Monday, August 25, 2008, 9:45 AM ET|
I've been writing for a while now that broadband gives non-video media companies a whole new strategic growth opportunity. This is especially true for magazines with well-defined brands, strong advertising relationships and sought-after audiences. Few magazines fit that description as well as Vogue, Conde Nast's high-end fashion bible. So I was pleased to read about a month ago that Vogue intended to launch Model.Live, a 12 episode original broadband-only series, in a partnership with IMG.
Model.Live went live recently, and I've caught the first couple of 8 minute episodes. Shot in a reality/documentary style, Model.Live follows the lives of 3 young and aspiring models. With a budget of $3 million, these productions do not feel like run-of-the-mill low-end indie video. There are multiple camera angles, great lighting, and extensive on-location shoots. Absent are the high-end graphics and faux cliff-hanger moments typically seen on TV contest shows.
While many will find the subject matter and dialogue insipid (19 year-old Dutch model Cato's mildly defiant "I can party when I'm 30..." justification for deferring college is a classic eye-roller); my guess is that for Vogue readers and for those interested in the fashion world, these authentic behind-the-scenes peeks will be quite intriguing. For example, in episode 2 we hear Cato's mother expressing her authentic unease with the modeling world's fame and glamour (of course, her star-struck sister more than offsets these reservations).
The video player allows sharing through email, and easy downloading to iPods. Curiously though, there's no commenting or rating available, two tools now widely used to generate audience interactivity. Also missing is any email or RSS alert function so it's not clear how a fan would know when the next episode will be released. There's not even a teaser for what's coming next, a standard promotional tool for serialized TV shows.
Still, Vogue has definitely nailed certain things. It is smartly distributing Model.Live on the social network Bebo, which is sure to gain the show widespread visibility among targeted younger audiences (it is supposed to be available on Hulu and Veoh as well, though searches at both sites yielded no results). And, for a deal in the reported "low seven figures," it signed up Express to be the program's sponsor. Express gets huge visibility in the right panel of the video player, with clothing purchases a few clicks away. Vogue's ability to drive awareness and revenue for Express will certainly influence whether Model.Live continues on after its first season.
Model.Live actually follows several other programs Vogue has released ("Behind the Lens," "The Collections," Trend Watch") yet, it is clearly the most ambitious. These kinds of shows are a natural extension for the brand, and I believe are essential as Vogue seeks to engage an increasingly online audience seeking out video. Other magazines should be taking note.
What do you think? Post a comment.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008, 10:04 AM ET|
Bebo, the social networking giant being acquired by AOL for $850 million, is pioneering a new programming model by mixing original online-only video series, community engagement and brand integration. While in LA last week I attended an invite-only session in which Bebo VP of Marketing Ziv Navoth provided an overview of its approach and elaborated on its upcoming plans.
Since its inception in 2005, Bebo has quickly mushroomed to 40 million+ members with a core audience of 16-24 year olds, concentrated in the U.K. While a distant third to Facebook and MySpace in size, the depth of Bebo's user engagement is significant.
I think Bebo has cleverly grasped the notion that by offering original online video series, it is providing valuable, relatively inexpensive fodder for its members to engage with. So valuable is this programming to serving Bebo's larger corporate mission that its "Open Media" model allows content partners to keep 100% of revenue generated.
Bebo's programming initiatives are gaining traction with its members. Its first series, "KateModern," the successor to "LonelyGirl15," the YouTube phenomenon, received 35 million views in its first season, and is currently averaging 1.5 million views per week, according to the company. Its next series, "Sofia's Diary," is getting half a million viewers per episode according to the company, and its broadcast rights were just acquired by FIVER, the UK broadcaster. Other programs launched or in the works include Vuguru's "The All-for-Nots", "Conquering Demons" (in association with Oakley, the sunglass company) and "The Gap Year."
When you look across all these programs, a key thread is that they all showcase young characters to whom Bebo's audience can easily relate and/or fantasize about being. Ziv repeatedly referenced that in Bebo's model, community and programming are inseparable. Bebo encourages members' feedback and involvement in the stories, and in some cases will bend the narrative to members' desires. Meanwhile Bebo offers a range of community tools to help shows gain promotion to its member base. Bebo's promotional capabilities, massive reach and member engagement are of course the main reasons why producers will seek out Bebo as a partner.
If there's one current weakness I perceive in Bebo's programming model it is monetization. Given its young, media-savvy audience, Bebo knows that advertising must be approached with care. To date Bebo has emphasized product placement, but in a way that "propels the story line forward" according to Ziv, and is believable, not gratuitous. This of course necessitates a lot of custom, one-off selling, which not a model that is scalable across dozens of eventual programs. My guess is that traditional pre-rolls and even possibly overlays will have to play a bigger part if AOL wants to fully monetize Bebo's viewership. If done with proper targeting and capping this could be acceptable to its audience.
What I like about Bebo's programming approach is that it is clearly indigenous to the online medium. As such, it is distinct from models like Hulu, which though also valuable, are primarily new conduits for existing broadcast programming. To the extent Bebo succeeds, it will become a model for how new programming that is exclusively tailored for the online medium will work.
What do you think of Bebo's programming model? Post a comment and let everyone know!
Thursday, May 8, 2008, 8:18 AM ET|
I'm just back from a couple days at Digital Hollywood Spring, one of the broadband industry's leading conferences. A key takeaway for me is that there are still many more outstanding questions about the broadband video industry's future - and their implications for other players in related industries - than there are concrete answers.
Here are 3 big ones worth considering:
What role will current video distributors play in an increasingly broadband-centric world?
The subscription video business, dominated by cable and satellite operators, generates approximately $80 billion/year, depending on whose data you use. The model is well-understood, and is a huge part of funding the value chain of cable networks, rights-holders and TV program producers. Bundling ever more channels (50,70,100+) into digital tiers and charging ever-higher prices for them has been a core industry revenue driver.
Yet data continues to show that out of all those channels, the average household still only watches 5-10 at the most. Couple that with the migration to broadband, DVR and on-demand consumption and one is left with the feeling that there is a significant disconnect between the way video is packaged and priced today with growing consumer expectations and behaviors. Is the current approach sustainable long term or are new players (e.g. Sezmi) going to successfully disrupt the formula? Any major disruption would have significant ripple effects.
Is the ad-supported business model for broadband video going to deliver for all the content providers relying on it?
I've been a big supporter of the ad-supported approach for a while and believe in it strongly in the long-term. Yet as I see more and more content providers, aggregators, social networks and others look to it as their primary business model, I'm growing concerned that in the short-term there isn't going to be enough money to go around to support everyone. To be sure, current growth rates are strong, yet at DH many of advertising's big hurdles to reach long-term success were mulled over: achieving scale, standardizing formats, understanding performance metrics, converting media buyers, targeting, proving interactivity's value and so on.
The efficacy of the broadband ad model online is particularly pressing for broadcasters. Though some research indicates on-air viewership is benefited from online program availability, long-term there can be no question that a substitution effect will take place as viewers decide "do I watch on-air OR online?"
Jeff Zucker, NBCU's CEO tersely captured the threat this poses in his now often-repeated question "are we trading analog dollars for digital pennies?" In other words, if someone watching an NBC show like The Office on Hulu currently brings NBC far less revenue than if they were watching it on-air, is the migration to broadband viewership actually causing a permanent down-sizing of broadcasters' ad revenue per minute viewed? A scary thought to contemplate.
What does all this mean for Hollywood?
Surely less subscription or ad revenue eventually means less money for everyone including the whole Hollywood apparatus that has been funded out of the traditional models. But how, when and to what extent does this play out?
Further, is the very nature of what's expected of Hollywood changing? Herb Scannell, CEO/founder of Next New Networks asserted in his panel that the current generation of 'auteurs' - multi-skilled and motivated people who can write, direct, produce, act and promote implies a far different role for how Hollywood creates value for itself in the future. In fact, Herb believes that technology-empowered talent is the biggest disruptive force to the traditional Hollywood equation.
The point was brought home to me in a offsite function I attended in which Bebo, the massive youth-oriented social network (recently sold to AOL for $850 million), outlined its big push into original entertainment (e.g. "KateModern," "Sofia's Diary," etc.). Their expectations of what they, creators and users will be doing to create value are starkly different from the Hollywood model.
And the questions continue. There are ample reasons to be enthusiastic about broadband video, still, we are living through transformational times impacting every corner of the traditional video value chain. For now many questions loom. Hopefully more answers will be forthcoming soon.
Do you have any answers? Post a comment and let everyone know!
Monday, April 7, 2008, 1:05 PM ET|
Enabling managed syndication is becoming an imperative for video management platforms like Brightcove as customers increasingly seek to proliferate their content to multiple distributors. In particular, social networks like Bebo and others are prime syndication targets. They have huge and highly engaged users who can drive huge volumes of video streams.
However, syndication raises a host of new operational issues, which in turn creates an opportunity for companies like Brightcove to add value to their platforms. Issues include rights management, monetization, tracking/reporting, business model implementation and others. Syndication is an exciting new push for many, but is already starting to pay off. One recent example is CBS Television Stations, which now derives more than 50% of its total monthly streams just through its syndication deal with Yahoo.
(Note: Brightcove is a VideoNuze sponsor)
Tuesday, March 18, 2008, 10:17 AM ET|
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.
Monday, November 19, 2007, 10:16 AM ET|
Does TV programming beget broadband video programming or is it the other way around?
If you were expecting a simple answer, recent evidence suggests that none will be forthcoming. Step away from the relatively straightforward model of streamed or downloaded TV episodes, and the question of how original video content will be produced and distributed between broadband and TV is whole lot more complicated. Layer on the writers' strike and the world only fogs up further.
For those who see broadband as a pathway to TV, Quarterlife's deal announced last Friday with NBC to bring their new Quarterlife series to the network following its run on MySpace offers encouragement that Internet programming can move to the TV (bear in mind that Quarterlife was originally pitched as a TV series however).
Another example is TMZ.com, which has been successfully syndicated as TMZ TV this fall by Warner Bros. TMZ shows us that a brand that was created and built solely online can make the leap to TV. And just last week TV Week reported that Twentieth Television and Yahoo were close to a deal to create a new syndicated series based on popular broadband videos that they've collected.
On the flip side, there is plenty of evidence of opportunities for TV programs spinning off broadband programming, or existing TV producers with assets and skills pushing into broadband as a first outlet for their work.
Consider Sony's Minisode Network, with distribution on MySpace, Joost, AOL and Crackle. In an effort to squeeze more life out of its library of classics, in June Sony launched abbreviated versions, for broadband "snacking". This initiative is being closely watched as a model for how to repurpose existing assets to make them more palatable for attention-challenged online audiences.
And Endemol's recent deal with Bebo to produce "The Gap Year" series for exclusively for Bebo's audience shows that a successful TV producer is turning its sites on broadband as a first outlet.
All of these deals underscore broadband's disruptive nature - its ability to create new opportunities for incumbent players, and also for new entrants. My read is that most (though not all) broadband producers would love to make the leap to the TV. In the mean time, broadband offers a low-cost, interactive distribution path to experiment with more engaged audiences.
Many key industry players are now waking up to the idea that broadband is fundamentally re-writing traditional equations of how to extract value from well-produced video. But these equations are not yet well-understood. Some of the early deals, as outlined above, will be showing everyone the way.
Friday, April 13, 2007, 5:50 PM ET|
Yesterday’s announcement from CBS that it has formed the CBS Interactive Audience Network, and partnered with AOL, Microsoft, CNET, Comcast, Joost, Bebo, Brightcove, Netvibes, Sling Media and Veoh provides even more discussion material for the Super Session panel I’m moderating, which is coming up on Tuesday, April 17th at NAB 2007 (“The Revolutionizing Impact of Broadband Video”).I’m always a little reluctant to use a word like “revolutionizing”, as it just feels a bit hyperbolic. Yet, what CBS announced yesterday, in combination with the NBC-News Corp JV announcement a few weeks ago sure does seem to signal that these networks themselves are willing to take new risks and be much more opportunistic with how their prized programs get to audiences’ homes. I give these companies all a lot of credit – they are demonstrating a willingness to challenge their existing (and longstanding) business models though the economics and potential of these new models are not yet clear.We’ll be getting into all of this and more at NAB – come join us!
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