If you thought the recession and resulting ad spending crunch had dimmed the enthusiasm around independently-produced, made-for broadband video, think again. The market seems to keep chugging along with all kinds of companies and creative talent involved. Here's a sample of the headlines I've noticed in just the last couple of months (some links now require registration):
The list of projects demonstrates both the breadth of participants and concepts coming to market. Some involve established backers like Microsoft or AOL. Others rely on starpower like Lisa Kudrow, Candace Bushnell or Jason Priestly. Some have ties to existing offline franchises like Alloy's "Private" or Meredith's "More" magazine, while others, like DiVide and Generate are in search of brand involvement. Clearly there's no shortage of experimentation in the made-for-broadband space.
Still, discipline is the key to success. That was my takeaway from a conversation I had yesterday with Michael Wayne, co-founder and CEO of DECA, an online-only entertainment company whose properties include Smosh, Momversation, Good Bite and others. Michael notes DECA's success stems from being very analytical about which projects to greenlight. Key success criteria include how large the targeted audience is, how engaged they are (measured by things like blogging, Twittering, commenting), whether other media properties have succeeded with the audience and if there's demonstrated advertiser interest.
Importantly, DECA looks hard for pre-existing online communities or "tribes" along with "tribal leaders" as Michael puts it - people who have emerged from the online rabble to become recognized leading voices in their vertical space. DECA tries to partner with these tribal leaders to build properties that have video at their core, but capitalize on all the publishing and interactive capabilities the web has to offer. Michael notes the need for all of this to be done on very lean, non-Hollywood budgets.
Meanwhile, I've been a believer that the coming convergence era, where broadband is increasingly connected to users' TVs, will further level the playing field for made-for-broadband projects. At some point it could be as easy to watch one of the above offerings as it is to watch "Heroes" or "Lost." Lastly, recent infrastructure and distribution progress, epitomized by last week's news from YouTube and blip.tv, provide further support for these independent producers.
So while the flameouts this year of 60Frames, ManiaTV, Ripe Digital and Blowtorch are reminders that the made-for-broadband space remains plenty precarious, it also continues to be fascinating to watch evolve.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Categories: Indie Video
The broadband content provider Crackle is notching a win with its new comedy/interview series "The Jace Hall Show." I received a press release that it generated 500K visitors in the first two days following its launch on June 5th and a million to date. I'm always intrigued with what kinds of original broadband programs are working - and why - so I grabbed some time yesterday with Mary Ray, Crackle's VP of Marketing to learn what's behind Jace's success.
For those of you like me who are not gamers, Jason "Jace" Hall is probably unfamiliar. But Mary explained that if you're in the gaming community he's a fairly well-know producer who has a wide network of relationships in the industry. His show brings you into the world of his relationships, making you feel more connected to gamers' movers and shakers. And since he has his finger on the pulse of what the young male gamer audience is looking for, that gives him a real edge. Plus Mary believes that Hollywood still hasn't paid much attention to this market, despite gaming's huge following.
In the program's first episode Jace provided a sneak peek at a Duke Nukem Forever game that has reputedly been in development for 12 years. Gaining this type of access is practically like having exclusive content. Mary said that Crackle didn't do any advance paid marketing for the show; rather the audience was driven purely by word-of-mouth and buzz-building. I joked with Mary - spend no money but gain a big audience - the show sounds like a marketer's dream!
I asked Mary what she thinks the most important takeaway from Jace's early success is. Her feeling was that tapping into what the audience is hungry for is the key. While I agree, I'd go a step further. I think that trying to find talent that already has a following - whether in gaming, TV or some other medium - is a genuine way to improve a program's odds of success. I'm not necessarily talking about A-list talent per se, but rather talent that is at least known within some kind of niche (e.g. finance, comedy, woodworking, etc). That's not say "don't go with unknown talent looking to break out," but I do think it's important to recognize that doing so carries more risk.
The whole area of original broadband content is surging with players like Crackle, Next New Networks, 60Frames, ManiaTV, Break, Heavy, MyDamnChannel, FunnyorDie and lots of others pioneering the model. It's going to be very interesting to learn more about what works and why.
What do you think works in original broadband video? Share your comments now!
At the OMMA Video Summit yesterday in NYC, I moderated a panel entitled "Branded Entertainment." Readers of VideoNuze know that I have been tracking brand marketers' varied broadband initiatives which are whittling away traditional demarcations between advertising and content. Broadband is opening up a whole new frontier for brands to engage their audiences.
We had a stellar group of panelists who have been on the front lines of branded entertainment, including three from agencies (Jeremy Lockhorn from Avenue A Razorfish, Joe Frydl from Ogilvy Entertainment and John McCarus from Digitas/The Third Act) and two from independent video sites making a strong push into this area (Rob Barnett from MyDamnChannel and Peter Hoskins from ManiaTV).
The whole area of branded entertainment is still in its infancy, meaning different things to different people. The panel's consensus was that these projects must provide "entertaining consumer experiences in which brands receive 'permission' to market their products." Joe, who's produced the Hellmann's "Real Food" campaign (now back for its second season on Yahoo), emphasized the importance of presenting content that's authentic to the brand while also finding partners who can deliver big audiences.
Those partners can vary as John mentioned that in a recent 45 webisode series it created for Holiday Inn Express, 90% of the series' views came from 10% of its overall distribution sites and that these were mainly smaller outlets. That sparked a consensus that when picking distribution partners, those with narrower but more passionate audiences were preferred to larger, but less focused outlets. Peter and Rob both noted that there smaller size and focused audiences allow them work more closely with brands to tailor content for their audiences' interests.
That synched up with advice from Jeremy (and seconded by others) that when it comes to branded entertainment, brands must be involved from the start of the creative process. Content companies still tend to look upon brands as little more than checkbooks, with products to be written into scenes after the creative is essentially complete. That bias needs to change fast if branded entertainment is to succeed. To increase the odds of success, Peter noted that ManiaTV focuses on episodic content, as consumer relationships build slowly over time.
The role of agencies is certain to change as branded entertainment gets more traction. Since it's still so early, panelists concurred that agencies need to "embrace ambiguity" and focus on "earning attention, not buying attention" for their clients. Listening to the panelists, it seemed to me that agencies looking to operate successfully in this area will also need significant business development/partnership skills as pulling distribution into these campaigns is quite important.
Branded entertainment is yet another greenfield opportunity that broadband is opening up. Given how many agencies and others are setting up branded entertainment specialty units, it's certain to get more priority by brands.