A first look at YouTube’s new TV stars

What’s in it for YouTube

How are the new channels working out for YouTube? Early data from channels like SourceFed seems to sugest that it’s been a success story, at least so far. Most channels have only been up for a few weeks at most, but it looks like YouTube has already generated a few hundred million views with these new channels. That may not sound much in light of the fact that YouTube serves some three billion videos a day. But it is monetizing less than 15 percent of these views – and it can ask advertisers for premium dollars for videos that are part of the new channel line-up.

There are still a few challenges ahead for YouTube’s channel initiative. One is discoverability. YouTube has been working on addressing this issue with a home page redesign in December as well as some additional tweaks to surface channels in January. But fly-by visitors who come to YouTube simply to watch a single clip still aren’t exposed to much of the channel content.

The other challenge may be even more substantial: YouTube’s foray into professionally produced content has often been seen as an attempt to secure star power and generate audiences with the help of people like Madonna and Tony Hawk. However, at least for now, it looks like the real stars on the site are not Hollywood celebrities, but YouTubers. People like Philip DeFranco and John Green have much bigger audiences than Reuters blogger Felix Salmon or Law & Order star Richard Belzer, who hosts a largely ignored interview series as part of the Intelligent Channel.

Of course, this could change as YouTube audiences discover the new programming and the newcomers learn their chops. “It takes a long time to figure out how to build a consistent audience on YouTube. There is no easy or fast way to do it,” Green told me during our interview. However, he was also confident: “I think a lot of those channels will have success over time.” The question is: Will big media brands be patient enough for this?

YouTube isn’t the only site investing massively in web-original content. Check out this episode of Cord Cutters about online-exclusive TV shows from Hulu, Netflix and Sony: