Yesterday brought news that MTV Networks has signed a deal with Visible Measures, a third-party analytics firm, to measure broadband video activity across over 340 of its sites. This is by far the biggest deal that Visible Measures has landed to date. And in the torrent of broadband deals and partnerships that hit my inbox each day, I believe this one is noteworthy for 3 reasons:
1. More evidence of syndication's growing importance to major media companies
A number of recent announcements have underscored the broadband market's shift to the "syndicated video economy," but this move by MTV demonstrates how the SVE concept is starting to infiltrate major media companies' thinking. To date many of these companies have taken a somewhat informal approach to syndication, giving users embed code or passing clips on to YouTube for promotion, but not diligently measuring the activity or benefits.
MTV's deal shows serious intent to measure its syndication activity and use the resulting data to help shape its broadband video efforts. As a leader in broadband video, MTV's Visible Measures deal is certain to prompt other major media companies to up their commitment to syndication as well. This would synch with a comment a CEO of a broadband technology vendor told me yesterday: "...every content company we deal with has now prioritized syndication and they are actively addressing the technical, business and political issues."
2. Programming business changing to be more data-centric
You can be sure that when armed with a trove of new Visible Measures-generated data about how its users watch and engage with its video, MTV's programming decisions will be influenced accordingly. As I wrote in my initial post about Visible Measures last June, that's one of the beauties of broadband consumption vs. TV - all user behavior can be tracked and assessed. By knowing - down to the frame - things like when viewers dropped out, what scenes they rewound/viewed repeatedly and what clips they most shared, MTV's programming decisions should become ever smarter.
Stalwart creatives may decry this research-intensive approach to program development, but in media businesses challenged to reduce costs and increase profitability, anything that helps predict what users will watch (and therefore help drive a higher ROI per program) is invaluable. This is especially true for TV networks trying to rationalize the pilot process. Gauging real-life user reactions to various videos online can only make the pilot process more effective.
3. Ad model becomes even more important, and more refined
Though there's wide consensus that advertising will drive the broadband business for the foreseeable future, there is acute anxiety about how advertising will ultimately work (formats, insertion frequency, etc.) and how much revenue it will produce. While there's been plenty of testing to date, there's also been much guesswork involved. MTV for one will now have a bird's-eye view into its users' reactions to various ad implementations so it can continually refine its approach.
Optimizing the broadband ad model is a key issue for all players in the market. Recently I asserted that Hulu is leaving a lot of money on the table with its current ad approach, and is also pressuring parent company NBC's own ad business. I suggested Hulu could insert more ads, but without hard data, it's impossible to say how much more. Here's another example: all those viral SNL clips of Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin could mean real money for NBC, yet without proper tracking and ad implementations their real value is being underoptimized. The list of examples goes on. More data on video usage can really help the ad model.
In sum, MTV's deal with Visible Measures is both a positive step in the ongoing maturation of broadband video, syndication and advertising and a harbinger of more deals to come.
(Note: if you'd like to learn more about MTV's and others' syndication strategies, please join me for a panel I'll be moderating next Tuesday, October 7th at Contentonomics in LA. Joining me are MTV's Greg Clayman, Revision3's Damon Berger, ClipBlast's Gary Baker and EgoTV's Jimmy Hutcheson. Information and registration is here.)