From launching the career of teen pop sensation Justin Bieber to bringing Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony to global prominence, YouTube videos are leaving an indelible mark on popular culture and public life.
While laughing babies, sneezing pandas and dogs that can growl 'hello' is the content most closely associated with the platform, Anna Bateson, YouTube's marketing director EMEA, is on a mission to prove that there is much more to the video-sharing platform.
'We have three key audiences – users, advertisers and partners – and in every one there is a misconception of what we stand for and the breadth of what we offer,' she claims.
To Bateson, the feature-length documentary Life in a Day, made entirely from YouTube users' submissions and produced by celebrated film director Ridley Scott, encapsulates what the site stands for today.
The film comprises a kaleidoscope of clips from more than 80,000 submissions. All of them – from a giraffe being born to a girl solving a Rubik's cube while hula-hooping – were filmed on 24 July 2010.
Bateson was part of the marketing team behind the film project. 'It is a beautiful expression of YouTube and everything I want to say about it,' she enthuses, adding that the film is an example of how the site has 'democratised video production and consumption to an incredible degree'.
Bateson's passion for the brand also emerges when she talks about the platform's hosting of Kony 2012, which has racked up more than 90m views since March, and the way in which the site provided citizens with a way to make their voices heard during last year's Arab Spring uprisings.
'We feel it is incredibly important these countries have their own platform where they can express themselves – this is where we see the power of YouTube,' she says.
Eyes on revenue
Marketing meets Bateson at the new central London office of YouTube's owner Google, complete with 'chill-out pods', a secret garden terrace and stunning views across the city.
YouTube launched on Valentine's Day 2005, and the public's love affair with it shows no sign of abating. To mark its seven-year anniversary, the company revealed that a staggering 72 hours of content is uploaded to the video-sharing site every second. Meanwhile, according to Experian, the number of visits to YouTube by Britons soared 45% from 417m in December 2010 to 606m in December 2011, eating into Facebook's share of social-media use.
Despite its phenomenal growth, the platform still exists on a precipice. Google is placing ever-greater pressure on it to draw revenues from this content, while maintaining a good user experience – a core aim.
Google, which had global revenues of nearly $40bn last year, remains coy as to whether this user engagement on YouTube, which it bought for $1.65bn six years ago, is generating any serious money.
In an earnings call last year, Google's chief financial officer, Patrick Pichette, said YouTube's revenue had more than doubled during 2010. According to estimates from Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney, gross revenue is expected to have reached $1.3bn in 2011 and to rise to $1.7bn in 2012. The question remains as to whether it has covered the cost of its acquisition by Google.
Bateson says that getting audiences on board with highbrow content messaging is the main challenge for YouTube. She explains that, while the site scores highly on brand-awareness and positivity, 'people do not understand the huge amount of content they can find'. She sees her job as 'challenging perceptions' rather than brand-building.
YouTube has turned up the dial in terms of the commercialisation of the platform in the past year, unveiling a major revamp at the end of 2011 to better showcase content. Around the same time it entered the UK's movie-rental market, with more than 1000 full-length feature films to rent for a 48-hour window, priced from £2.49.
Bateson says that having a relationship with movie studios sends an important message to advertisers about the site's premium-content offering. It also diversifies its revenue stream.
In the past year, YouTube has also embarked on its ambitious original content partnership scheme, having invested $200m in marketing its original content channels, from artists such as Madonna and Jay-Z and media outlets including Vice and Reuters.
YouTube advances the marketing costs of the channels and when the partners begin to make money from their channels it takes a revenue share. The vision, says Bateson, is to offer 'a genuine alternative so content-producers don't have to go to a broadcaster or a movie studio. The reality is that there isn't enough money in the system to build sustainable businesses for content creators'.
She says using YouTube has 'huge advantages' for content-owners, as they retain ownership of their intellectual property and can distribute their work globally.
Aside from picking the partners, YouTube has no editorial control over the channels, but Bateson explains the strategy enables the site to 'unlock bigger advertising budgets and bring more money onto the platform'.
YouTube has been pushing for brands to be more creative with advertising on the platform. Its TrueView pre-roll ad format, which launched last year, enables users to skip ads after five seconds, the advertiser paying only if a whole ad is viewed.
In March, soft-drink brand Irn-Bru took this one step further by using retargeting technology in conjunction with TrueView to serve the next ad in a series to viewers who had seen the previous execution.
Desperados, Heineken's tequila-flavoured lager, is another brand being more creative on the platform, having launched an interactive video ad on which the viewer can click to break down a wall to join a party. It can then be shared with their Facebook friends.
As well as convincing advertisers to take YouTube seriously, Bateson's task is to get consumers to do the same. To this end, Google, which famously avoided traditional advertising in the past, has decided to put its marketing muscle behind YouTube.
Last year it embarked on ad campaigns across digital and outdoor highlighting premium content such as the movie-rental service, music (see below) and entertainment from its partners. A drive promoting sport on YouTube, with a similar creative, is planned for the autumn.
Bateson explains that, while YouTube maintains a 'digital first' marketing strategy, with 80%-90% of all marketing spend in digital channels, it will use other media where necessary.
'Consumers are right to be concerned about their privacy and data, but I think there may have been a misunderstanding of the actions Google has taken,' she says. Most people would rather be served 'an ad which was interesting and relevant to them than one that isn't', is Bateson's defence.
While YouTube was one of the leading players in the internet's shift to become a place for participation and user-generated content, it is now viewed by some as a major threat to traditional broadcasters.
Bateson, who worked as director of viewer marketing at ITV for three years prior to YouTube, rejects this notion, saying she believes there is a 'happy co-existence' between the two. 'TV is very robust – it is an incredibly important cultural phenomenon that won't change any time soon.'
She adds, however, that 'the way people watch it and the type of things they watch is evolving', explaining that it has partnerships with broadcasters such as Channel 4, which puts its 4oD content on YouTube.
'When you look at a (younger) age group and its relationship with TV, it is changing and their YouTube consumption is relatively high compared with older groups,' she says.
Bateson draws parallels between her marketing strategy at YouTube and her previous work at ITV, as the focus at the commercial broadcaster on priority programming and channel brands 'feels very analogous to what we are thinking about here'.
YouTube 'seemed like the future' when Bateson took the job in 2009. While ITV's digital strategy has 'come a long way' since Adam Crozier joined it as chief executive in 2010, Bateson believes it is still a business that 'thinks of digital as an afterthought'.
She admits that taking the leap from one of the UK's biggest media powerhouses to the global digital brand was a culture shock.
'For the first six months, I couldn't understand why I had been employed here – I felt adrift,' she says candidly. 'It moves quickly here and has its own language. Everyone speaks in three-letter acronyms.'
Bruce Daisley, Bateson's former colleague, who ran Google's UK display business before moving to Twitter, describes her as 'a transformational hire for YouTube' with 'unstoppable energy' and a deep understanding of how the site can demonstrate its value.
While dispelling misconceptions about YouTube is her number-one priority, Bateson still finds time to embrace the fun side. When Marketing visits, the 'Dollar Shave Club' video – an ad for a US razor company – is making her laugh. Does she spend a lot of time watching funny clips on YouTube? 'Yes, there's quite a lot of that,' she admits with a grin.
THREE CHALLENGES FACING BATESON
- Stepping up advertising on the platform without deterring users.
- Maintaining growth against tough competition from Facebook.
- Convincing brands to be more creative with ads, such as its TrueView skippable formats.
Head of marketing, Bloomberg (1994-99)
Vice-president, marketing, MTV Europe, rising to vice-president, marketing, MTV Networks (2002-06)
Director of viewer marketing, ITV (2006-09)
Marketing director, EMEA, YouTube (2009-present)
Lives West London, with husband and two children.
Favourite brand Net-a-porter.
Hobbies Cooking, going to the ballet and mountain walking. 'My father used to drag me up mountains when I was younger. Now we go to Scotland every year and drag my children up. It was one of those things you thought you'd never want to do when you were a resisting 16-year-old.'
Favourite YouTube videos Life in a Day and Dollar Shave Club.
THE CAMPAIGN - 'GET MORE INTO MUSIC'
In February YouTube launched the 'Get more into music' campaign, created by Adam & Eve, to highlight the music videos and artist channels available on the video-sharing site.
This marked YouTube's first foray into consumer-facing marketing activity for its music offering in the UK, pitting it against digital music services such as Spotify and Myspace.
Several artists, including Lana Del Rey and Jessie J, featured in digital and outdoor ads, which introduced the 'Get more into music' strapline.
4bn - number of clicks YouTube receives per day
180 - days' worth of footage are uploaded to YouTube every minute