Summit ’21: YouTube’s Susanne Daniels talks unscripted, doc originals

YouTube’s global head of original content Susanne Daniels talked unscripted and documentary programming in a keynote conversation Wednesday (Jan. 27) at the 2021 Realscreen Summit with Peter White, international co-editor for ...
January 28, 2021

YouTube’s global head of original content Susanne Daniels talked unscripted and documentary programming in a keynote conversation Wednesday (Jan. 27) at the 2021 Realscreen Summit with Peter White, international co-editor for Deadline.

Daniels walked Summit attendees through YouTube’s verticals, offering details for producers looking to pitch to the platform.

“We work with a lot of production companies. We really value their input and their guidance and their know-how,” she said. “We find that relationship invaluable, actually.”

Across the verticals mentioned — kids, education, Black voices and music — Daniels advised producers to pitch with the platform in mind.

In the kids realm, she’s buying animation and live action content that resonates globally for pre-school and school-aged children. Educational content — such as The Age of AI with Robert Downey Jr. — should similarly have global appeal.

“We look for educational content that can align with something that’s happening in the world,” she said.

“If producers want to be inventive about looking at what’s coming up in the year ahead, and trends that are happening that they would like to tap into, that’s always great.”

As part of the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund launched in June, the platform’s Black voices vertical provides the originals team with a purse to acquire or develop and produce programming by Black talent and producers for Black audiences.

In music, Daniels and YouTube have commissioned documentaries such as Justin Bieber: Next Chapter and The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story.

“Sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for. We’re looking for cool shit,” she said with a laugh. YouTube Originals’ Demi Lovato docuseries Dancing with the Devil, is one example. The Michael D. Ratner-directed film, set to open the 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival, examines what led to the singer’s near fatal overdose in 2018, and the aftermath.

Another is This Is Paris, a film about American socialite Paris Hilton.

“I don’t know what I’m looking for until you put it right in front of me,” Daniels said. “Eli Holzman and Aaron Saidman, who are phenomenal producers, were smart enough to know that Paris Hilton might be a difficult sale, and they put together like a 10 minute trailer, if you will… and not only was the trailer extremely intriguing but Paris came to the pitch, and she was extremely intriguing. I love that doc.”

Across all verticals, Daniels shared advice for producers at the Summit looking to pitch reality formats.

“You have to think about it in terms of YouTube. Whether that means YouTubers are in it or it’s shorter form content or it’s interactive. Things that take advantage of product features on YouTube that could only be done on YouTube, things that are live streamed or interactive, we’re always interested in hearing about.”


Just about a year into the pandemic, Daniels said she hoped the industry could return to “semi-normal,” but with rising coronavirus cases in hubs such as Los Angeles, some productions are still delayed.

When the industry first shut down in March, Daniels and her team rallied to move select projects over the finish line, while others were axed or put on hold.

“Some of the early stuff, we were just crossing our fingers and hoping for the best and having people do a lot of self shooting and editing. What we got was a little less than what we normally hoped for and went for in terms of our standards of programming,” Daniels said.

She and her team soon shifted their focus to “Creators,” the moniker given to the individuals creating YouTube content, who were already capable of shooting and editing content on their own.

“It was working closely with our production team to figure out what we could do for [Creators], with them, or at all; what kind of protocols we would have to put into place,” Daniels explained.

While many broadcasters and streamers are looking beyond the virtual content that grew in popularity in the early days of 2020, Daniels and the originals team are charting their own course.

“YouTube never looks like TV anyway. We don’t think of ourselves as competing with TV. We’re the largest video platform in the world.”

The Realscreen Summit runs until February 4.



“Over the past few years we’ve had content launch in Brazil, India, Japan, Korea, the UK, Germany, France… We chose those markets purposely because they have a high amount of watch time with heavy users, and there’s a lot of YouTubers in the marketplace. We’re still looking for content actively, particularly in the UK. And we have some open slots in Japan.”


“They would be required as part of the deal to build up their YouTube channel so that we knew their YouTube channel was warmed up, if you will, for the launch of their show and their fans knew where to find their show. But absolutely, yes.”


“We do series, and we do special events. We have been pivoting more towards one-offs or special events or short-form series, limited series, over the past couple of years since we’ve been more focused on AVOD than SVOD. So, fewer ongoing series… We will buy that, but mostly we’re looking for events we can get behind that are loud and proud and in the zeitgeist.”


“‘Cancel culture’ is a new term but it’s not a new thing… There’s a history of ‘cancel culture’ way before the term existed. If the star of your show or an important element of your show does something reprehensible, you have to be concerned your show will not continue… Part of producing today is hand-holding talent, unfortunately.”

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