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YouTube wants to be TV, but it’s not the same

Studio71 CEO Reza Izad explains the differences between YouTube and traditional TV on Recode Media.

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Lilly Singh
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YouTube is now selling traditional TV in a 50-channel bundle for $35 a month. But even though the old distribution walls are fading away, there’s still a big gulf in content, between “YouTube video” and “TV video,” which includes shows on platforms like Netflix and Amazon.

That’s where people like Studio71 CEO Reza Izad come in. Speaking on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Izad discussed how he made a business out of bridging the digital video divide, working with YouTube stars like Fred, Lilly Singh and Roman Atwood.

“On YouTube, it’s coming directly at you in a vlog-type format, but it’s completely evolved when it goes on to Netflix,” he said. “It’s much more like a TV show, it’s fully produced.”

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Izad cited the example of “Fred,” the hyperactive YouTube celeb whose real name is Lucas Cruikshank. Izad’s previous company Collective Digital — which became Studio71 when it was bought by German TV company ProSieben 2015 — co-produced Fred’s three TV movies, which attracted critical scorn but millions of viewers on Nickelodeon.

“It’s had a really strong shelf life [on Netflix] because of two things,” Izad said. “One, [Cruikshank] created a really strong character that I think a lot of people related to; and two, we partnered with Brian Robbins and we made a real project. It wasn’t a half-baked idea that we were going to take to TV. YouTube-to-TV doesn’t work, but a lot of these personalities, developed the right way, definitely can work.”

He also argued that Facebook’s ascendancy to compete with YouTube in online video is a question of when and how — not if. He contrasted the current state of Facebook’s News Feed, where the content finds you, to YouTube’s search and subscription features, where superfans find the content.

“One’s a lean-forward, you’re going and getting and you’re a fan of,” Izad said. “I think, today, Facebook is still very much a lean-back. When I think about the videos I really watch, I tend to watch news videos on Facebook, or the funny thing everybody’s sharing at the moment, or the video of my cousin doing a dunk, that’s only in my family.”

“They’ve got this video tab in the app now, and I think that will be the place where they start to figure out how to develop an audience, where you’re coming back over and over,” he added.

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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.