During the month of August, the top 10 most-viewed videos on YouTube each weekday often included at least one Japanese-themed video-clips from Japanese TV and in the Japanese language.
Their popularity illustrates one of the defining characteristics of the YouTube generation: It is without borders. That also means U.S. media companies and advertisers who partner with or advertise on the uber-popular Web site-such as E!, NBC, Fox Broadcasting-are getting some gravy in the form of overseas exposure.
U.S. television networks including E! and NBC aligned with YouTube to reach the site’s robust U.S. audience, but they don’t mind the prospect of extra international eyeballs. YouTube’s site is not “geo-filtered,” which means anyone anywhere can access any video on the site. For now, it’s too early to quantify any potential halo effect YouTube may create abroad for network distribution or selling shows into foreign markets, but executives know one thing for sure: It can’t hurt.
“It’s sort of an ancillary benefit,” said John Miller, chief marketing officer at NBC Universal Television Group and architect of the network’s landmark deal with YouTube in late June to promote NBC shows on the Web site and to create a contest for site users to craft their own promos for “The Office.” “Our intent is to drive a U.S. audience … But if the show is in that territory and it advantages those shows or those studios that own the show [so much the better].”
No More Silos
The worldwide reach of the Internet can knock down barriers for networks, perhaps even smoothing their entry into overseas markets. The Internet has wiped out the silos in which TV has operated for years, making it possible via the Web and iTunes to serve up TV shows in a true a la carte fashion. While services such as iTunes are geo-filtered, precluding users outside of the U.S. from downloading U.S. shows, consumers worldwide are still exposed to U.S. shows in other ways, such as peer-to-peer sites, file-sharing services, network Web sites and sites such as YouTube.
YouTube’s strength internationally underscores the reality of doing business today-brands and TV have become global. In fact, the 16 million U.S. users YouTube attracted in July came from 63.4 million total unique worldwide users. YouTube claimed 8.5 million total unique visitors in Japan in July.
“We are not disclosing details about our international traffic but are seeing quite a bit of momentum there,” said Julie Supan, YouTube’s senior director of marketing. “We are evaluating our international strategy at this time but are mainly focused on the U.S. market.”
“This is just one more factor of borders going away,” said Kevin MacLellan, senior VP international at E! Networks. “Having a U.S. brand or a Chinese brand-these borders will no longer exist in five to 10 years. Delivery methods are all global now.”
For now, YouTube is a promotional device for U.S. networks, which use its reach, especially with younger audiences. As a promotional venue, YouTube can both lift awareness of a show domestically and abroad because of those 63 million worldwide visitors.
“In the case of some of our shows like `Heroes’ it may create interest and awareness and if it has been sold into the territory, there is the additional benefit of people learning about it here,” Mr. Miller said. Internationally-themed “Heroes,” which premieres on NBC this month, tells the story of several people around the world, including an office worker in Japan, who discover they have superhuman powers. Studios often sell first-run prime-time shows into foreign markets concurrent with their U.S. run, but the shows usually begin several months after the U.S. premiere.
The real advantage in YouTube’s ability to connect a far-flung audience across the globe will come to advertisers who are eager to plant global brand flags, said Brian Haven, analyst with Forrester Research. “There might be cross branding opportunities, programs that work in multiple countries,” he said. “In YouTube’s case, it might be working with partners in large media companies that may have content they already distribute in Asia or are planning to distribute there.”
The Japanese-themed videos, in particular, are likely drawing three audiences, said U.S. television network executives. That includes ethnic audiences in the United States, U.S. teens curious about Japanese culture and audiences from Japan itself.
Many of the Japanese videos on YouTube are popular with U.S. teenagers because Japan’s culture is trendy among that age group, Mr. MacLellan said. Teenagers are fascinated with Japanese horror films, anime and slapstick comedy, for instance, he said. So while many of the most popular daily videos originate from Japan, American youth are probably hitting the play button on them too.
Hitting New Markets
E! partnered with YouTube back in March for the Cybersmack contest to go deeper into the U.S., Mr. MacLellan said. He explained that E! focuses its marketing efforts on the 84 countries that carry its channels. YouTube users in the U.S. were able to submit clips for the contest, but site viewers worldwide could watch them. That allowed E! to unintentionally extend its brand in markets where the network isn’t carried. And as brands become global every little bit of exposure helps, he said. “Japan is a market where I don’t happen to have a channel. Anywhere I can get my brand in there through mobile downloads or broadband is a way to get our brand there,” he said. “It’s very interesting that our content can be seen in Japan or India, the bigger markers where there isn’t full channel distribution.”
E! has already seen its online content permeate borders. For instance, E! Online, an English-language site, generated 1 million unique visitors in Europe in March, but only 240,000 of those visitors came from the United Kingdom where English is spoken. That indicates that the vast majority of European site visitors live in countries where English is not the dominant language.