The Hearst-Argyle station group is expected to announce a watershed partnership with Google and YouTube this week, foreshadowing much bigger things to come.
Under the terms, Hearst-Argyle's WCVB Boston, WBAL Baltimore, KCRA Sacramento and WTAE Pittsburgh will launch their own individual channels on the YouTube Website. Eventually, the plan is for all 29 Hearst-Argyle stations to have channels on YouTube.
Since Google acquired YouTube last October for $1.65 billion, it has been aggressively seeking television partners to provide content to monetize the site. Meanwhile, Hearst-Argyle, one of the nation's largest station groups and one that has generally been ahead of the curve of most of its local-TV brethren in moving its franchises online, was eager for a distribution deal with the promise of turbo-charging its Web efforts.
It has been well-documented that the Google/YouTube folks have had difficulties getting old-media types to sign on to their new-media vision. Need any reminders? There's Viacom's billion-dollar-plus copyright-infringement suit against YouTube, of course. And with a couple of notable exceptions, such as CBS and the BBC that have YouTube channels, the lion's share of major media players still are trying to figure out how to work out equitable deals that protect their copyrighted content.
YouTube head of content partnerships Jordan Hoffner was instrumental in piecing the deal together with station group Executive VP Terry Mackin. A veteran of NBC's new-business-development operation, where he was one of the key players on the digital weather channel, Hoffner had done business with Mackin before. “I could translate Googlespeak into TV-speak for Terry,” says Hoffner. “We know where we have shared interests.”
“We'd been looking for a way to expand our footprint online and rapidly expand into new markets,” says Mackin. “This is a way to take a lot of our material and reach a younger, hipper audience for whom YouTube is a prime destination. With this deal, we're really trying to say this station group is not your father's Oldsmobile.”
Mackin says programming for his stations' YouTube channels will be generated from everything from such local-TV staples as news, weather and major-league sports reports, to “those kickers of squirrels on water skis.”
According to Mackin, local sports could also be a key part of the Hearst-Argyle YouTube channels. User-generated content will be part of the mix, too, including mash-ups of various content. Links will be imbedded in content to drive users from the Hearst-Argyle YouTube station channels to the stations' primary sites.
Any advertising revenue generated will be split between the entities, but all sides are staying mum on what the split looks like. Mackin says it's still to be determined how exactly ad placement will work, whether it's pre-roll, mid-roll or some kind of screen placement. “We've got a dedicated digital sales force,” he says. “They'll be in the marketplace looking for all sorts of innovative ways to use the inventory.”
For YouTube, the deal with Hearst-Argyle has the potential to be a powerful statement to a wary TV industry that it can cut deals with major broadcast players that are profitable to all players.
Says YouTube's Hoffner, “This is major for us in showing how we can work with the broadcast world. We're taking a big step beyond what YouTube has been.”