Nielsen announced this morning that it will begin giving video clients credit in its Digital Content Ratings service for views generated on Facebook and YouTube. Hulu will also start giving certain content partners credit for current series available on its streaming service.
The move is significant because it means an independent third party measurement service will be providing audience metrics that can be used when aggregating total viewing across platforms. It’s particularly noteworthy because video providers are leveraging the “distributed model” by pumping video through YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms to massively expand their reach and drive their business models.
When Discovery announced that it was acquiring Scripps Networks Interactive earlier this week for $14.6 billion, a lot of the coverage naturally focused on how the combined companies will have more leverage in their pay-TV carriage negotiations and also how significant cost-savings and synergies will result.
While all of that is true, the inescapable reality is that because pay-TV subscriptions as a whole are shrinking, Discovery’s best case scenario is that it can get a larger piece of a smaller pie. A far more interesting angle, to me at least, is how the company can accelerate its online and social video initiatives. A prime place to start would be by looking at the success that Scripps’ Food Network is having in 2017, as it as slightly surpassed BuzzFeed’s well-publicized Tasty, in the hotly competitive social video food space.
Earlier this week when Conde Nast pulled the plug on Gourmet magazine and 3 other titles, there was much hand-wringing about the depressed state of the magazine industry. But while falling ad sales, costs of production, editorial issues and redundancy were all contributors to the 68 year-old Gourmet's ultimate fate, in my view, its failure is part of a much larger story of how much the media business has evolved. More specifically, Gourmet offers abundant lessons for those trying to successfully navigate the broadband era.
Gourmet, and its owner Conde Nast, are part of a proud media tradition that relied mainly on tying an editorial approach and brand to one specific media outlet - the magazine. In this traditional paradigm, the media world was thought of in terms of categories: broadcast TV network, newspaper, radio, cable, etc. While the same corporate owner might have interests across categories, the specific mission of each media property was well-defined: turn out the best product possible for your chosen medium and keep your audience and advertisers coming back for more. (As a sidenote, this is a key reason why most magazine companies did not launch cable TV networks related to their areas of specialty 25 years ago, thereby opening the field for upstarts.)
The problem is that this model is out of synch with the way many real people actually experience media today. People affiliate with media brands in a more deeply self-identifying way. It's no longer just the information and entertainment that's conveyed, but also about the statement affiliating with that media brand makes and/or the implied trust and comfort that's provided. For better or for worse - depending on your perspective - brand affiliation is now a deeply ingrained part of our cultural landscape.
Smart advertisers know this too. They are not just interested in just reaching their target audience when they pick up a magazine for example. They want to surround consumers with their brand whenever consumers engage with their chosen media. Advertisers continue to grapple with how to optimize their media spending to gain mindshare and drive sales.
Forward-thinking media companies have realized for sometime now that changing consumer and advertiser preferences must drive the way they do business, not the other way around. Two examples I like to cite are ESPN and Food Network, two highly successful cable networks that have built strong media brands and prospered by constantly reinforcing the value of their core franchises.
Among the many non-cable activities each has launched are successful magazines. That may seem ironic given the magazine industry's woes, but in truth each has figured out how to extend their brand, editorial, and importantly, advertiser interest into print. Food Network magazine's recent success is all the more remarkable; while Conde Nast has undergone a wrenching downsizing, Food Network Magazine, which launched in October '08 (in partnership with Hearst), has recently expanded its circulation base to 900,000, nearly on par with what Gourmet achieved after 68 years.
Noteworthy for ESPN and Food Network have been their successful online initiatives and push into broadband video, all reinforcing their core franchises. In addition to its ad and commerce supported web sites, ESPN has rolled out ESPN 360, a subscription online video service available in 41 million U.S. broadband homes for which ISPs pay a monthly fee. Food Network too has been busy expanding its franchise in online video, among other things recently launching Food2, a broadband-only channel catering to younger viewers that cultivates up-and-coming talent. And as I wrote on Monday, Scripps Networks (Food's owner) just announced a deal with 5Min (an online video syndication platform) to proliferate its content across the web while also gaining access to additional targeted ad inventory to sell.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
(note: I've been under the weather this week, which explains yesterday's absence of VideoNuze. I'm getting back on my feet and hope to be resuming regular publication)
Late last week Scripps Networks, parent of cable networks Food Network, HGTV, FLN and others, launched Food2, a web site targeting the 21-34 demo. Scripps has long been a leader among cable networks in capitalizing on online/broadband's potential, and this newest entry is yet another example of how important broadband is to cable networks' future growth. I spoke with Bob Madden, GM of Food's online properties to learn more.
First and foremost, Food2 is distinguished by its focus on the 21-34 demo. One of the interesting things about Food Network on air has been its appeal to younger audiences (this will likely resonate with those of you who have teenagers). But based on research it conducted Food executives realized that - no surprise - younger audiences want to experience food-related content in different ways: with shorter form non-linear content, more emphasis on experimental tastes and increased access to social/content sharing tools.
So Food2 was conceived as an effort to "super-serve" this audience. Scripps defines Food2 as "designed to be a social experience - just like food itself. It's the intersection of food, drink and pop culture." With a heavy emphasis on Facebook/Twitter integration, tons of short videos featuring hip young culinary talent and original webisodes plus challenges, recipes and tips, Food2 seeks to live up to its goal of experiencing food through the eyes of millennials.
To me, Scripps' real insight from a business perspective is recognizing that broadband creates new "shelf space" for them to launch properties that target specific audiences and in turn specific advertisers seeking to reach those audiences. This matters a lot because due to existing contracts with cable/satellite/telco operators, cable networks have been constrained, at least relative to broadcast networks, in their ability to fully distribute online their popular full length programs (for example, there is no Food Network content on Hulu). While these contracts have led cable networks to achieve highly stable financial performance in this rocky economy, it has deprived them of fully serving their audiences.
Food2 demonstrates that there's online value to be built separate and aside from simply distributing full-length programs online. And because Food2 will be promoted on Food Network's air, and will have some of its advertising sold in packages with Food Network and other Scripps properties, it is off to a running start. Lastly, while Scripps doesn't want Food2 to be seen as a "farm team" for Food Network, there's no question that if talent gets traction on Food2, it has the potential to migrate to the 90M homes that Food Network is carried in, offering lots of interesting upside.
Food2 is a tangible example of a traditional media company recognizing that younger audiences want to consume media differently and that broadband is a new kind of medium that can serve them accordingly. With practically all cable networks savoring access to younger audiences, I expect Food2 will be watched by others and eventually spawn similarly targeted sites.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Categories: Cable Networks
Scripps Networks, owner of the powerhouse cable brands HGTV and Food Network plus niche brands DIY, Fine Living and GAC, is joining the syndication fray, today announcing a deal with AOL Video for distribution of clips from at least 25 of its programs. The deal stops short of full program syndication along the lines of last week's Comedy Central-Hulu deal and others, but is still a meaningful step in extending these brands beyond the borders of their respective web sites.
I've been following Scripps Networks for a long while and recently got a briefing from Deanna Brown, who serves as president of the Interactive Group which handles all Internet-related activities at Scripps Networks. Brown joined the company a little over a year ago and is an online veteran, having served as an executive at both Yahoo and AOL previously.
Scripps was one of the early adopters of broadband video, initially seeding its site with program clips from HGTV and Food and more recently creating standalone broadband properties (e.g. HGTV KitchenDesign, HGTV BathDesign, others). Brown explained that Scripps views video as part of the overall user experience, not to be positioned as standalone. Contextualization drives more video consumption and page views. For the most recent 3 months Scripps averaged almost 10 million video views/month, up about 36% from the prior year's period. HGTV was a big part of that, doubling its video views year over year.
I've long thought that broadband is a huge win for Scripps because its lifestyle brands and programs are part information, part entertainment and presented in short segments. This is about as good a fit for online consumption as possible. In fact, over the years when content startups have sought my input, I've often referred to Scripps as an example of content having a highly actionable content model and a "natural base" of advertisers, a model for others to emulate in further product categories.
With Scripps, advertisers reach an audience that is both targeted and action-oriented. Given the massive size of the home and kitchen-related products markets, Scripps is in an enviable position. Yet once again reflecting the early state of the broadband video ad market, Brown explained that they're continuing to test what works in video advertising, particularly mid-rolls and overlays recently. Brown cited monetization flexibility as a key part of Scripps' recent decision to standardize on Maven Networks' platform. Note that in the AOL deal, Scripps will sell ads against its inventory.
Though Brown described herself as partnership-driven, most of Scripps broadband efforts have centered on building out its sites. She explained that they haven't felt pressure to do a lot of deals quickly, instead tending to be methodical about which distributors offer the best ROI potential. A key goal of its distribution deals is to reach younger audiences and video is seen as a way to speak to this audience. A slew of social networking initiatives are underway as well to tap this demo's online behavior.
With Scripps Networks poised to be separated on July 1st from the larger newspaper and broadcast businesses at E.W. Scripps, online will be a critical growth driver. That suggests we can expect plenty more video activity going forward.
Categories: Cable Networks
Yesterday's interview with market researcher Bruce Leichtman highlighted a key point in his latest study: that broadband video is most heavily adopted by 18-34 year old males. That point has been supported by research from other firms and is one of the key drivers behind a lot of the new broadband-only video programming that's sprouted up in the past couple of years.
A clear implication of this finding is that current video providers that target 18-34 males better be aggressively pursuing broadband video offerings if they want to stay competitive in this new media landscape.
But less clear is whether video providers that don't primarily target 18-34 males, or maybe have them as secondary audiences, should also be investing in this new medium in order to stay in synch with broadband users. Though other age groups and demos are also adopting broadband video, they are clearly less fervent, at least for now. In a world with finite resources, should these other video producers not worry so much about broadband video and instead stay mainly focused on their traditional approaches? Or should they invest in the broadband medium as well, even if their true target audiences may be smaller for now? I think they should do the latter, for the following 3 reasons:
1. Eventually broadband video usage will deeply penetrate all age groups. This is a macro trend that all programmers need to be in synch with. Previous technology adoption patterns show that what starts with young, and often male, early adopters, eventually spreads out to other groups as well. There's no putting the broadband video genie back in the bottle. Three-to-five years from now, virtually all Internet users will view video as just another routine application, alongside email, search, commerce, etc. Today's video providers need to position themselves properly.
2. Cultivating younger audiences is critically important. Marketing types always emphasize how important it is to cultivate younger audiences. Brand choices and loyalties are developed early, and it is more difficult down the road to influence these. Look around and see brands that once targeted somewhat older, and wealthier, segments but which now also try to target the young - Heineken, BMW and Tiffany to name a few.
The fact is that young people have energy, enthusiasm, spending power and a strong desire to promote their favorite brands to cohorts. So even video providers need that may not normally skew young need to figure out how to have some appeal to this group, because they will be key drivers of the brand's strength down the road. In fact this is what a number of cable networks, like Lifetime, AMC and Food Network been doing in recent years. Though they didn't originally target younger audiences, they began cultivating them through programming choices and marketing campaigns. They are all succeeding.
3. Now is the time to learn about broadband video. Given the above two reasons, it is urgent that video producers targeting all age groups and demos start their learning process now. Finding pockets of current heavy users to appeal to is the key challenge. As a new medium, broadband has its own set of capabilities well beyond being just another pipe to funnel current programming. Understanding these opportunities will not happen overnight. No video producer should wake up one day 3 years from now, when a healthy percentage of its viewers are spending substantial time on broadband, and realize they didn't cultivate the knowledge and skill sets to succeed in this new medium.
Video producers across the spectrum are grappling with how to attract and retain audiences in the broadband and on-demand era. Though 18-34 year old males are today's heaviest users, that will change over time. All video providers need to stay in synch with this.
What do you think? Post a comment and let us all know!
The past two days have witnessed two very significant cable network-related transactions. First, Discovery announced its acquisition of HowStuffWorks for $250 million, its largest acquisition ever. And second, Scripps announced that it would separate itself into two companies, with its marquee networks, HGTV and Food Network, finally being pried free from the E. W. Scripps's traditional newspaper business.
I interpret these announcements as continued recognition by major cable networks that their futures lie squarely in the interactive and broadband video areas. These networks - and others - are laying the groundwork for an evolution from sole dependence on their traditional business model. That model has been a monster success over the years, built on ever-expanding distribution through cable and other multichannel platforms and annual increases in monthly affiliate fees.
With the advent of the Internet and broadband, the fragmentation of audiences, the proliferation of content startups and the strengthening of online advertising models, all cable networks realize that embracing interactive/broadband opportunities is critical to their future success.
Discovery's acquisition of HSW gives it a trove of broad and deep online content, some developed by HSW and some supplied by third parties, which will now be available to Discovery's multiple properties. In one fell swoop, Discovery gains scale and expertise, which must now be delicately integrated into its current on-air and online brands. If the integration of HSW's content is a success, it will become a template for other deals.
Meanwhile, the Scripps split up follows that of Belo, another lagging newspaper company. The standalone entity, Scripps Networks Interactive, will have a growth focus leveraging strong brands in some of the best lifestyle categories (food, home, luxury, etc.). With its own currency to do deals, I wouldn't be surprised to see Scripps ramp up its acquisition activity as it bolsters its position across all these categories (in fact CEO Ken Lowe said as much in the analyst call). Scripps has been a real leader among cable programmers in building out broadband extensions to its cable networks and I would expect to see that activity grow, accompanied by distribution deals with online distributors which have strong reach.
While the Discovery and Scripps deals are the latest evidence that the traditional cable programming world is undergoing significant change, I expect we'll see plenty more similar moves in the year ahead.
(Note while both Discovery and Scripps are clients, these are my opinions only and no confidential information has been relied upon)