Amazon's PR machine is gearing up to support the company's imminent push into original programming, with a high-profile piece on Saturday in the Wall Street Journal and today in the NY Times. In both, Amazon video executives are quoted explaining the process by which Amazon selected its first crop of originals, with a particular focus on Garry Trudeau's "Alpha House," the first series that will launch on November 15. No doubt we'll see lots more PR around Amazon's subsequent originals' release.
The PR emphasis is a departure for famously reticent Amazon, but its presence is a sign of how strategic original video has become for the company, and how high the stakes are for it to succeed. Over the past 2 years Amazon has become much more competitive with Netflix in licensing hit TV programs from networks and studios to be included for its Prime members. Now the battleground is shifting to originals.
Categories: Indie Video
A great example of how online video is enabling talent to create new forms of programming targeted to particular audiences is "Extra" co-host Maria Menounos's "AfterBuzz TV." Formed with her partner Keven Undergaro, AfterBuzz TV features live and on-demand "post-game" discussions of dozens of TV shows and movies. AfterBuzz TV is the ultimate water cooler for super-fans who want to drill down on every twist and turn of their favorite shows and characters.
Categories: Indie Video
One of the big trends in the online video world these days is big independent video providers seeking to expand their distribution and monetization beyond YouTube while controlling more of their own destinies. The trend is gaining further momentum as the WSJ is reporting that VEVO intends to launch its music app on Apple TVs and Samsung Smart TVs, and AllThingsD is reporting that Maker Studios is acquiring Blip.
According to comScore's July online video rankings, VEVO was the top-ranked YouTube partner, with 47.6 million unique viewers and 581.9 million videos, while Maker Studios was ranked third, with 28.6 million unique viewers and 530.7 million videos.
If you're looking for a case study on how a successful independent content provider with its roots in YouTube is looking to diversify its distribution through other devices/outlets, "The Young Turks" (TYT) is a great example. Yesterday the company announced the availability of its Roku channel and its intention to launch standalone Android and iOS apps soon. TYT's COO Steve Oh told me these direct-to-consumer initiatives are part of a broader plan to augment - but by no means abandon - its traditional distribution through YouTube.
With 50 million views per month, 1 billion+ views to date, and over 1.1 million subscribers, TYT believes it is the biggest online news show in the world. TYT is a top 50 YouTube partner, and what Steve calls a "boutique multichannel network" (MCN) because it focuses on a relatively narrow slice of partners in online news. While there has been some public grumbling about YouTube from its content partners lately, Steve had nothing but praise for the 800-pound gorilla of the online video world, highlighting that all of TYT's new efforts are an "augment" not a "replacement" for YouTube.
Topics: The Young Turks
Three items last week brought to mind one central question I've long wondered about: can traditionally free, ad-supported online video providers make the leap to a paid, subscription model? The first item was a long piece in Variety that chronicled the struggles the first set of YouTube content partners trying subscriptions is having upselling their free viewers. Second, Reuters broke the news that Machinima, one of the biggest online video players (and a big YouTube partner) is planning to go it alone in creating its own subscription service to complement its free, ad-supported offering. And third was the milestone news that Netflix, by far the most successful online subscription service, garnered 14 Emmy nominations, including 9 for "House of Cards" alone.
How do these all tie together?
Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal debuted its "WSJ Startup of the Year" documentary series, another great example of how online video is enabling print publications to expand well beyond their traditional roots. The series will run for 5 months, featuring 24 early-stage businesses (culled from 500 applicants) competing with one another across a number of challenges while being mentored along the way by over 40 high-profile business leaders. The series plays out in videos created by WSJ and submitted by the startups themselves. It is created in collaboration with Ish Entertainment, founded by Michael Hirschorn, former programming head of VH1.
I've long been a big fan of print publications tapping into online video's potential to enrich their readers' experiences. Print publications like the WSJ have strong brand identities, editorial skills, promotional platforms and advertising relationships they can leverage for their video initiatives. WSJ has been a leader through WSJ Live, which, as of last year, was already producing 100+ hours of live and on-demand original programming/month.
MSN News is the latest high-profile news/information site to partner with Newsy for high-quality, short-form, customized video news clips. In a deal announced today, Newsy's editors will work collaboratively in real time with counterparts at MSN News to create and deliver up to 20 videos/day across categories including world, U.S. politics, science & technology, crime & justice and pop culture. Many videos are already live here and here. They will be distributed across all MSN News platforms.
For Newsy, the MSN News deal is the latest in a string of partnership wins with big news/information sites. In March, Newsy landed a deal with Mashable to create customized videos, which followed other partnerships with AOL/Huffington Post and National Journal. In total, with the MSN News deal, Newsy is creating 200+ custom videos per week for partners, which is part of the 2,000+ videos it creates each month for its own web site, mobile apps and syndication partners such as 5Min, DBG, blinkx, Grab Networks, ClipSyndicate and others. Newsy videos generate over a billion views per year. Newsy uses multiple partner models including revenue sharing and straightforward fees.
I'm pleased to present the 179th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. Yesterday, YouTube confirmed that it will offer content partners the ability to charge for subscriptions. In what its calling a pilot program, 53 subscription channels are being launched, some from established brands like UFC, PGA, National Geographic and Jim Henson, and many more from less well-known content partners.
In this week's podcast Colin and I discuss whether this is a big deal or not. Colin's more bullish than I am, seeing it as a very important piece in the YouTube puzzle, adding to existing advertising, rental and purchase monetization options.
I agree it's smart move by YouTube, but I don't think it's a game-changer. While I see this as the right thing to offer content partners - especially those with huge audiences on YouTube - this is akin to "freemium" type option that will require partners to very clearly differentiate the incremental content available in their subscription tiers in order to convert a small percentage of their free viewers to monthly subscribers.
A complicating factor is that for many users, YouTube subscriptions will be on top of - not a substitute for - already expensive pay-TV monthly bills. Then there's also a Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon or other SVOD subscriptions which already make a claim on finite entertainment dollars too. Lastly, YouTube is perceived as a "free" site by many, so it will take significant promotion by channels to persuade users to pay.
Bottom line: YouTube is doing right by its content partners in offering this capability, but it's up to the content partners themselves to make it successful. My guess is for most partners, advertising will continue to dominate their YouTube-related revenue for a long time to come.
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I'm pleased to present the 178th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. This was NewFronts week, when a slew of content providers presented their slate of programs and initiatives to advertisers. Having attended a couple of the presentations, I was impressed by the turnout, energy and interest, especially since this was only the second year for these types of presentations.
Advertisers have clearly moved online video beyond the experimental stage and are taking a strong interest. Colin and I agree that this is mainly due to viewers' strong adoption of online video viewing. This should only increase as viewers are presented with an exploding array of content choices. We talk more about the role that mobile and apps are playing in all of this too, and why established media needs to be aggressive in this shifting landscape.
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YouTube has been the undisputed 800-pound gorilla of the online video market since the beginning of time. And it's key message to advertisers at last night's "Brandcast" NewFront event was to emphatically remind them of its massive size and its reach into the youth market, factors it believes should drive advertisers' attention and spending.
Whereas last year's Brandcast was all about the 100 new channels that YouTube was funding/launching, this year's event was more of a return to its roots: it's ability to give native digital talent the platform to reach and grow huge audiences. Because a lot of this talent resonates first and foremost with younger digital natives (in Nielsen parlance "Generation C"), YouTube says it's in a unique position to deliver these audiences. YouTube cited Nielsen data that it reaches more 18-34-year-olds than any cable network.
Looking past the thumping music and flashing lights that pervaded AOL's NewFront presentation yesterday, the big theme from the company's new slate of original productions was far quieter: it wants to be the online home for authentic programming from thoughtful creators.
Going this less mainstream route means AOL isn't trying to out-TV TV - like for example Netflix is trying to do with "House of Cards" and its other new shows (how many times have you heard Netflix executives compare their efforts to HBO's?!). Though it is collaborating with some well-known talent such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow and Hank Azaria, AOL's new programs are mainly built around online and offline personalities who have unique perspectives on the world.
I'm pleased to present the 173rd edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. This week we focus on the rising cost of content to pay-TV operators and the rising quality of content found online.
In a post yesterday, Colin validates pay-TV operators' complaints about programming costs, noting, for example, that at Comcast they rose from 34% of video revenue in '08 to 40% in '11 (at Time Warner Cable they were 41% and at DirecTV they were 45%). As we discuss, these escalating costs are eating into operators' profit margins as subscriber rate increases haven't kept pace. As VideoNuze readers know, sports is a major culprit in all of this, though entertainment networks have raised their own rates as well.
Against this backdrop, the quality of content available online is improving markedly. For example in just the past couple of weeks, we've seen Netflix announce another new series, with the producers of The Matrix films and Babylon5, Amazon Studios announce new shows "Betas," "Zombieland" and "Sarah Solves It" and Crackle a second season of "Chosen." Further, anime network Crunchyroll disclosed it's now up to 200K paying subscribers, TheBlaze (Glenn Beck's online video network) is raising $40M. Even the BBC, one of the most traditional TV networks, announced it will be premiering shows on its iPlayer.
In short, the quality of programming online is getting better all the time, while the cost of content to pay-TV operators is escalating, in turn putting pressure on subscriber rates. All of this means viewership patterns are bound to change and with the broader video industry.
Reminder: sign up for "Sizing Up Apple TV" a free video webinar, next Tuesday, April 2nd featuring Brightcove's Jeremy Allaire and me.
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Betsy Morgan, currently president of TheBlaze (Glenn Beck's media company) and former CEO of The Huffington Post and SVP of CBS Interactive, has a highly informed perspective of today's video landscape. And in a recent interview I did with Betsy at NATPE, she doesn't mince words, observing, among other things, that "all of the burdens of legacy media really suck" and that "advertising will be disrupted first" and that "cable still has enormous value."
In her role at TheBlaze, Betsy is on the front lines of defining a new kind of cross-media, personality-driven media company. TheBlaze has a free, ad-supported online property, a subscription service called TheBlaze TV that has 300K members (who pay $9.95/mo) and a distribution deal with Dish Network which it hopes to emulate with others. Betsy explains how in the new video landscape, there's no longer a one-size fits all model; rather what's needed is a flexible approach that serves consumers however and whenever they want to access content.
At NATPE, I sat down with Drew Buckley, COO and Head of Digital for Electus, which has become one of the most successful studios producing programming for both TV and online. In the interview, Drew explains the company's strategy, and how it thinks about different screens or "glowing rectangles."
Among the specific topics Drew discusses:
- How Electus works to get talent to connect with their audiences, through various social media, and which ones Drew has found perform the best.
- How Electus is using its 3 YouTube channels to create and promote its own brands and personalities.
- Why the episode length for its "K-Town" unscripted series on Loud has nearly doubled from 11 minutes to 21 1/2 minutes in its first 2 seasons, proving longer-form does work online.
- What Electus does with brands to help extend their DNA through its original programming, beyond simple product placements.
Categories: Indie Video
I attended the D: Dive Into Media conference earlier this week for the first time. It is mainly a series of one-on-one interviews with senior executives from a variety of media and technology companies, plus networking. Overall it was a great conference, and it's hard to beat a couple of days in beautiful Dana Point, CA, especially when coming off a blizzard in Boston.
My main interest was the video-related sessions, and from those I had 6 takeaways which I share below (along with selected session video clips), in no particular order:
At the NATPE conference in Miami Beach last week I did a series of short one-on-one video interviews, which I'll be posting to VideoNuze over the next couple of weeks.
First up is Rob Barnett, CEO of My Damn Channel, which announced its new "My Damn Channel Comedy Network" at NATPE. In the interview, Rob talks about My Damn Channel's positioning and how the new comedy network differentiates itself. He delves into how he sees bigger online video properties emerging in the same way as happened in cable TV. Other topics Rob discusses:
- More than 30% of the company's videos are now viewed on mobile devices and durations are being mainly kept to 2-3 minutes max as a result.
- Why My Damn Channel continues to focus on the series format, rather than one-off comedic clips.
- The important role of the "human element" in curating how creative work gets noticed and promoted.
- Brand extensions and the importance of entrepreneurs doing one thing right before moving on to others.
Categories: Indie Video
I'm pleased to present the 165th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. This week I first share some reflections from spending 2 days at the NATPE conference earlier this week, focusing on content creators' attitudes toward online video.
That's a segue into discussing "binge-viewing," which will get a lot more visibility starting today, as Netflix releases all 13 episodes of its high-profile original series "House of Cards" (I watched the first 5 minutes of Chapter 1 this morning, and I'm hooked already). We discuss how binge-viewing is changing viewers' expectations and influencing content creators. For more about the pros and cons of Netflix's binge-viewing strategy, see my prior analysis here.
Next we talk about eyeIO, and its THX certification announced yesterday. Colin provides a layman's explanation, that augments his post yesterday, of why this is so important along with the context of H.264 and the new H.265 standard just approved by the ITU. We also review the benefits to content providers and viewers.
Click here to listen to the podcast (19 minutes, 36 seconds)
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.
Categories: Indie Video
This past Saturday night's "Rumble 2012," a half-serious, half-comedic live-streaming debate between Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly was another great example of online video's potential, but also its peril. Here was a situation where the bustling online video medium provided two of TV's biggest stars an unfettered creative and business opportunity, only to be undermined by technical snafus.
In case you weren't following this closely, Rumble 2012 was an online-only live-streaming event staged at George Washington University. Even though many viewers registered in advance, paying the $4.95 fee to watch the live-stream - and therefore indicating to the organizers how much server capacity would be required - a last minute server crash left many viewers unable to watch. I don't quite understand why this occurred, as any high-quality CDN would likely have been able to avoid such a problem. Be that as it may, organizers haven't shared any further details.
Categories: Indie Video
Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group and I are back for the 148th edition of the VideoNuze-TDG podcast.
First up this week we discuss Microsoft hiring former CBS Entertainment executive Nancy Tellem to develop original content for the Xbox platform and other devices. Colin thinks it's a odd choice because of the apparent mismatch between the type of programming CBS has excelled at vs. the type of programming that will likely resonate with Xbox owners. In particular, Colin notes that 40% of Xbox owners are age 18-24, whereas Nielsen has found that CBS's average viewer's age is 55. Clearly Microsoft is betting that Ms. Tellem can extend her significant programming skills to different formats, audiences and devices.
Speaking of confusing, we then turn our attention to comments that Time Warner Cable's COO Rob Marcus made this week in reference to the company potentially working with Apple on a set-top box. On the one hand he said that TWC is "open to giving up control of the user experience" to new devices, but on the other, that this does not mean it is willing "to give up the customer relationship." Both Colin and I find the two objectives at odds with one another, particularly when introducing a UI powerhouse like Apple into the living room. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, if cable operators partner with Apple and its set-top, it will be akin to allowing the fox into the henhouse. We know how that story ended.
Lastly, as frequent flyers, both of us were excited to read about Delta's new in-flight VOD plans, and JetBlue's forthcoming high-speed WiFI rollout. We discuss implications briefly.
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