Today I'm pleased to share a video interview I did with Vuguru's Chief Creative Officer Kristin Jones at the recent NATPE Market conference in Miami, FL. Among other topics, Kristin describes Vuguru's business model, some of the successful originals that it has created, how she sees online distributors differentiating themselves and where the market for digital content is heading from here.
The interview runs about 7 minutes. (Note, I'm off camera and my audio isn't great, so the questions are overlaid in text.)
Last week I had a chance to sit down with Brent Weinstein, CEO/founder of 60Frames, which is among a new group of companies I refer to as "broadband studios." This is a category that has generated a healthy amount of funding and activity recently, including, among others, Next New Networks ($23 million to date), Generate ($6 million), Revision3 ($9 million), Stage 9 (Disney/ABC's in-house unit), Vuguru (Michael Eisner's shop) and a slew of comedy-focused initiatives. 60Frames itself has raised $3.5 million from Tudor, Pilot Group and others.
The impetus for 60Frames came when Brent was heading up digital entertainment at UTA and observed that many clients wanted to create digital/broadband fare but wanted a partner for the same roles they've come to expect studios to handle (e.g. financing, distribution, legal, creative, etc.). 60Frames aims to differentiate itself from the pack by being "artist-friendly" - allowing greater creative control and more significant ownership and by relying on strong relationships. With an existing staff of 11 and a goal of launching 50 programs by year end, the 60Frames team is no doubt going full tilt.
60Frames is following a traditional portfolio approach, working with great talent (Coen brothers, John August, Tom Fontana, others) but recognizing that results in this new medium will vary - there will be some winners and some losers. The goal is obviously to have the best ratio possible. Traditional studios improve their odds by using collective history and data about what types of projects succeed and which ones don't. But no such lengthy track record or data exists in broadband just yet, so it's a lot more speculative pursuit.
I asked Brent if there's any creative formula 60Frames is using to guide its decision-making. He was pretty emphatic that there's no "formula," but did concede 60Frames is focused on short-form (under 5 minutes), is biased toward comedy where episodes can stand alone more readily, and is mainly looking at niche audiences with a bulls-eye of 18-34 men, where consumption is highest.
Nurturing relationships and developing great content is only part of the equation for these budding studios' success. Distribution and monetization are also incredibly important, as broadband necessitates an entirely different model. Regarding distribution, I was encouraged to see 60Frames is solidly in the syndication camp to the point that it has not even set up destination sites for its 7 launched programs yet. 60Frames has a network of partners including Bebo, blip.tv, DailyMotion, iTunes, MySpace, YouTube and others. Gaining access to all the popular online destinations will accelerate success. Meanwhile advertising is being handled by partner SpotRunner, which has deep hooks in the space.
Broadband studios like 60Frames harken back to the original studio moguls in some ways - taking creative and financial risk to explore what works in a new medium. It's way too early to know if or to what extent they'll succeed, but if they do we can expect a gold rush of imitators.
This list continues to grow. Here are some of the names that are on it, and their activities:
What do all these big names see? In 2 words: colossal opportunity. Broadband is a wide open playing field. They all understand that a classic paradigm shift is happening in the video industry and are rushing to understand the medium and its new rules. How to engage audiences? How to monetize most effectively? How to optimize the formats? How to retain creative control?This activity is only going to accelerate. As early successes get more publicity and the business models crystallize expect even more big Hollywood talent to jump on the broadband video bandwagon.
WSJ reported today that DailyMotion, the French video sharing site, has raised $34 million in a round led by Advent Venture Partners LLP of London and AGF Private Equity. This financing adds to a wave of capital that has poured into the overall ad-supported video sharing/video aggregator platform space in the last few months.
Companies that I think fit in this group that have recently raised big money are Joost ($45 million), Veoh ($26 million), Metacafe ($30 million) and blip.tv ($10 million). Hulu, the NBC-News Corp JV which raised $100 million could even be considered in this category. And thinking a little more broadly you could include sites like Heavy.com, Break, Vuguru, Next New Networks, DaveTV, Babelgum, BitTorrent and others which are creating and/or aggregating broadband programming.
To be fair, each of these companies has a slightly different approach to their content strategy (pure aggregation vs. original development vs. hybrids), market positioning and technology capabilities. However, as best I can tell, they're all trying to offer distinctive video content into broadband-only delivery networks and to one extent or another, surround this programming with interactive tools. The intended result is unique viewing experiences.
In the aggregator roles they play, they're muscling themselves into the market owned by traditional video distributors like cable and satellite operators, and more recently telcos. These new companies are all very interesting to watch because ultimately they must do at least 3 things to generate traffic and revenue: (1) differentiate themselves from each other, (2) add value to content providers/producers relative to CPs/producers relying solely on a direct-to-consumer approach and (3) shift viewing time from the traditional distributors' programming to their own.
Any one of these would be a pretty high hurdle to get over. Doing all three will be even tougher. Yet a lot of smart money keeps backing these companies, further demonstrating how hot this overall category is -- and how quickly it could become overfunded. But I don't expect things to cool down any time soon. We can expect further funding in this space as investors clamor to get a piece of the action in broadband video.
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Well, it seems to me that the same type of vast selection is coming to the world of video. For example, a number of recent broadband video-related announcements have further convinced me that we are on the cusp of experiencing an explosion in the quantity of high-quality video available and choices we’re all offered.
Consider these recently-announced examples:
- Next New Networks – founded by a group of ex-Viacom executives, plans to launch 101 “micro-networks, consisting of 3-11 minutes of content refreshed on a schedule, daily, weekly, or bi-weekly.”
- Michael Eisner, Disney’s former CEO, has launched Vuguru, a studio that will produce and distribute videos. Its first release is a project called "Prom Queen," which is a scripted 80-episode mystery consisting of 90-second episodes.
- Stephen Bochco (creator of “L.A. Law” and “Hill Street Blues”), has partnered with Metacafe, a broadband video destination site initially to produce “Cafe Confidential," 44-clip online series, with others to follow.
- MSN has continued to rollout of its “Originals” series, having now launched half a dozen different programs.
To this list can be added broadband video initiatives from dozens of cable TV networks, online publishers, magazines, newspapers, broadcast stations, brand marketers and others.
Add it all up, and indeed, we are on the cusp of a world awash in video.
How to Succeed?
With all this video coming online, the question begs: can all of these producers succeed in building their audiences and actually turning a profit? To me, there are 5 key success factors for any of these players:
Target your audience and incent their participation – In the cable TV business, the smartest business plans identified target audiences and then relentlessly programmed to them. Examples included music aficionados, sports fans and science fiction fanatics. Knowing the audience you’re going after, what their interests are, where gaps exist in current programming, and how to address audiences on their terms are all key. But all that’s not enough. It’s also crucial to incent audience participation in the development, promotion and review process. Like it or not, audiences are now able to be active programming partners. Their talent and passion needs to be harnessed.
Produce inexpensively – Beyond just programming to the target audiences, it is essential to produce inexpensively. Cable budgets are lower than network budgets. Broadband video budgets must be lower still, at least for now. Audience sizes will be smaller and so for a while to come ad dollars will be scarcer. Plus smaller budgets can result in more edgy, authentic-feeling video which broadband users actually expect anyway. Producing on a shoestring will certainly be an adjustment process for the big-name TV talent now piling into broadband.
Appeal to advertisers – In the scrappy world of broadband video, understanding what matters to advertisers when developing programming is more important than ever. Since audiences will be far smaller, advertisers aren’t going to be buying reach. Rather, they’re going to being the niches they value. The better your programming appeals to identifiable and valuable audiences (see above), the easier it will be to find advertisers willing to open their wallets.
Distribute widely and syndicate often – Traditional TV was about driving audiences to specific channels at specific times. The Internet is all about making content available wherever audiences live and whenever they want access. Broadband will follow the same rules. So learning to distribute content widely and leveraging new syndication networks and technologies is key. For now, terms for these types of deals will vary considerably.
Be flexible – Given its early-stage nature, there are no formulas yet for how any of this will ultimately work. So job # 1 is appealing to your audiences and building their loyalty. Since there are no expensive pilots to shoot, it’s key to “invest a little and learn a lot.” Be willing to change direction on a dime. When it comes to broadband video, a rigid mindset is the enemy.
The Golden Age is Upon Us I’ve been telling people for a while now that we’re entering a “golden age of video”. Broadband’s open platform removes much of the traditional friction associated with delivering video into target audience’s homes. When combined with new, low cost production equipment and editing software, the result is an exploding array of new video choices. For creative people, this is liberating and exhilarating - truly a golden age. For consumers, it is going to be an era of unprecedented choice. For everyone, it’s going to be a world awash in video.
Categories: Indie Video