Outside the Jacob Javits Convention Center on New York’s far West Side—where YouTube is hosting the Brandcast, its annual presentation to advertisers—fans crush together behind barriers. Young and mostly female, they hover giddily on this chilly May evening, angling for a glimpse of the YouTube stars who are making their way down a red carpet toward the entrance. One fan clutches a sign that reads i’m cold, but it’s worth it.
Inside, the cavernous hall is filling with 2 800 ad-industry insiders, video creators and members of the press who will soon sip wine and nibble popcorn as the streaming-video giant debuts a slate of original series. They will be entertained by indefatigable Late Late Show host James Corden, who will perform a splashy number (“YouTube: The Musical”) alongside dancing T. rexes and a Pikachu. Katy Perry—her hair in a new blond buzz cut—will tout her upcoming live-streamed special and return to end the event with a concert.
But even the surprise appearance of the world’s most successful comedian, Kevin Hart—the star of an upcoming funny tness show on YouTube—isn’t the evening’s most memorable moment. That comes when YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki stands alone onstage in a purple dress, issuing something
you normally wouldn’t expect to hear at a bash like this: an apology.
For the previous two months, YouTube had been beset by controversy in the wake of newspaper investigations that discovered brand advertising being paired with videos featuring terrorist and white-supremacist rhetoric (and thereby funding their creators). AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal and reportedly as many as 250 other advertisers suspended campaigns. YouTube was able to quiet the unrest by installing new machine-learning technology to better identify questionable content—it said it was able to realise a 500% improvement within weeks—and offering marketers more finely grained controls for specifying where their messages will appear.
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