By Dawn C. Chmielewski
12:05 AM PST, December 11, 2013
From the rooftop of Los Angeles' old Maxwell House coffee plant, dancers in tuxedos joined others wearing horse heads to reenact Psy's "Gentleman," which is the year's top music video on YouTube.
The troupe featured YouTube stars little known to the mainstream but dear to millions of the world's teenagers and young adults — and to the advertisers who covet them.
The resulting YouTube Rewind video, which is to be posted on the site just after midnight Wednesday, commemorates the most popular videos of the year.
"Gentleman" and other top YouTube videos were watched billions of times on the Internet's dominant site, which along with the streaming film and TV service Netflix now accounts for more than 50% of Internet download traffic in North America.
YouTube's video advertising is on the rise — up 75% this year compared with 2012. Companies in the consumer packaged goods space, such as the conglomerate Unilever, whose brands include Axe, Dove, Ben & Jerry's and Skippy, have increased their spending on display advertising on YouTube by more than 75% in the last two years, according to corporate parent Google Inc.
"There are a lot of claims that YouTube and Facebook reach the same amount of people as television does," said Ian Schafer, chief executive of Deep Focus, a digital ad agency. "The people responsible for buying those commercials are paying more attention and buying more online video."
In a move that could speed the shift of ad dollars from television to online, Google recently agreed to let Nielsen place measurement tags on the ads that appear on YouTube. These tags let marketers see how many people watch an ad, along with some demographic information Nielsen gleans, in part, through a partnership with Facebook.
To be sure, TV ad spending dwarfs the money advertisers spend on digital online video.
For the first six months of the year, marketers spent about $1.3 billion on digital video, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Internet Advertising Revenue Report. Marketers spent $36.4 billion on television over that same period, according to the broadcast industry trade group TVB.
"YouTube is similar to Facebook in that it generates billions of views, but despite the tremendous interest, advertisers have not yet learned how to value the power of that reach," said Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey.
But the value of online advertising to consumers is clear. Three of YouTube's top 10 trending videos of the year were, in fact, commercials.
In one, 1990s martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme does the splits while straddling two Volvo trucks driving in reverse down a highway — to the soothing tones of Enya's 2000 hit "Only Time." The video has been viewed 60 million times, and inspired parodies including one from actor Channing Tatum.
Another depicts adults dancing before mirrored images of themselves as infants to a remix of the hip-hop anthem "Here Comes the Hotstepper." The Evian water promotion generated 20 million views in two days, and has been seen more than 67 million times.
The "Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise" uses a hidden camera and some Hollywood sleight-of-hand to dupe coffeehouse customers into believing that a young woman has supernatural powers. The video, in which she appears to levitate a male stranger, move furniture and cause pictures to fly off the walls, is a promotion for this year's remake of the horror film "Carrie," and has been seen 50 million times.
"Brands are breaking away from the 30-second commercial and creating videos that feel more like content on YouTube and less like ads," said Suzie Reider, YouTube's managing director of brand. "By tapping into the rhythm of the community on YouTube, brands are having major impact and engaging their customers, and finding new ones."
YouTube's promotional reenactment of "Gentleman" featured an unusual assemblage of comedians Kassem G and GloZell Green, fitness personality Cassey Ho, the dance crew I.aM.mE. and Thousand Oaks elementary school dance phenom Kaycee Rice.
The YouTube Rewind video pays playful homage to several top videos of the year.
The site's 25 most popular music videos — which include Psy's follow-up to last year's hit "Gangnam Style," Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" and Katy Perry's "Roar" — garnered a total of 4.9 billion views, according to the site.
The top 10 trending videos, which include the Norwegian comedic duo Ylvis' "The Fox," and the viral dance craze "Harlem Shake," attracted a total of 850 million views.
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