YouTube 2023 Upfront: Platform to Launch Unskippable 30-Second Ads on TVs, Roger Goodell on Hand to Tout NFL Sunday Ticket Pact

YouTube’s biggest ad innovation for 2023? It might be borrowing a well-worn page from old-fashioned linear TV.

At the YouTube Brandcast upfront event Wednesday in New York, execs announced the introduction of 30-second unskippable ads in top-performing YouTube content on TVs — you know, just like the commercials that have run on broadcast and cable networks for decades. YouTube also will start testing new “Pause Experiences” for YouTube on TV screens, showing an ad when viewers pause a video akin to the pause ads Hulu first bowed four years ago.

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In their pitch to Madison Avenue types, YouTube execs also boasted of the streaming service’s massive reach: More than 150 million unique viewers in the U.S. watched YouTube and YouTube TV on televisions for the month of December 2022, according to Nielsen estimates. YouTube remains the No. 1 most-watched service on TV screens in America (across both streaming platforms and traditional TV networks), and in April was one of the only streamers to see month-to-month growth, per Nielsen.

“More and more, viewers are tuning into YouTube on the biggest screen in their home,” said YouTube CEO Neal Mohan (pictured above), calling it a “seismic shift” in the way people watch video content. “Viewers — especially younger viewers — no longer make a distinction between the kind of content they’re watching. When they turn on the TV, they want everything they love in one place — from their favorite creators, to blockbuster movies, to football. And they can find it all on YouTube.” Mohan, formerly YouTube’s chief product officer, assumed the top job after Susan Wojcicki stepped aside earlier this year.

The upfronts presentation also highlighted YouTube’s exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket out-of-market games package, starting with the 2023 football season. Making an appearance to push the pact was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, joined by college-football-player-turned-YouTuber Deestroying.

Goodell revealed that the YouTube/NFL partnership will enlist MrBeast — the No. 1 individual creator on YouTube with 153 million subscribers — to create behind-the-scenes football content. “The fact is, millions of football fans are on YouTube to catch all things NFL,” Goodell said. “This partnership will build on the success we’ve seen on YouTube’s platforms with our most sought-after content.”

Garnering loud applause, YouTube chief business officer Mary Ellen Coe announced that all Brandcast attendees would receive complimentary access to Sunday Ticket for the 2023 season. As part of its NFL partnership, YouTube original programming will include “Game Day All Access,” featuring mic’d-up players on the sidelines during a game, and it will launch a new original YouTube Shorts series dubbed “NFL Creator of the Week” on the league’s YouTube channel once the football season kicks off this year.

YouTube Brandcast was held at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall. Whereas other media companies’ upfront venues this week have been encircled by WGA picketers, YouTube’s event was absent any striking writers — which is not surprising, since virtually everything on the giant video platform is produced by content creators who aren’t guild members.

Also appearing on stage at Brandcast were top YouTube creators including Airrack, AllyiahsFace, Chicken Shop Date’s Amelia Dimoldenberg, Colin & Samir, Gunnar Deatherage and Michelle Khare — with music performances by Doja Cat and Jacob Collier.

Mohan also hyped YouTube’s ability to tap into artificial intelligence, saying, “Our teams are already using AI to get ads in front of the right audiences, to improve measurement or to flip a creative to reach viewers wherever they’re watching.” But it’s “really just the beginning,” he said: “Simply put, AI will transform the way we make videos. You can imagine that with just the click of a button, I could change my hair color or change my background to instantly transport myself from the desert to a forest.”

The new 30-second unskippable ads will be available in YouTube Select, the top 5% of its most-viewed and most-engaging content on the service. Those will provide marketers with “longer-form storytelling on those screens to build awareness and ROI for their brands,” said Sean Downey, president of ad sales for Google. The new ad unit will be available first in the U.S. before expanding later this year internationally. YouTube already sells blocks of back-to-back 15-second non-skippable ads, “so it’s a seamless experience for viewers,” Downey said.

YouTube’s Pause Experiences will launch as an “experiment” for TV ad buyers, Downey said. Those will be “highly visual ads” that appear when TV viewers hit the pause button; the ads could include a QR code to let audiences interact with the brand, he said. “We’ll see experimentation with brands on how to drive engagement using Pause Experiences,” Downey said.

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