Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tune In Tips From Ted Turner

Early in my media career, when cable networks were popping up like weeds and innovative tune-in strategies were needed, my clever boss, Ted Turner, mandated that all shows on TBS would start at five minutes after the hour, thus ensuring that such programming jewels as Gilligan's Island, Andy Griffith and colorized black and white movies, would stand out in TV Guide and the local newspaper programming listings.  (All the shows at 8:00P were listed together, but only the TBS shows
at 8:05)

Ted,  a media visionary, albeit often leveraging awful programming, was delivering what today a sponsored ad on Google, Facebook or Twitter might also do - help stand out in an ever-crowding media landscapes

Clever tune-in strategies and tactics are needed more than ever as TV and digital video audiences are carved into thinner and thinner slices.  Between Memorial Day and Labor Day this year, over 80 new cable and broadcast TV shows were launched.

Based on my daily reading of Cynopsis, something approaching 1,000 new web series launched from large media companies and consumer brands in the same period.  Add to this the millions of  User Generated YouTube videos uploaded every day.

There is clearly too much video supply.  I wouldn't put it in such apocalyptical terms as Michael Wolff did in a recent USA Today Column:
Here we are. Living in a time when nothing is so abundant as visual stimulation and narrative message. Media is no longer an appointment we make, but instead the totality of our lives — transforming us.
But into what? Who are we then? Are we advancing or sinking? We are only at the dawn of the age of immersive and total connectivity, of living in a world that is once-removed, created, produced, reflected, enhanced, packaged, filtered, shared.
Moving aside the social and psychological implications he raises - as only we media people can do - how does good content find and build an audience amidst such total abundance?

It is certainly much more difficult than it was in the early days of cable when cable networks had distribution monopolies to rely on, and the internet was still in its infancy.

The NY Times, in an article on Facebook, describes a new "world of fragments, filtered by code and delivered on demand."

Ultimately, it's just much harder than it ever was and getting harder by the day.  It requires a team that includes not only great storytellers, but nimble PR and social media execs, data and analytic geeks, and biz dev wolves who are on the prowl for the next new platform and distribution partnership.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

3 Million Views in 18 Hours: The Thrill of a Viral Video

Last month one of our videos "went viral."

It started with the comments on our YouTube channel.  Dozens every few minutes, some snarky, some trollish, some genuinely passionate, others asking questions or wanting more info.  At around the same time, the shares across YT, FB and Twitter started growing quickly.  Then the views started piling up at a startling pace - thousands per minute, three million in less than two days.

Within a few hours, old guard media outlets like CNN and ABC, along with the snappy upstarts like BuzzzFeed, were featuring the video, and before long there were very few people I spoke to that HADN'T seen "Great White Attacks Inflatable Boat."

YouTube was the basecamp for this heady ride, and was where most of the viewing occured. However, our website and FB page saw a significant lift in activity.  And, more importantly our niche wild animal brand, MaxAnimal, suddenly had thousands of new subscribers, and the attention of new business partners and advertisers. 

Just as shocking as the explosion in views, was how small the ad revenue YouTube delivered.  (I kid our friends at YouTube.)  But, it's impossible to build an online video business without YouTube, and the value their platform delivered to our brand could not be counted only in ad revenue.

Can we recreate the magic?  There is little science to media virality, but even an occasional home run like this can help us build our subscriber/fan base which makes us less dependent on the viral winds.  With the increased subscriber base, all our videos are adding a steady flow of new views every day, not the least being the Shark video which is now approaching 5 million views.

As a YouTube exec outlined during a recent talk, a fan base trumps an audience:
An Audience tunes in when their told to, a fan base chooses when and what to watch.
An Audience changes the channel when the show is over
A fanbase shares, comments, curates, creates
We are also bullish about the opportunity for niche channels to prosper in a new micro network world where subscribers are subscribing to the content they want to see.  As one of the backers of Maker Studios wrote on his blog recently:
I have been saying privately for years now that I believe online video will evolve into fragmented distribution and vertical production. By “vertical production” I meant that many online video production companies will have a strong vertical focus that will help them win the battle to sign up talent, build stronger & more loyal audiences and align with stronger advertiser relationships because they serve more endemic audiences

Monday, May 12, 2014

The End Of The Parties?

The NewFronts were a blast.  Some great parties, some great new content.  Exciting time to be in the digital video industry.

The head of the IAB was optimistic in the NY Times:
At the 2014 NewFronts, “we saw a new marketplace being born,” said Randall Rothenberg, president and chief executive of the bureau, likening this year on the digital video timeline to “1982 or 1983 in the cable industry,” when advertisers were beginning to embrace cable by spending significant sums to buy commercial time on CNN and the channel now known as TBS.
I had the good fortune to be in the cable network industry back then and the times do seem similar - from the buzz, the entrepreneurial spirit and the wild randomness of content ideas and associated talent.  However, there is one big thing missing - a monopolistic distribution platform (from the cable operators) that guaranteed shelf space and audience to the early entrants, regardless of how long it took to get the programming right. 

Today's ad supported programmers are dependent on fickle YouTube algorithms and a still emerging ecosystem of distribution platforms with any scale, beyond YouTube.

If there is anyone to be bullish on, its AOL.  Their party on a pier in the Brooklyn Navy Yard rivaled MTV's bashes in their glory years, and was attended by a who's who of advertisers, content creators and stars, all who are collaborating on dozens of new programs for AOL.

At the end of the day, the NewFronts were PR events.  Will the brands and their agencies who attended move dollars at the pace they did from broadcast to cable starting in the 80s?  Or does the whole idea of over 100 upfront sales bazaars contradict a fast approaching new world order, where the advertisers are themselves media companies, armed with more and more tools to communicate directly with their customers.

The most thought-provoking reaction to the NewFronts came from a media industry blog I read:
If I were a brand looking to truly connect, engage and build a direct relationship with my consumers, I would be less impressed with more video advertising inventory that can now be found online, and I would be spending the bulk of that time figuring out who is our Bethany Mota? Is it someone we build out from within, or is it someone we partner with for success?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Jimmy's Excellent YouTube Adventure

During Jimmy Fallon's first four weeks as The Tonight Show host he averaged roughly 5 million viewers per night.  During the same four week period, he racked up roughly 100 million views on the show's dedicated YouTube channel.  Some folks on his social media team have clearly attended a YouTube boot camp or two as they are following every golden rule for growing a YouTube audience, from a compelling welcome/subscribe video to catchy thumbs and titles, to sharable content.  And unlike the many MCNs that are gasping for life outside the YouTube monolith, The Tonight Show is using YouTube strictly as a marketing platform, even choosing to run the clips ad-free.

Based on the pace of the first four weeks, the Tonight Show YT Channel could add well over 1 billion views by the end of the year.  To put that in context, it has taken Machinima, YouTube's most popular channel, six years to reach 4 billion views.  And up until recently, YT has been their primary focus and source of revenue.

One could argue that NBC's parent, Comcast and YouTube are the 2 dominant televisual distribution platforms in the world, both getting stronger by the day -  YouTube through new generational viewing habits and  endorsements like this, and Comcast through extraordinary acquisitions like NBC and now TimeWarner Cable.

But it seems YouTube is the real winner in this story.  I for one am a huge Jimmy Fallon fan, but have never watched his previous show or the current one on television, opting to browse the best clips on YouTube throughout the week.  Same for my teen age kids and many of my friends in the 25-54 demo.

Danny Hillis, an inventor and technology entrepreneur was quoted in a recent NY Times Sunday Magazine cover story where he highlighted Marshall McLuhan’s observation that the content of a new medium is the old medium: that each new technology, when first introduced, recreates the familiar technology it will supersede.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Media Mogul Lessons from Ben Franklin

One of the many fascinating sections in Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin biography from a few years back describes our founding father as the country's first media mogul.  At one point in his extraordinary life he not only published the most popular newspaper in the colonies but was the country's first postmaster general, in essence, owning the content and controlling the distribution platform.

Media entreprenuers and executives of all stripes have been trying to recreate some form of this perfect business model ever since.  Comcast is the biggest player today with hands in both content creation and distribution.  I was part of the team that launched NY1 for Time Warner Cable in the early 90s.   The initial business pitch went something like: "Let's create a local news channel and put it on Channel 1 in all our NYC subsciber homes and promote the hell of out it in all our customer communication."  How could it not succeed?

The problem is.... companies tend to be good at one or the other, but rarely both.  The jury is still very much out on the NBC/Comcast merger.  NY1 is a tiny business within the Time Warner Cable monolith.   And more significantly, the most powerful media companies on the planet - Netflix, Amazon ,Google/YouTube, Facebook, Twitter - are distribution platforms.  Netflix and Amazon are certainly giving content creation a strong push, but it is still a tiny portion of their business.

But I am always fascinated by new attempts, regardless of the platform, demo or unscrupulousness of it.  

Here is some news on the latest,  from Disney, the "Dream Tab."