I continue to be surprised that more long-form premium content providers have not pursued initiatives to slice and dice their programs into a non-linear user presentation. This is what "The Daily Show" has done at its site, deconstructing every episode into searchable clips. I think it's a big opportunity to drive more fan engagement, new ad inventory and provide insight about new programming ideas.
While this idea is a natural for archived sports and news programming, I think the model applies to scripted programs as well. Here's an example:
As I've written before, my wife and I were huge fans of "The West Wing" during its seven-year run on NBC. While we now own the full DVD collection, periodically I'll talk to someone about the show and reminisce about a specific moment from years back. (In fact, TWW seems cosmically related to the current election cycle, given the show's last narrative around 2 candidates - one younger and one older - battling to succeed Bartlet.) This spurs many of those, "boy, I'd love to see that scene right now!" moments.
So wouldn't it be awesome if NBC or Warner Bros. (its producer), or whoever has the rights, were to create a site where all the episodes were archived and fully indexed for searching? This would go far beyond the show's current lame-o web site. I could type in "Bartlet speeches," "Josh meltdowns" or even "C.J.-Danny fights" and instantly see collections of relevant clips.
Before you accuse me of being geeky, stop and consider that we all have our favorite programs and love to relive memorable lines and moments. I'd argue that a really vibrant community could be built at these sites, attracting traditional advertisers eager to continue their audience relationships. Then of course there's the opportunity to embed clips into Facebook and MySpace pages, extending the community further. And think about what this ongoing loyalty would do to drive up the value of broadcast syndication rights.
The big challenge here is indexing the archive. The process must rely heavily on accurate metadata generation, but in a highly scalable, cost-effective manner. That's a mouthful of requirements, so clearly this isn't easy stuff. Various players are trying to crack this nut; two which I've previously written about are Gotuit (which is announcing a partnership with Move Networks today) and EveryZing, but there are others too. Recently I've had briefings with 2 companies that are investing in this area and will have news in the coming months.
Long-from premium providers are facing an onslaught of competition from short-form alternatives while also commonly experiencing a shortage of available inventory. Non-linear presentations of their content addresses both these issues, while delighting loyal fans. I see this as an emerging and sizable opportunity.
Am I missing something here? Post a comment now!
However, a bigger picture question that Dailyshow.com's launch raises is how these direct-to-consumer initiatives work vis-a-vis third-party distribution deals. With media companies newly empowered to engage directly with their audiences using the Internet and broadband, many analysts have predicted the result will be diminishing relevance of third-party aggregators, including everyone from Comcast to Yahoo to Joost to you name 'em.
It's pretty apparent that MTVN/Comedy Central is coming down on the side of heavily emphasizing direct-to-consumer as its broadband video strategy when you combine Viacom's ongoing lawsuit against Google/YouTube, MTVN EVP Erik Flannigan's comment ("People should be reacting to 'The Daily Show' on its own site...God bless them for doing it everywhere else, but this should be the epicenter of it") and a company spokesman's comment ("that a few selected clips could become available on sites through syndication deals").
Count me among those who think this is both the wrong approach and one that will ultimately under-optimize the value of the Daily Show and other franchises in the broadband era. Quite simply, building out a strong direct-to-consumer presence like Dailyshow.com is NOT an either/or decision relative to also developing strong third-party distribution relationships.
In fact, the reality is that strong third-party distribution is essential in the Internet era, because Internet usage is both highly distributed among millions of web sites and also concentrated at a few large portals. Media companies' goal should be to proliferate their content (under the right deals of course) into all the nooks and crannies of the Internet while also striking deals with big portals to maximize exposure, usage and ad revenue.
But don't think distributors get a free ride in the Internet era. They need to prove they can leverage their audience devotion and traffic to drive value for content providers. Those that do will succeed. Proof of this is already emerging. One senior broadband executive recently told me that over 80% of his traffic comes from YouTube and other distribution partners, with his own site's traffic in the minority.
Not aggressively pursuing third-party distribution, as it appears is MTVN's plan, in essence requires that users reorient their behavior to come solely to one uber destination site like Dailyshow.com. To me this smacks of classic traditional media thinking where consumer convenience or preference gets short shrift in the name of what's supposedly "best" for the brand. My guess is if you asked Jon Stewart off the record what his preference is, he'd likely say, "make my stuff available everywhere!"
So kudos to the folks behind Dailyshow.com. But don't let your good works end now. Go out and find the best third-party distributors you can and let them help you extend the Daily Show franchise even further.
Was of course Viacom's $1 billion suit against Google. I must say, all eyes are riveted on this one. My take is that it's hard to believe there isn't a business deal to be made between these two companies that wouldn't be better for both than having the lawyers slugging it out.
Sure YouTube traffic is up since pulling down many of the Viacom clips, but really what does that prove except that YouTube's rapid growth rate can compensate for these kinds of hiccups? For YouTube to maintain its position as the ultimate video destination, it can't afford to have gaps in its clips springing up here and there. So it should be motivated to make a deal, not just with Viacom, but with all big media companies.
As for Viacom, it's inconceivable to me that they are better off not being a part of YouTube. Exhibit A is the free promotion and exposure The Daily Show has received over the last year from YouTube. Viacom's going to have to lock a muzzle on Jon Stewart to prevent him from lambasting his corporate parent's decision.
None of us knows how courts will interpret the DMCA in this case. The legal scholars' comments I've followed this week certainly don't form a consensus. So I continue to believe, as I wrote about last November ("Big Media's Most Vexing Challenge"), that big media companies' traditional copyright control mentalities are causing them to underoptimize their broadband opportunities. The sooner they loosen their traditional copyright approaches, the sooner they'll be able to fully exploit broadband's potential.