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Analysis for 'Branded Entertainment'

  • Digitas' NewFront: Convergence Underway, Challenges Remain

    Following this year's successful TV advertising upfront, yesterday Digitas' branded entertainment arm, The Third Act, presented its third annual and playfully titled, Digital Content NewFront. The similarities are in name only though, as the NewFront is a conference and social gathering, bringing together and showcasing top tier online content creators, distributors, and forward-thinking brands.

    Before you start thinking NewFront is a bunch of web wannabes looking for their big break, the guest list was actually packed with tons of traditional media talent who have also been pursuing online content, such as Kevin Pollack, Jason Bateman, Lisa Kudrow, Teri Hatcher, and even Martha Stewart. Their involvement underscores how traditional and new media convergence is already well underway, propelled by branded entertainment.

    The enthusiasm at the NewFront was abundant, with Mark Beeching, Digitas' Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, trumpeting in his opening remarks, "Online video is no longer a three minute trivial sideshow!" Still, illustrating the mixed motivations of many online content creators, Ricky Van Veen, of CollegeHumor and IAC's branded content wing, Electus, noted that most creators still view online video as a stepping-stone to TV or film. 
     
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  • 4 Items Worth Noting for the Jan 18th Week (YouTube rentals, Newspaper bankruptcies, Prada's film, iSlate hype)

    Following are 4 items worth noting for the January 18th week:

    1. YouTube dips toe into film rentals, more to come - This week YouTube took a very small step into film rentals, announcing that 5 indie films will be available for $3.99 apiece until the end of the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 31st, and that it is launching a "Filmmakers Wanted" program to bring additional indie films (and possibly other content) to YouTube's audience for rental.

    Last fall, when the WSJ first broke the news that YouTube was negotiating with a number of Hollywood studios about launching a full-blown rental store, I thought the plan was intriguing, but dubious. I argued that YouTube needed to stay focused on getting its ad model right, that it would be hard to differentiate its film rentals from those of myriad competitors and that the revenue upside for YouTube was relatively small.

    I continue to believe those things and hope YouTube isn't still pursuing Hollywood dreams. That said, I do like the idea of it offering a paid option for indie and other hard-to-find video. YouTube's massive audience brings real promotional value to these often-obscure, yet high-quality titles, potentially significant revenue to their producers and for YouTube, another meaningful step away from pure UGC content. Rentals won't generate significant revenue for YouTube, but with Google executives on the company's earnings call yesterday saying that "YouTube is monetizing well," so long as it doesn't divert too many resources away from advertising, that's ok.

    2. Revenue models matter, just ask the newspaper industry - This week brought news that MediaNews Group, publisher of 54 U.S. newspapers, including the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News, will file for bankruptcy. For those keeping count, it's at least the 13th bankruptcy filing by a major U.S. newspaper publisher in the last year.

    While the newspaper industry has been racked by the recession and ad-spending slowdown, the larger issue is that 15 years since the Internet's popularity took off, newspapers still have not been able to define a sustainable online business model. Many simply lunged headlong into providing their full print editions online, only to find out that online advertising wasn't sufficient to support their overhead and that Google commoditized their headlines. Others, like the NYTimes tried (and will continue to try) to find a balance between advertising and reader payments.

    I've touched on this before, but the havoc being wreaked in the newspaper is a red-letter warning to video industry participants to cautiously guard existing revenue models while transitioning to digital delivery. Some consumers and techies may consider a deliberate pace to be bureaucratic foot-dragging, but for video content producers and distributors to remain viable, a deliberate ready-aim-fire approach to digital delivery is essential.

    3. Prada's short online film is intriguing - speaking of newspapers, lately I've become convinced that one of the choicest pieces of online real estate for advertisers is the home page of NYTimes.com, which I frequent. On any given day you'll see huge rich media ads and roadblocks for high-profile brands and product launches. One that caught my attention earlier this week was by luxury fashion company Prada, promoting a 9-minute film by Chinese director Yang Fudong called "First Spring" (it's also available on YouTube) in which the actors are wearing Prada menswear.

    I'm not a Prada patron, and I found the film dreary and odd, nonetheless, what intrigued me was how online video has given Prada a whole new outlet to build its brand's aura, a key to success for all luxury brands. Buying TV ads would be incredibly inefficient for Prada, and magazine spreads only go so far. With a short online film, Prada can target its audience well and engage them as long as it pleases. For creative and advertising types alike, that's a compelling opportunity.

    4. Get ready for the week of the Apple tablet - In case you missed it, this week Apple sent invites to the press for a Jan. 27th event to "come see our latest creation" - widely believed to be the company's new tablet computer. The buzz behind the product, thought to be called the "iSlate," has been steadily building for weeks now. Next week it will reach a crescendo. We can expect Steve Jobs to bring his A game to the mother of all product demos as the stakes are high for Apple to deliver major wows.

    While the product will no doubt be off the charts cool, the nagging question is whether large numbers of people will buy it for the rumored price of $1,000. Gadgets in that price range rarely get much traction, so to succeed the iSlate has to offer essential new value. Video could be its key differentiator, especially if Apple has new content deals to announce. A connected iSlate, with a gorgeous screen and easy portability (sort of an "iPhone on steroids") could open yet another chapter in video distribution and consumption.

    Enjoy your weekend!

     
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  • 4 Items Worth Noting for the Oct 19th Week (FCC/Net neutrality, Cisco research, Netflix earnings, Yahoo-GroupM)

    Following are 4 items worth noting from the Oct 19th week:

    1. FCC kicks off net neutrality rulemaking process among flurry of input - As expected, the FCC kicked off its net neutrality rulemaking process yesterday, with all commissioners voting to explore how to set rules regulating the Internet for the first time, though Republican appointees dissented on whether new rules were in fact needed.

    Leading up to the vote there was a flurry of input by stakeholders and Congress. Everyone agrees on the "motherhood and apple pie" goal that the Internet must remain open and free. The disagreement is over whether new rules are required to accomplish this, and if there are to be new rules what specifically should they be. As I argued here, the FCC is treading into very tricky waters, and law of unintended consequences looms. Already telco executives are talking about curtailing investments in network infrastructure, the opposite of what the FCC is trying to foster. The FCC will be seeking input from stakeholders as part of the process. Even though chairman Genachowski's bias to regulate is very clear, let's hope that as the data and facts are presented, the FCC is able to come to right decision, which is to leave the well-functioning Internet alone.

    2. New Cisco research substantiates video, social networking usage - Speaking of the well-functioning Internet, Cisco released its Visual Networking Index study this week based on research gathered from 20 leading service providers. Cisco found that the average broadband connection consumes 4.3 gigabytes of "visual networking applications" (video, social networking and collaboration) per month, or the equivalent of 20 short videos. (Note that comScore's Aug data said of the 161 million viewers in the U.S. alone, the average number of videos viewed per month was 157.) I'm not sure what the difference is other than Cisco is measuring global traffic and comScore data is at U.S. only. Regardless, the Cisco research continues to demonstrate that users are shifting to more bandwidth-intensive applications, and the Internet is scaling up to meet their demands.

    3. Netflix reports strong Q3 '09 earnings, streaming usage surges - Netflix continues to stand out as unaffected by the economy's woes, reporting its Q3 results late yesterday that included adding 510,000 net new subscribers, almost double the 261,000 from Q3 '08. The company finished the quarter with 11.1 million subs and projects to end the year with 12 to 12.3 million subs. If Netflix were a cable operator it would be the 3rd largest, just behind Time Warner Cable, which has approximately 13 million video subscribers.

    Netflix CEO Reed Hastings also disclosed that 42% of Netflix's subscribers watched a TV episode or movie using the "Watch Instantly" streaming feature during the quarter, up from 22% in Q3 '08. Hastings also said in 2010 the company will begin streaming internationally, even though it has no plans to ship DVDs outside the U.S. He added that in Q4 Netflix will announce yet another CE device on which Watch Instantly will be available (just this week it also announced a partnership with Best Buy to integrate Watch Instantly with Insignia Blu-ray players). Net, net, Watch Instantly looks like it's getting great traction for Netflix and will continue to be a bigger part of the company's mix. Yet as I've mentioned in the past, a key challenge for Netflix is making more content available for streaming.

    4. Yahoo's pact with GroupM for original branded entertainment raises more questions - Shifting gears, Yahoo and GroupM, the media buying powerhouse announced a deal this week to begin co-producing original branded entertainment for advertisers. The idea is to then distribute the video throughout Yahoo's News, Sports, Finance and Entertainment sections. GroupM has had some success in the past, as its "In the Motherhood" series, created for Sprint and Unilever, was picked up by ABC, though it was quickly canceled. As I pointed out in my recent post about Break Media, branded entertainment initiatives continue to grow.

    Less clear to me is Yahoo's approach to video. CEO Carol Bartz said last month that "video is so crucial to our users and our advertisers..." that "there's a big emphasis inside Yahoo on our video platforms" and that "a big cornerstone of our strategy is video." OK, but these comments came just months after Yahoo closed down its Maven Networks platform, which it had only acquired in Feb '08. Having spent time at Maven, I can attest that its technology would have been well-suited to supporting the engagement and interactivity requirements of these new Yahoo-GroupM branded entertainment projects. Yahoo's video strategy, such as it is, remains very confusing to me.

    Note there will be no VideoNuze email on Monday as I'll be in Denver moderating the Broadband Video Leadership Breakfast at the CTAM Summit...enjoy your weekend!

     
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  • 4 Items Worth Noting (comScore, Viral videos' formula, Netflix, VideoSchmooze) for Sept 26th Week

    Following are 4 news items worth noting from the week of Sept. 26th:

    1. Summer '09 was a blockbuster for online video - comScore released U.S. online video viewership data early this week, providing evidence of how big a blockbuster the summer months were for each metric comScore tracks. The 3 metrics that I watch most closely each month showed the healthiest gains vs. April, the last pre-summer month comScore reported. Total videos viewed in August were 25.4 billion, a 51% increase over April's 16.8 billion. The average number of videos watched per viewer was 157, up 41% from April's 111. And the average online video viewer watched 582 minutes (9.7 hours), a 51% increase from April's 385 (6.4 hours).

    Also worth noting was YouTube crossing the 10 billion videos viewed in a single month mark for the first time, maintaining a 39.6% share of the market. According to comScore's stats I've collected, YouTube has been in the 39% to 44% market share range since May '08, having increased from 16.2% in Jan '07 when comScore first started reporting. Hulu also notched a winning month. While its unique viewers fell slightly to 38.5M from 40.1M in April, its total video views increased from 396M to 488.2M, with its average viewer watching 12.7 videos for a total of 1 hour and 17 minutes. It will be very interesting to see if September's numbers hold these trends or dip back to pre-summer levels.

    2. So this is how to make funny viral branded videos - I was intrigued by a piece in ClickZ this week, "There's a Serious Business Behind Funny Viral Videos" which provided three points of view - from CollegeHumor.com, The Onion and Mekanism (a S.F.-based creative production agency) - about how to make branded content funny and then how to make it go viral. The article points out that a whole new sub-specialty has emerged to service brands looking to get noticed online with their own humorous content.

    Humor works so well because the time to hook someone into a video is no more than 2-3 seconds according to Mekanism's Tommy Means. Beyond humor, successful videos most often include stunts or cool special effects or shock value. Once produced the real trick is leveraging the right distribution network to drive viral reach. For example, Means describes a network of 100 influencers with YouTube channels who can make a video stand out. After reading the article you get the impression that there's nothing random about which funny videos get circulated; there's a lot of strategy and discipline involved behind the scenes.

    3. Wired magazine's article on Netflix is too optimistic - I've had several people forward me a link to Wired magazine's article, "Netflix Everywhere: Sorry Cable You're History" in which author Daniel Roth makes the case that by Netflix embedding its streaming video software in multiple consumer electronics devices, the company has laid the groundwork for a rash of cable cord-cutting by consumers.

    I've been bullish for sometime on Netflix's potential as an "over-the-top" video alternative. But despite all of Netflix's great progress, particularly on the device side, its Achilles' heel remains content selection for its Watch Instantly streaming feature (as an example, my wife and I have repeatedly tried to find appealing recent movies to stream, but still often end up settling for classic, but older movies like "The English Patient").

    Roth touches on this conundrum too, but in my opinion takes a far too optimistic point of view about what a deal like the one Netflix did with Starz will do to eventually give Netflix access to Hollywood's biggest and most current hits. The Hollywood windowing system is so rigid and well-protected that I've long-since concluded the only way Netflix is going to crack the system is by being willing to write big checks to Hollywood, a move that Netflix CEO is unlikely to make. The impending launch of TV Everywhere is going to create whole new issues for budding OTT players.

    Although I'm a big Netflix fan, and in fact just ordered another Roku, I'm challenged to understand how Netflix is going to solve its content selection dilemma. This is one of the topics we'll discuss at VideoNuze's CTAM Summit breakfast on Oct. 26th in Denver, which includes Roku's VP of Consumer Products Tim Twerdahl.

    4. VideoSchmooze is just 1 1/2 weeks away - Time is running out to register for the "VideoSchmooze" Broadband Video Leadership Evening, coming up on Tues, Oct 13th from 6-9pm at the Hudson Theater in NYC. We have an amazing discussion panel I'll be moderating with Dina Kaplan (blip.tv), George Kliavkoff (Hearst), Perkins Miller (NBC Sports) and Matt Strauss (Comcast). We'll be digging into all the hottest broadband and mobile video questions, with plenty of time for audience Q&A.

    Following the panel we'll have cocktails and networking with industry colleagues you'll want to meet. Registration is running very strong, with companies like Sprint, Google/YouTube, Cox, MTV, Cox, PBS, NY Times, Morgan Stanley, Hearst, Showtime, Hulu, Telemundo, Cisco, HBO, Motorola and many others all represented. Register now!

     
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  • VideoNuze Report Podcast #34 - October 2, 2009

    Daisy Whitney and I are pleased to present the 34th edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, for October 2, 2009.

    This week Daisy and I first discuss my post "Break Media Gains Momentum with Branded Content in 2009" in which I describe how Break, a male-focused entertainment community, has used branded content to differentiate itself and increase revenues. Branded content is a relatively new media form where sponsors fund the production process and have significant creative input or outright control.

    Break has been able to offer branded content projects as a value ad to sponsors' media buys on its sites by allocating a percentage of the client's media spend to the projects. I describe how Break does this, along with how branded content has helped it separate itself from competitors and grow revenue by a projected 18% this year.

    Related, Daisy then talks about pricing trends in the online video advertising market, quoting ad network BrightRoll's CEO Tod Sacerdoti as saying that he's seen CPMs drop by an average of a dollar or more per quarter since launching in 2006. In his view prices have been inflated due to a "false equilibrium" about inventory scarcity. He sees prices continuing to fall into the low teens, a level at which more advertiser's budgets will flow into the online video medium - though not necessarily from TV. Learn more about Tod's predictions for the industry and Daisy's interpretations.

    Click here to listen to the podcast (14 minutes, 12 seconds)

    Click here for previous podcasts

    The VideoNuze Report is available in iTunes...subscribe today!

     
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