The expectation that you can “find it on YouTube”—no matter what video you're looking for—is about as widespread as the practice of “Googling,” or using YouTube's search-engine parent.
YouTube's massive library of content has everything from cats playing keyboards to amateur dance troupes. As the video site seeks to drive revenue and bolster its brand, it also has been making a larger push for professionally produced content, from studios and networks as well as from independent production companies and producers.
Jordan Hoffner, YouTube's director of content partnerships, is the site's digital deal-maker, inking agreements with companies such as Discovery Communications, Disney-ABCand Lionsgate, as well as smaller outlets like Electric Farm Entertainment.
Those deals enhance the YouTube brand, as the site adds content that viewers associate with quality programs, networks and personalities. But they also help YouTube's partners, which get their content in front of the Web's largest video audience. “We have been able to help use our platform to not only help build our brand, but also our partners' brands, taking this big audience and exposing it to our partners' content,” Hoffner says.
Beyond striking content deals with major networks and production companies, Hoffner has worked with smaller outfits just trying to get off the ground.
“I really like to spend time with the smaller guys,” Hoffner says. “Everybody has a unique challenge; we are here as a platform to give advice, in terms of how to tap our audience and best distribute to them.”
Hoffner also helps established companies that may not have experience with Web videos develop their digital strategies using YouTube. “We are a partner, but we are also a consultant to a certain degree,” he says.
But while his focus has been attracting top talent to YouTube, Hoffner recognizes that YouTube would not be where it is today without the amateur videos that draw so much of the site's traffic. “We have taken shots about dogs on skateboards,” he says. “I just don't think there is anything wrong with that; it is a part of what makes YouTube fun.”
A boost from Kimmel
Those clicks can also drive traffic to the professional content. The site teamed up with ABC to have videos from late-night host Jimmy Kimmel play on the YouTube homepage. Visitors to the site flocked to the Kimmel videos, making it a win for both parties.
“There is no question in my mind it helped his ratings,” Hoffner says. “And it helped give us some great exposure.”
Hoffner is also working to build up YouTube's content verticals. In July, ESPN will start to have a major presence on the site's sports vertical, providing original videos as well as clips delivered through its own video player. YouTube has also recently launched verticals dedicated to movies and TV shows from content partners.
Moving forward, Hoffner plans to expand YouTube's reach to independent producers and content creators, much as it did with Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane's Web shorts last year. McFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy went straight to YouTube, allowing MacFarlane to bypass the traditional Hollywood model.
“I would like to do more of it, because that is where a lot of opportunity lies,” Hoffner says. “Helping foster content creation, and being a good distribution and promotional platform for that content.”
Hoffner joined Google in 2006 after the company contacted him about coming on board as its head of premium content. He was overseeing NBC Universal Digital Studios at the time. Fourteen interviews later, Hoffner got the job. “I thought, if you are going to be in the world of digital, you should go to the top player,” he says.
A month after he started, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion, and it tapped Hoffner to manage its content partnerships.
Hoffner, who helped create NBC Weather Plus and built up the Peacock Network’s digital studio, got his first media gig as an intern at CNBC. That led to a position as a runner at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
After a stint working for TV packaging agent Marty Hurwitz, Hoffner found himself back in the NBC fold, this time as a researcher for The Today Show, which was then under the direction of executive producer (now NBC Universal CEO) Jeff Zucker. In addition to covering breaking news such as the O.J. Simpson trial, Hoffner worked on the early days of Today’s summer concert series.
He made the jump to cable in 1997, where he worked as a producer for Keith Olbermann and Brian Williams. It was while working for Williams that he began taking classes at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Graduating with an M.B.A. in 2001, he rejoined NBC in 2002, working in its business development group. It was there that he got his first close-up look at how the TV deal-making business works, with NBC making $20 billion in acquisitions during his time in business development.
“After you do about $20 billion worth of acquisitions, [General Electric CEO] Jeff Immelt started saying to the team, ‘You guys had better figure out some organic growth opportunities; we aren’t spending more money,’” Hoffner recalls.
He also got his first taste of the digital world, overseeing the launch of NBC Weather Plus, the network’s digital weather service. NBC Weather Plus ended up being folded into The Weather Channel after NBC Universal acquired it last year.
It was a position where he could help create a brand essentially from scratch, an experience Hoffner credits with helping him at YouTube. “It was a really good marketing exercise,” he says. “You have this amazing ability to distribute, but what is it? You could say it is just weather, but what is it about weather?”
He went on to oversee NBC Universal Digital Studios, which created original content for all of NBC’s emerging platforms.
YouTube may now be the most popular video site on the Web, but it is Hoffner's job to keep it competitive in a market that is quickly getting saturated with competition. While he is making deals, Hoffner hasn't forgotten what made YouTube the powerhouse that it is: “At the end of the day, we just want to be a great resource for video.”