YouTube Doesn’t See It as the Wave of the Future

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YouTube and Tribeca Enterprises have kicked off We Are One: A Global Film Festival — a 10-day collaboration among 21 film fests from around the world, encompassing a lineup of more than 100 films and other programming, all streaming for free.

Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s chief business officer, is thrilled that the video giant is the home for the virtual fest, which runs exclusively on YouTube from May 29-June 7. But he doesn’t believe that streaming will replace in-person film festivals.

Such an unprecedented joining of forces by film festivals, normally a highly competitive lot, may only have been possible in our current pandemic era.

“We don’t look at it as, ‘This is the future of film festivals,’” Kyncl tells Variety. The goal was to bring together all the participants in an incredibly short timeframe, to provide a way at this moment in time for filmmakers to showcase their work, he says. YouTube and its partners also saw an opportunity to raise money for coronavirus-relief efforts: Viewers will be prompted to make donations to various organizations, including WHO, UNICEF, Save the Children, and Doctors Without Borders.

“From our standpoint… it wasn’t about commerce,” Kyncl says. (The We Are One programming will not run any ads.) “Everyone was focused on, how do we maintain the creative touch-points with the festival communities without letting a year lapse? It’s hard, and expensive, maintaining awareness.”

Kyncl credits the launch of the project to Tribeca Enterprises co-founder/CEO Jane Rosenthal, who approached YouTube about the idea and worked to broker the other participants. In addition to Tribeca Film Festival, those include the Cannes Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival and Venice Film Festival.

“It was her brainchild,” Kyncl says of Rosenthal. “We felt like if anyone had a chance of pulling it off, it was Jane. We said, if you can deliver this, we’re in.”

Notable film presentations in We Are One include “Ricky Powell: The Individualist,” a documentary about the street photographer featuring interviews with Natasha Lyonne and LL Cool J; the online premiere of “Eeb Allay Ooo!,” a satire about professional “monkey repellers” and winner of the Mumbai Film Festival’s Golden Gateway Award; and the world premiere of “Iron Hammer,” a documentary feature directed by Joan Chen about Chinese Olympic volleyball star Jenny Lang Ping.

Talks will feature Francis Ford Coppola with Steven Soderbergh; Song Kang-ho and Bong Joon Ho; Guillermo del Toro; Tessa Thompson and Jane Campion; and Claire Denis with Olivier Assayas.

The full festival schedule is available at weareoneglobalfestival.com, while the videos are streaming at youtube.com/weareone. The lineup includes shorts from several YouTube-native channels, including Lessons From the Screenplay, Cinefix, Now You See It and Blogotheque.

“I love what came together, when you look at the representation and the lineup of the programming,” Kyncl says.

Even with the broad participation, traditional film festivals are here to stay, Kyncl says. They’re “celebrations of different creative tribes,” with an allure too strong for virtual, streaming events to supplant the circuit, he says: “Filmmakers and creators want to go and spend time with each other. They want to go for the atmosphere.”

That said, he adds, “Of course I want it to live on, but only in a way that works for the festivals themselves. After it’s said and done, we can evaluate [the question of], How does this sit side-by-side with the festivals?”

And, while YouTube is not approaching We Are One with a business-case strategy, Kyncl notes that the video platform has been the exclusive streaming partner for Coachella for many years (although not this summer). For Coachella, he says, “we have a set of repeatable partners who love it and are part of it. We have built a commercial case behind that.”

In the bigger picture, Kyncl says, the We Are One festival fits into YouTube’s strategy — during COVID-19 — to temporarily refocus on four main content areas: entertainment; authoritative information; education (including the launch of the [email protected] hub for families); and well being (centered on #StayHome #WithMe campaign that features our creators, artists, athletes and celebrities). That comes as stay-at-home directives have caused a spike of video streaming overall, including an 80% increase in YouTube’s watchtime on connected TVs in the U.S. in March 2020.

While many people remain in lockdown, YouTube’s 2 billion-plus monthly users are especially leaning into livestreams; watchtime on live is up 250% globally in March, according to the site. Big events so far have included Andrea Bocelli’s record-breaking solo concert on YouTube Live on Easter, which now has over 40 million views. Kyncl has a special fondness for Bocelli, having first heard him on a radio when Kyncl was a seasonal worker in an Italian apple orchard in the early ’90s: “It was just amazing to see the longevity of someone like him, almost 30 years later.”

Coming up next week: YouTube’s huge virtual graduation event, “Dear Class of 2020” on June 6, featuring President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, BTS, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez and more.

“It all happened organically,” Kyncl says of the YouTube specials.

With more creators and artists livestreaming, Kyncl says more channels than ever are earning money through non-advertising features, including Super Chat, Super Stickers, channel memberships and merchandise. In the past 28 days, he says, over 80,000 channels have earned money from those products, an increase of 20% since March 1. And, since the beginning of March, over 2 million viewers have bought their first Super Chat, Super Sticker, or membership on YouTube.

As advertising spend falls — Kyncl says it’s hard to predict what will happen in the next several months — that increases the importance of having a diversified revenue stream, “hence our push with all creators to make sure they’re adopting our other monetization features,” he says.

In mid-March, YouTube shifted most employees, including its content-moderation workers, to work-from-home status. As a result, it’s relying more on automated content-flagging — which YouTube warned could result in higher-than-usual video removals. Kyncl, though, says “our machines are working very effectively.”

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