Like many successful web phenomena, YouTube has grown through word of mouth, building its following on the back of bored office workers circulating clips of sneezing pandas or the latest creatively subtitled version of Adolf Hitler's rants in the film Downfall.
But now the Google-owned video site is going down an altogether more conventional route to promote its cornucopia of content with its first traditional advertising campaign in the UK.
YouTube wants to draw attention to large array of professionally produced full-length programmes that can be viewed - all perfectly legally, with the consent of rights owners - on its site for free, with advertising.
The number of TV shows available on YouTube has increased markedly since the company signed a landmark deal with Channel 4 last month under which the two parties share revenues from the advertising around the programmes.
Peep Show, Derren Brown's Events and Gordon Ramsay's F Word are some of the many Channel 4 programmes that can be found in the Shows section of YouTube's website, alongside clips from The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing.
The section contains more than 5,000 videos, of which almost 4,000 are full-length programmes, amounting to more than 3,000 hours of content.
The full range of Channel 4 programmes, which will typically have unskippable ads at the beginning, middle and end, will be available early next year. The broadcaster is making its catchup service, 50 hours of programming a week, freely available on YouTube, along with large parts of its archive: already there are 66 episodes of Shameless and 40 episodes of Teachers.
Other full-length programmes from some of YouTube's 60-plus partners include a selection of Doctor Who episodes dating from 1964 to 1984, sci-fi series Day of the Triffids, and 32 episodes of the impressions show Dead Ringers, all from the BBC.
The clips featured on the YouTube site are typically without advertising but are used as promotion for major shows such as The X Factor and EastEnders.
Broadcasters and production companies are cautiously engaging with YouTube, which was originally seen as a threat because of the volume of unauthorised videos that proliferated on it.
But with better policing of breaches of copyright, there is increased confidence that the site's huge audience can provide the TV industry with a financial opportunity as it strives to make money out of online viewing.
With the slogan "YouTube's got TV", the campaign will feature advertisements on the sides of buses and inside underground trains, along with full-page print ads in publications, including one in today's Guardian. There will also be online ads to support the campaign.
In an additional stunt to drive interest, at some point next month YouTube will be taking over a shop front near Carnaby Street in London's West End, where passers-by will be able to choose programmes to watch on large screens.
"We know that YouTube users enjoy the huge range of content on the site, but there's a growing demand in particular for full-length programming - so this campaign aims to tell our users that the full-length TV content has now arrived," said Anna Bateson, the YouTube director of marketing. "The Shows section of the site is a major new opportunity for our partners and advertisers to reach new audiences."
The ads for the campaign were devised by freelancers Naresh Ramchandani and Steven Qua and developed by YouTube with David Wilding, head of planning at Omnicom Media Group's PHD agency.Return to internet news headlines
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