube brand, she noted.