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Saturday, October 25, 2014

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  • Proliferation of Online-Only Originals Points to Further Audience Fragmentation

    Audience fragmentation isn't a new concept, but the proliferation of high-quality online-only originals suggests the trend is only going to intensify. These days, a week doesn't go by without another key player announcing a new or renewed online-only series, in turn creating ever-more choices for viewers and advertisers. Combine the surge in originals with the broad adoption of video-enabled connected devices, and the pieces are falling into place for even more changes in viewing behaviors.

    Though the over-arching theme behind online-only originals is the pursuit of up-for-grabs audiences, each player in the market also has its own specific motivations. Netflix wants to differentiate itself and re-start subscriber growth. Hulu wants to build value in Hulu Plus. YouTube wants to monetize its massive user base. Yahoo, AOL and others want to diversify and attract ad dollars. Amazon wants to sell more Kindles. Microsoft wants to brand the Xbox. And the list goes on.

    In addition, native online companies like Machinima, Maker Studios, Crackle and others are seeking to establish online as a bona fide new medium for original content and their companies as the leaders in this emerging space. While online was once mainly viewed as clip-oriented or as a distribution outlet for TV and movies, these companies and many others are trying to redefine it for longer-form and episodic storytelling.

    These companies are joined by a host of relative newcomers who also see original online video as strategic: leading newspaper companies like The Wall Street Journal, NY Times and Washington Post, diverse magazines like Time, Better Homes and Gardens, Men's Health, Maxim and others, plus major brands like Red Bull, Orbitz, Ford, IKEA and others. All of them are competing for eyeballs.

    All of this is great news for creatives who are benefiting from massive new interest for their talent. While budgets are generally smaller (Netflix's "House of Cards," debuting on Feb. 1st is a notable exception), online offers creative freedom not possible in the conventional Hollywood system.

    But the biggest beneficiaries of the explosion in online-only originals are viewers themselves. Just as cable programming opened up a wide assortment of new choices relative to the big 3 broadcast networks at the time, online originals are now creating more choices relative to what can be found on pay-TV. And because most online-only originals are freely available, they're also a lower-cost alternative to increasingly expensive pay-TV.

    A year ago, in "Online-Only Originals are Entering a Virtuous Cycle," I asserted that all of the factors necessary to make online-only originals successful were falling into place. A year later, I believe this even more strongly. Connected TV penetration is up. Ad dollars are moving. Social media as a means of discovering new content is vibrant. Video viewership is up and awareness is growing. All of these are the key contributors to driving online originals forward.

    As I survey the landscape, it's clear that with the number of major companies concluding originals are key to their respective strategies, there's every reason to believe they'll continue deepening their commitments to this new medium. As they do, audience behaviors will inevitably shift further, causing still more fragmentation.

    At last night's Golden Globes, cable programs dominated in the TV category, with the big four broadcast networks not winning a single award for the first time ever. Crazy as it sounds now, might the day come when online originals do the same thing to cable?