This morning AlphaBird is announcing a deal with FremantleMedia to package and syndicate online the new branded entertainment web series, "As Worn Buy." AlphaBird recently launched as a new video content syndication service and is headed by Chase Norlin and Alex Rowland, both online video industry veterans. I caught up with Chase and Alex to understand how the Fremantle deal works, and also how the company is looking to differentiate itself.
Taking a step back for a moment, AlphaBird is working in the "Syndicated Video Economy" a term I coined a couple of years ago. The SVE is an ecosystem of companies facilitating consumption and monetization of online video across a broad network of sites and environments. In the SVE it is more important for content providers to access eyeballs wherever they happened to be - for example on 3rd party sites, on mobile devices, in social media settings, etc. than to solely try attracting them to a destination web site (along the lines of the "must-see TV" model of appointment, channel-based viewing).
The SVE recognizes that the Internet is a highly fragmented, on-demand centric medium that requires its own unique formulas for success. Everyone working in the SVE understands that it's still very early in the game, and the rules of the road are being figured out in real time. The key to the SVE is simultaneously pleasing the main constituencies - video content creators, advertisers, publisher sites and users. All of this needs to be done in the context of long-standing expectations that each constituency has about how things have always worked. The SVE can't be a revolution; rather, to bring all the constituents along, it needs to gradually migrate from and respect the way things have always been done.
AlphaBird is trying to carve out its role in the SVE by focusing on syndicating branded entertainment (web series with deep brand/product involvement/visibility/placement) to a network of publishers. Alex explained that AlphaBird's key differentiator is to insert the video in an editorial position within publisher web pages, as opposed to in advertising positions (e.g. existing 300x250 in-banner placements). The goal is to provide incremental value to publishers and their audiences. The proposed payoff to the brand is higher awareness (through editorial positioning), engagement (all video is click-to-play) and ROI (all pricing is performance-based). AlphaBird is guaranteeing audience to brands, though not down to certain specific sites just yet. Clarification - AlphaBird is offering site level guarantees.
Given the trend of brands creating their own content, and the difficulty of generating online audiences, AlphaBird's concept is appealing (though to be fair, it's not entirely unique as Grab Networks, for example, also does editorial placements). It's easy to see why Fremantle, which is a content creation expert, but an online video syndication newbie, would value this kind of partnership. Chase said that achieving distribution goals is the number one challenge facing content creators, and that's where AlphaBird is focused.
My main concern is that achieving pure editorial placements is a very heavy lift and is hard to scale. It requires high-touch interactions to gain buy-in from editorial staff who are rightly concerned about their product's integrity (and as a result often bringing a bias against 3rd party video). That creates a far higher bar to clear than convincing the ad team to run something in a location already used for advertising in order to pick up a few extra bucks. A lack of scale would challenge AlphaBird's ability to win deals from major brands requiring significant exposure.
AlphaBird's hand-crafted approach also means a lot of detailed integration and follow-on QA to ensure the video is running according to expectations conveyed to the brand upfront. That would be welcome, given some of the stories emerging about low-quality syndication market activity, but it's costly to deliver. Alex acknowledged all of this and agreed that trying to automate as much as possible is the key to scaling the model successfully.
With the Fremantle deal, AlphaBird is plowing new ground for branded entertainment in the SVE. Chase says the company is already profitable, and it is begin funded from revenue. For those interested in the SVE's ongoing evolution, AlphaBird will also be worth keeping an eye on.
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