YouTube to host and stream own Super Bowl halftime show

A large version of the iconic YouTube play button in the lobby of YouTube Space LA.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Get ready for the Super Bowl, YouTube style.

The Google-owned video platform has invited hundreds of its die-hard users to its studios in Playa Vista to watch the big game. The plan is to host and stream its own halftime show as an alternative to the NBC telecast.

YouTube doesn’t expect to steal the limelight from Super Bowl halftime performers Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz. The organizers do think their experiment will grab the attention — and clicks — of otherwise bored younger viewers who aren’t big sports fans.

“It’s going to be a bit of a circus, which is exactly how we like it,” said Liam Collins, head of YouTube Space L.A. “We are targeting viewers who enjoy everything around the game, specifically ads, as much as they do the game itself.”

Some 115 million Americans are expected to watch Sunday’s NFL championship game between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. The audience is projected to break last year’s record.

And social media giants like Twitter and Facebook, along with YouTube, are battling to become the so-called second screen where viewers use their tablets and smartphones to keep up with the event.


“What we’re seeing this year is a lot more of these hijacking attempts,” said Sean Muller, chief executive of the ad tracking firm “People are trying to ride the wave of digital activity that is running around the Super Bowl.”

The statistics back up why the Super Bowl audience is ripe for the picking.

An estimated 51% of Americans think of the Super Bowl as a social event or entertainment spectacle versus a sporting event, according to a survey conducted by communications firm Burson-Marsteller and strategic consulting firm Penn Schoen Berland.

More than half (55%) of millennials surveyed said they consider the Super Bowl to be a social or entertaining spectacle as opposed to a sporting event. A third (33%) of millennials would prefer a boring Super Bowl with great commercials, versus a great game with boring commercials.

That’s why YouTube saw an opportunity to lure viewers and generate ad revenue.

“There are people out there that, believe it or not, who don’t get absorbed with the game so much and are more taken by the culture around the Super Bowl itself,” said Harley Morenstein, a digital star who will be one of YouTube’s Halftime Show co-hosts.

Morenstein, whose viral cooking show “Epic Meal Time” features videos about how to make lasagna with 45 McDonald’s cheeseburgers, said there’s a generation of people who prefer online entertainment over television. “We have an event for them, something they can tune in to,” he said.

He’s one of 20 YouTubers, who collectively have some 60 million subscribers, participating in Sunday’s show, which is being produced by multichannel network Collective Digital Studio. The exact format for the event hasn’t been revealed, but is expected to be a bit like a variety show with music and stunts.

For example, the YouTubers are going to try to break a number of records. Morenstein said he was even considering a swimmer-like dive into a vat of nacho cheese, but logistics didn’t bode well for the gimmick.

There’s a good chance that YouTube’s experiment will work. The online platform has already become the home for all of the Super Bowl ads, many of which are released there weeks before the game.

Super Bowl ads were watched more than 160 million times on YouTube before last year’s game even began. Commercials that were released before they aired drove about 2.5 times more views on average than commercials that were released on game day.

Leading up to game day, many advertisers — including Toyota, Carnival and Bud Light — release “teaser” spots for their brands specifically for YouTube.

The video platform has a gallery of more than 115 Super Bowl ads or teasers that users can watch, up significantly from last year. The ads have been watched more than 80 million times so far, up 75% from last year.

These highly watched advertisements also help generate a chunk of YouTube’s overall revenue. The Web platform’s net U.S. video ad revenues totaled $1.12 billion in 2014, according to figures released by research firm eMarketer in December. The projected video ad revenue for YouTube is expected to rise 20% in 2015 to $1.55 billion, the report said.

So with the potential for big traffic, experts say it makes sense for YouTube to double down on Super Bowl-related content.

Paul Verna, an analyst at eMarketer, thinks that many people will watch multiple programs at once.

“This could definitely be the beginning of the new world that we are in where people sit in front of the TV [during the Super Bowl] and have another screen with them,” Verna said. “Multi-screening it.”

Twitter: @saba_h

Staff writer Meg James contributed to this report.