Crickets. That's the sound of Twitter's reaction to the YouTube Halftime show. It looks like it got no love on YouTube, either. Why? Because it was the opposite of what viewers expect to see from YouTube stars. No Epic Meal Time bacon bonanzas. No Freddy Wong explosions. Just a poorly produced talk show. I'm sad for you, YouTube.
Looking back, however, it's pretty obvious how this happened. Let me explain.
When we first read YouTube's announcement that they would put on their own live halftime show, we were excited. Erika Putinsky wrote about it in Superbowl XLIX: NBC vs. YouTube? As we see it, media is going through what feels like an inevitable evolution from monolithic broadcast programs to an endless stream of independently produced content. Content that caters to whomever it chooses. Content which is unrestrained by the likes of network execs and advertiser sensitivities. Content that's truly fresh and creative. Content that's dictating where pop culture is going, rather than simply trying to be cool by association.
So how did a production that includes many of the most popular creators on the planet end up so so awful?
1. It was obviously produced by non-YouTubers.
The intro song was kind of fun, but after that, things just fell apart. It was as if the producers were unaware of what actually makes YouTube videos so fun and engaging. They ignored the fact that many of the creators they put on stage know how to attract as many as a million views per day and said, "No, let's do something way more boring, instead."
A morning talk show-like science experiment, a bouncy house battle, and... gasp... liquid nitrogen making a cloud of steam! Who are the grown ups who thought of this and how is it that no one intervened, what with over a hundred creative minds sitting right on that stage? Which brings me to the second point.
2. We barely saw YouTubers doing their thing.
YouTube creators aren't like regular celebrities. They don't attract attention simply by being on screen, like an old episode of Hollywood Squares. We don't need to get them on stage and out from behind the characters they portray because, most days, they're playing themselves, talking directly to the audience, not sitting in the audience. Or on an interview couch.
As Michelle Penick wrote in a previous article about the influence of YouTube celebrities, it's that personal connection that's so powerful. YouTube celebrity appearances don't make for content in and of themselves, like Hollywood stars do, just for walking on a sidewalk. We like YouTubers best when they are doing the creating and talking right at us. We like their edits, special effects and off-the-wall sidebar comments. We never needed them to be stage performers. Think: Saturday Night Live Digital Shorts vs. Opening Monologue. It's the digital shorts everyone watches online all week, never the monologues.
In fairness, there were some short videos mixed in, including a challenge to create a fictional ad for Harley Morenstein's eponymous cologne. But there were also some clips that looked like horrible attempts to engineer pranks and ad lib entertainment that fell worse than flat; they cratered.
3. YouTube isn't live, and it's crowdsourced. That's what makes it so awesome.
When new videos are released, they don't capture millions of views the moment they go live. Even the most popular videos of all time need to build up a head of steam, rarely going viral on the day they're released. If the people behind this debacle had let the YouTube talent on stage actually do their thing, and drive the creative direction of their own individual videos, letting the best ones get the attention they deserve, this production could have scored some big wins.
Instead, they sucked the awesomeness out of the room by trying to make YouTube more like TV. They slowed it down and gave us half as much action in twice the amount of time. Don't we all love YouTube because it isn't at all like TV? Yeah. That's what I thought. When you bank on one piece to win over millions, you're placing a risky bet, and probably watering it down in the process. But when you let creators do what they do, you're bound to see better stuff emerge, and gain viewers over the days and weeks that follow.
4. YouTube was actually just trying to promote itself to advertisers.
Hey people with the money, look at who we have over here! Look at our cool studio! Look, our talent can act all mature and stuff and sit still in a TV set like all those other shows during which you buy advertising!
That's what I think was actually going on here. Briefly, I did think they were attempting to add up the audiences of all the YouTube creators they had in the show and capture maybe tens of millions of viewers in one go. But I don't think they were that dumb. I think they're more cynical.
It felt like an introduction to those who don't get YouTube, like they wanted to package up the talent in one easy-to-digest episode.
YouTube executives seem to think they somehow manage the talent, or at least could manage the talent. That's nonsense. Sure, you want to provide resources and support to the talent who is lining your pockets, but just so we're clear, no one at YouTube the company actually gets the creative process of the independent creators who make it what it is. If they did, they would have let it happen, not work so hard to produce a train wreck.
The irony of all of this is that the channel which put on the live show, YouTube's AdBlitz channel, is a vehicle for a lot of very popular content... Superbowl commercials that gain as many as 20 to 40 million views! That YouTube could summon none of that creativity for themselves is mind boggling. I love YouTube and am glad that it's growing into such an important media channel. Unfortunately, none of those reasons why it is were on display last night.
Whatever YouTube's goals in producing their live halftime show, I can't image they met any of them.
I'll leave you with the best part... the intro song performance which, naturally, wasn't even live.
What do you think? Could YouTube have done a better job? If so, how? We're curious to hear more thoughts because, honestly, we were rooting for them and we hope they find a better approach for next year.