In past television lives, Larry Aidem ran Sundance Channel and Michael Hirschorn led the programming charge at VH1. Both accomplished plenty in their respective tenures. Now they’re connected, along with dozens of enterprises big and small, headed by big names and no-names in media, out to create the new generation of TV via YouTube.
Over the next year, YouTube anticipates launching 100 new channels of Internet programming, simulcast for sure on connected/smart TV sets, and possibly over video-on-demand slots on cable and satellite systems. The Google subsidiary will provide $100 million in seed funding for these networks, with individual ventures like Iconic TV, organized by Aidem and Hirschorn a few months ago, getting up to $5 million. The channels will roll out under the cadence of their founders. In Iconic’s case, (with Aidem as president/chief executive officer; Hirschorn as chief creative officer), three networks will premiere by mid-2012, exact order to be determined. The three are 123 Uno Dos Tres, a bilingual network aimed at young Latinos; Life & Times, fusing music, art and cultural content with assistance from music superstar Jay-Z and his Web site of the same name; and My-Ish, giving new music talent worldwide their first exposure.
Hirschorn believes YouTube’s new channel movement, and $100 million down payment for it, represents “a unprecedented opportunity…that points to where TV is headed.” He shared that belief with attendees at the annual Future of Television conference in New York earlier this month. “We’re at the third inflection point in TV,” Hirschorn went on. “The first was the birth of cable. The second was the birth of satellite TV. The third is this birth of digital. This is TV’s punk rock moment.”
As this rollout goes forward, Hirschorn suggests creativity and coming up with untraditional content and production values will determine how many of these YouTube-funded projects, his and Aidem’s included, make it. The new rules: don’t be pretty with the pictures, call your target audience to action, go weird or go home. “We’re all going to learn that in this arena, traditional marketing and thinking is pointless,” he says. “It’s not about your vision, it’s about supporting other people’s vision. It’s all about learning to leverage.”
All the enthusiasm Iconic TV’s backers bring for their association with YouTube comes tempered with fundamental questions, Hirschorn told his New York audience. If you build these channels, who will view and advertise on them? When will they view them? What effort will YouTube make on behalf of these newbie services? Will viewers start using YouTube differently? Ultimately, how does this impact the rest of the TV world?
Hirschorn’s crystal ball: There will be many casulties among this crowd of 100 new nets. However, “a lot more” will spring up, inspired by the services that do catch on, and receiving shares of a larger funding pool from YouTube. On the latter point, Hirschorn’s not the only one in public with that thought. Recent articles and news reports from around the nation include similar comments from other new channel participants. For now, YouTube’s hush on the matter of further/higher content budgets.
This crystal ball also pictures YouTube’s initiative, and others like it, accelerating incidents of cord-cutting among cable and satellite customers. “You may see the weaker cable channels die, or end up on YouTube,” Hirschorn says. “Stronger digital channels will overtake weaker linear ones. There will be pressure applied on traditional MSOs, and the result may force them to become a truly interactive medium.”
First things first, Larry Aidem and Michael Hirschorn, along with everyone else involved with YouTube’s new net initiative. Get your channels at the starting line, then watch the public react when you’re off and running.
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!