Feb 1, 2015

The #CreatedWith Economy

We hear a lot about the “on-demand economy,” “sharing economy” and the “collaborative economy” how companies like Uber and AirBnB are disrupting their industries by eliminating the middleman and matching up buyers and sellers. The result is an empowered consumer, one who feels far more a part of the transaction than they did when they were dealing with a faceless corporation.

And guess what? Something remarkably similar has been happening in the world of television: we call it the #CreatedWith Economy. There will be numerous examples of it on display during the Super Bowl this weekend and we’ll be hearing more and more about this as we creep further into 2015.

A prime example is the recently announced “SnapperHero” “SnapperHero” will star a handful of top online video celebrities from YouTube, Vine, Instagram and Snapchat, such as Freddie Wong, Harley Morenstein and Anna Akana. These stars will play superheroes acting out plotlines that their fans will help write.
This is authentic, collaborative and above all, personal storytelling that provides access and outcome. Audience is part of the experience rather than just a passive observer. It is that sense of involvement and ownership of the programming that allows for the growth of more invested fans, fans who can be relied on to be both a loyal audience and evangelists for a show. The audience can now share their experience and claim that they were a part of creating this story world WITH these Stars…. #CreatedWith
The advertising and branded content portions of this project are critical too. At a time when the $160 billion spend on live TV advertising is under attack, the industry is desperately looking for an alternative. #CreatedWith content may well be that alternative. (Or at least a significant part of it.) It’s clear to see how AT&T finds value in the power of this new generation of “celebrity,” the immediate impact and brand association.

And with that, how the traditional definition of “celebrity” has morphed into the users that are generating the content; these are our modern-day celebrities, they’re not just YouTube Stars or Vine Stars… these are the next generation of Celebrity!
Last year, Bryan Kramer coined an extremely powerful term, “Human to Human” or #H2H.

In essence, thinking beyond the B-to-C or B-to-B paradigm and breaking down the fundamental aspects of communicating and appealing to somebody on the “ human-to-human” level. #CreatedWith content works the same way. Social media has given fans the platform and ability to reach out to the people writing and creating programming, and vice versa.
By reaching out to that engaged audience and working together, TV shows now have the ability to extend their storylines, create promotions and dream up new experiences that harness the immediate feedback loop that a human to human infrastructure affords. It doesn’t mean that the show’s creators give up control over the narrative, just that they bring in fans as collaborators, giving them a voice and possibly a role to play as well.

Another example, Tumblr recently announced the creation of a program that would work almost like a talent agency, pairing popular Tumblr blog creators with brands. The program, named The Creatrs Network, would lend an authentic voice to the brands’ own Tumblr presence and allow fans of the creator to feel like they have some sense of partnership with the brand as well. It’s a clever way to take advantage of all of the “stars” who have arisen on new platforms like Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat and Vine, amateur creators who have garnered a sizable audience the same way their predecessors on YouTube and Twitter did.
#CreatedWith is going MAINSTREAM
In addition to the more modern born companies like Tumblr, now the older media companies are jumping further into this phenomenon of “branded content.” Take Conde Nast’s announcement this week that they will launch a studio “23 Stories” that will work to create “branded content” pieces through an in house editorial and design team to better organically blend in with the editorial.

So, let’s breakdown a few of the elements of why #CreatedWith is s powerful:
What’s In It For Brands?
Brands who use the #CreatedWith philosophy to work collaboratively with the people creating their content gain a myriad of benefits. To being with, they are able to speak directly with the creator’s audience in a voice that feels real and authentic. That’s true whether the creator is a Conde Nast reporter crafting a piece of branded content, a showrunner and her writing staff​ creating a branded promotion around a show or a fan who is participating in said promotion. In all of these instances, the brand gains authenticity and a sense of intimacy: they are no longer a faceless behemoth. This is an excellent tactic for getting through to the normally hard to reach Millennial demographic and for empowering your staunchest fans in a way that avoids the pitfalls of interruptive advertising.

What’s In It For Social Platforms?
Do you think it was a given from the start that Snapchat was a legitimate storytelling platform? It wasn’t until gifted creators figured out how to use it that it really gained traction and thus the attention of advertisers.

Shifting from a selfie platform to Storyworld platform. Social platforms gain a further level of professionalism when they allow their stars to become paid content creators. It gives the platform credibility too when big brands and/or TV shows come calling for their users. #CreatedWith content also gives platforms more and varied revenue creating opportunities while at the same time encouraging users to spend more time with the platform and increasing their level of loyalty. The final benefit is that it establishes them as a viable advertising platform — not for interruptive advertising but for native advertising that feels authentic and allows users to engage with it on their own terms.
What’s In It For Creators?

Stars who create content for brands get to establish their credibility as artists who are fluent in a particular medium: someone is willing to pay money for their unique style and voice. They also get to work with bigger budgets as production costs are no longer self-funded. Working with co-creators on their projects provides them with a chance to spread their creative wings and experiment with ideas they may not have thought of on their own. The final and most obvious benefit is that it allows them to make money doing the thing they love, which is something many of them had never really thought possible.
Changing The Way We Look At “Creation”.

#CreatedWith philosophy is going to change the face of the entire media industry, the television and advertising industries in particular. It has already allowed people creating traditional television content to reach out to their fan bases and engage them in ways that were never before possible, giving them some decision making power and the ability to influence outcomes. More than that, it established a one-on-one dialog between a show and its fans. #CreatedWith allows the show’s creators to harness the power of the various social media platforms to increase audience engagement and acquisition by empowering fans to be evangelists, embracing that #H2H concept and creating Story!

On the advertising side, #CreatedWith content provides an antidote to interruptive advertising that shows up without warning and demands your immediate attention. #CreatedWith content is infused into an experience and invited in at a time when the viewer is ready to pay attention to it. #CreatedWith provides new opportunities for the stars of social media, giving them a heretofore unexplored revenue stream that they can use to up the production value or volume of their output.
What’s in it for the Audience?
Audience will be the real beneficiaries of the #CreatedWith system as they will have access to experiences that feel authentic, fresh and inclusive, three words rarely associated with the old regime, but three words that are often positive character traits of Humans. Do we expect everyone in the audience to become active participants in shaping these #CreatedWith story worlds? Definitely not, but they will be the catalysts to help this content appeal even more to the massive passives that choose to remain happy recipients of great story. In a world where we are bombarded with advertising absolutely everywhere, all the time (more than ever before), #CreatedWith enables the audience to feel like they are part of the story-telling, a part of what gets thrown at us on all of these screens all the time. It elevates that type of branded content /advertising above all of the other noise.

BRaVe was built from the ground up with a #CreatedWith philosophy and we welcome audience participation in how we approach and think about this shifting landscape. We’ll be scouring the Super Bowl for signs of emerging #CreatedWith content and report back to you next week on what did/didn’t work and why, but please feel free to send us back your thoughts..After all, WE need YOU to create with us.
I cowrote this piece with Jesse Redniss. It originally appeared on the BRaVe Ventures Medium blog

Jan 30, 2015

Twitter's Native Video: A Powerful Tool For 2nd Screen

Twitter announced this week that they would be adding a native video feature to their smartphone and tablet apps. The feature will allow users to record and edit videos of up to :30 seconds directly from the app. This should prove to be a huge boost for the platform as video is rapidly becoming the medium of choice for social.
For 2nd screen and smart content, the value lies in the ability to quickly and seamlessly upload clips directly to the show’s Twitter feed, where they can be tracked and shared. This is a boon for traditional scripted programming, where clips can be programmed in advance, as well as for news and sports, where breaking clips can be instantly uploaded. (While it’s unclear whether the initial roll-out allows users to upload previously recorded video—a feature currently available with photos- this functionality should be on its way.)
News is the most fertile territory for this new feature, as networks can send reporters out into the field and have them tweet out :30 clips directly from the scene, allowing them to stay ahead of the pack at a time when every second really does count.
The native video feature is important from an industry-wide perspective as it helps to loosen YouTube’s stranglehold on the $5.6 billion video business. Facebook has been doing a aggressive job of this, reporting 1 billion video views a day as of September 2014, many of them from video uploaded directly to Facebook. The tipping point seems to have been this summer’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, where users preferred uploading their videos to Facebook rather then put them up on YouTube and have them subject to that platforms notorious anonymous commenting.
While YouTube profits from videos shared from its platform to Facebook, profits from videos uploaded directly to Facebook go straight to Facebook.
Though Twitter has yet to announce a plan to monetize its native video, it’s easy to see how banners or other interactive units can be added to clips. This would give content producers a way to use the 2nd screen to further monetize their video, as every shared clip would become a profit center.
It will be interesting to see the impact Twitter’s native video has on how people use the platform in general and how content producers use it as a social TV device in particular. It has the potential to quickly become a very powerful tool in the 2nd screen arsenal.
This post originally appeared on the blog of the 2nd Screen Society

Jan 21, 2015

Smart Content Is Fueling The MCN Revolution

Once dismissed as the domain of cute kittens and sneezing pandas, online video is coming into its own, and 2015 promises to be the year it leaves its childhood behind and becomes, if not an adult, then at least an adolescent.

The key to its growth will be the sort of smart data and smart content we highlighted at the 2nd Screen Summit at CES this month, which allows content owners to make better informed decisions about audience engagement, programming and advertising.

The very nature of the medium, which is mostly viewed on connected devices by users who are tied in to their personal social media accounts, means that content owners can easily understand who is watching, why and when. It’s then easy to use this data to target ads, offers and additional programming to the right target audience at the right time.

The power of this smart content is in large part why several challengers are arising to contest YouTube’s hegemony over the medium, first and foremost among them a new MCN called Vessel. Started by former Hulu CEO, Jason Kilar, the well-funded Vessel will have both ad-supported and subscription options for channels hosted by YouTube stars. They’ll create these channels by making YouTube stars an offer they can’t refuse: give Vessel 72 hours of exclusive access and in return, Vessel will give them a percentage of both subscription fees and ad revenue.

It’s a bold move, since most YouTube stars are loathe to move off the platform despite Google’s taking a sizable percentage (45%) of advertising revenue. The reason? The traffic from the site, which sees 4 billion video views a day is just to large to give up. And while hardcore fans may follow them onto a new site, more casual users won’t.

But it’s exactly those hardcore fans that Vessel is banking on. If just 15% of a YouTube star’s 4 million fans make the switch, that’s 600,000 subscribers. Multiply that across a dozen or more acts and you’ve got a sizable audience, one that’s particularly open to offers endorsed by the talent they follow.

Vimeo is also getting into the act, inking a deal last week with Disney-owned Maker Studios that would create a similar platform to Vessel’s on Vimeo’s Vimeo On Demand platform, where viewers would have access to exclusive content— content Vimeo would actually fund— for an as-yet-unspecified period of time.

It’s likely Vessel and Vimeo won’t be the only ones trying to make these sorts of deals with YouTube stars. (Newly video-centric Facebook is rumored to be making plays to lure stars away from YouTube.) For advertisers, the benefits of connecting with these stars are myriad, and that makes grabbing a piece of the market a very wise business move. It’s also a great way to connect with a younger millennial audience who, in a study done by Variety last August, were able to identify YouTube stars like Smosh and PewDiePie more readily than mainstream celebrities like Katy Perry and Jennifer Lawrence.

Another model worth watching is the one chosen by Endemol Beyond. The platform, a spin off of Endemol, the world’s largest independent production company, mixes exclusive content from YouTube stars like Michelle Phan and Matty B with new video series from the likes of Pit Bull and Drea DeMateo as well as clips from existing Endemol shows like Big Brother and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, to create a channel that crosses both platforms and audiences, allowing Endemol to glean insights into viewers across the board. It’s a very smart idea and one that treats YouTube content the same as any other content, another step in the platform’s growing acceptance.

Lest you think YouTube is just standing idly by while new players slowly dismember it… the platform has taken several steps to retain its talent, chief among them being the creation of YouTube Studios, production facilities where established and up and coming talent can have access to higher level equipment and editing materials. They’re also working actively with their name talent to retain them, though no official word on whether that means renegotiated revenue splits.

YouTube is also getting into the professional content game, taking on the likes of Amazon and iTunes. Truth is, they’ve had this capability for a while, it’s just been under the radar and it took the release of The Interview, which premiered on YouTube, to bring the capability to most people’s attention.

It will be interesting to see how this segment of the industry develops, both from a business and from a creative perspective. The ability to make use of the rich data available to them to make better audience retention, programming and advertising decisions will definitely give them a strong head start.

This piece appeared on the 2nd Screen Society blog yesterday under the title "MCNs Come of Age."

Jan 12, 2015

To SlingTV Or Not To SlingTV? Defining The Question

Dish was the only television industry player with real news at CES this year. Their new V-POP, SlingTV, made its debut there with a considerably smaller channel line-up than many were expecting.

I think many people are looking at Sling the wrong way though, in that they see it as a substitute for a pay TV subscription.

It’s not.

It’s a competitor for Netflix or Hulu or even Spotify with a higher price point. The audience for Sling is not viewing it as a way to rid themselves of a bloated cable package, because they don't have a cable package, bloated or otherwise. For them, it's going to be a way to supplement their pre-existing online-only options, like Netflix, with some live TV.

So success will boil down to whether or not the target audience feels that they’ll watch enough live ESPN, Bloomberg and Disney Channel to justify paying $20 a month for it. It’s a curious proposition because if you’re comparing SlingTV to Netflix, which is $8/month (and has no commercials) you’d have to feel that SlingTV was more than twice as valuable as Netflix to be worth the outlay.

That's worth watching because the key value proposition of Sling is that it provides viewers with live TV. The sports and news offerings are adequate: ESPN doesn’t run every NFL or NBA game, and Bloomberg and CNN Headline news are just two voices. So the question becomes how badly does the millennial target want a live TV option?

It's an interesting question because realistically, many of the shows on Disney Channel and ABC Family are also available via Hulu and Netflix, though not, granted, their current season. So again, it comes down to the question of whether, say, the current season of The Fosters is worth $20/month or if it's okay to wait 6 months for it.

 (There's also option C, which is to buy the current season of The Fosters on iTunes or Amazon for about $20-$30, a one-time outlay.)

There’s also the advertising conundrum: Sling.TV is going to have advertising on it and Amazon, Netflix and iTunes don’t. Which makes paying $20 a month for the service an even tougher sell. There’s an interesting paradox there too: most of the programming on Netflix and Amazon got made because the first run versions appeared on linear network TV and were funded by the revenue from said commercials. If we start devaluing commercials and don’t come up with an adequate replacement, that deep well of programming the streaming services rely on is going to dry up in a hurry.

There's one other important thing to note about Sling: it makes V-POPs real. Charlie Ergen did the industry a huge favor by going first, which is the one thing most people (in any industry) don’t want to do. So now that the gauntlet’s been thrown down, look for more V-POPs to emerge. Some of which may actually try to be an alternative to a full-on cable package.

Stay tuned.

The Real Winner In Tonight's Golden Globes Awards

While broadcast television and commercial cable took a hit at the Golden Globes last night, the success of shows like Transparent and House of Cards should not be seen as a sign of their impending doom: far more people watch the shows on network TV than on any of the cable or streaming services.

What the win tonight signified was the solidification (for now) of subscription cable and streaming services as a home for the sort of high quality programming that wouldn’t be able to make it on broadcast TV, shows that are never going to be mass market phenomena, but which hit a segment of the market whose influence as tastemakers provides a reason to stick with them. 

That’s a huge win in terms of getting to watch quality television without having to rely on British imports: we've never had that sort of a home base in the US before. It also opens up opportunities for many more actors, writers and producers who’d been frozen out by the reality TV wave.

Broadcast TV pays actors and writers ca lot more than cable and streaming because it has a much larger audience than those platforms do. And it’s always going to have an audience, the same way James Patterson novels have an audience: more people read Patterson’s books than whatever’s won the National Book Award, but the National Book Award winner is likely to have far more influence on both the chattering classes and the next generation of novelists. Ditto quality TV shows versus standard issue sitcoms.

Which is awesome, because the way I see it, that lets everyone win.

Jan 9, 2015

Because They Can

The non-TV story at CES was all about the Internet of Things, whether it was wearables or smart homes/cars. There were hundreds of new products on display, but few of them seemed to actually solve any real problems and in some cases would seem to create them.

Now let me preface this by stating that I am the proud owner of a both a Pebble smartwatch and a smart home system from Verizon. I find them both very useful, the Pebble in particular as well as the piece of the Verizon system that texts me when someone has unlocked the door. (It’s a good way of keeping tabs on whether the kids are home from school.)

Unfortunately, much of what I saw on display did not reach that level of utility.  And every exhibitor seemed to gloss over the dirty little secret of the Internet of Things: In order for it to work, you’ve got to buy new things. You can’t retrofit your existing stuff. So while it’s great that a smart home app can tell your oven to start roasting a chicken, you’re going to have to buy a whole new stove in order to do that. Ditto blinds that raise and lower themselves according to the position of the sun: great idea, but do you really want to refit your house with new window treatments?

This is not to say that we won’t eventually get there with a lot of this stuff, just that it’s going to take a while. (It’s expensive to replace all your blinds.)

There’s also the utility issue I mentioned before: the answer to “why” for so many of these products is “because we can.”

Take Belty, the smart belt, for instance, winner of a CES Innovation Award. In addition to serving as a fitness tracker, it loosens and tightens itself as you (over)eat and then digest. Is this really a problem for people? Maybe I’m just a light eater, but the occasional Thanksgiving meal aside, I just don’t ever find myself wishing my belt was looser.

Ditto the “smart jar,” which helps you keep a running inventory of what’s in your pantry and whether you need to refill anything. A task I currently accomplish by opening a cabinet door and looking.

Volkswagen’s touch gestures seemed to fall in the category of creating problems. They claim that they are eliminating buttons and replacing them with hand gestures. Which looks sort of cool at a trade show, but would seem to cause problems in real life. For example, you open the sunroof by waving your hand near the roof of the car in a front-to-back swiping motion. (The opposite motion closes it.) Think of how many times people are going to be gesturing with their hands and have the sunroof fly open. Think too of how many people are not going to swipe hard enough or far enough as a sudden rain shower is drenching them.

That same VW concept car has a bar that runs along the dashboard. Swipe it with one finger to control the music, two fingers to control the navigation system, three fingers for something else. Think anybody’s actually going to remember that?

(In VW’s defense, they did show off a feature that’s part of their new navigation system that identifies open parking spots and directs you to them. That actually seemed quite useful… unless, of course, there’s a high concentration of VW drivers in your town.)

My final beef are the large tablet-sized control panels many car manufacturers were showing off. (Tesla’s was the size of two tablets.) They just seem dangerous. Drivers don’t need to be reading all that and the lack of a physical button makes the no-look push that much more difficult.

On the other hand, that may not be a problem if things like self-driving cars take off. Nvidia’s smart recognition software (below) , that identifies types of cars in real time, definitely provided a Wow! moment.

To leave on a positive note, there was one thing I thought was very cool, mostly because it resembled a science fair project: it’s called the Rockr2 and it’s a bluetooth enabled tube that has something that looks like half golf ball attached. The ball part emits vibrations and it able to turn everyday objects like empty cardboard boxes into speakers.

Because why buy a Jambox when you can use a shoebox…

Dec 18, 2014

From Beet.TV: 2nd Screens Yield Vital Data For TV Networks

This interview I did with Andy Plesser from Beet.tv outlines what we're planning on doing with the 2nd Screen Summit next month at CES.

Take a look.

Dec 15, 2014

TV's Accountability Issue

There were two interesting take-aways from the TV of Tomorrow show last week, that are somewhat interrelated. The first was that as viewing shifts away from linear to DVR, VOD and OTT, brands should hesitate to pour all their money into linear television advertising that doesn’t get seen. The second is that Netflix is eating into the networks viewership. It’s not that people are watching less of the programs the studios and networks produce. It’s that they’re watching more of it on Netflix.

Where, of course, they watch without commercials.

There are a few threads going with the way advertising is handled. The first is plain old measurement: why are we still relying on Nielsen diaries when it’s quite possible to know what every single set top box is tuned to at any given moment. That kind of reliable metric is currently available for digital media and since it’s feasible for television too, TPTB are starting to demand accountability.

Accountability matters because the lion’s share of ad budgets are still going into linear television. Which is quibble #2: Why? Why, when NBC’s head of research, Alan Wurtzel, opened the conference with a slide that showed linear viewing has slid to around 60% while noting that DVR Playback is not only largest primetime “network,” it’s four times larger than the other four major broadcast networks combined. (Given that Wurtzel’s stats constitute an admission against interest for NBC, I’ll take him at his word.) 

Despite the fervent wishes of both the networks and the advertising agencies that sell those commercials, no one is watching commercials on their DVRs. They’re just not. So you have accountability times two: why are we guessing at who is watching TV advertising and why are we pretending that they’re even watching it at all, C3 and C7 be damned. Which translates into more than a few CEOs asking “and why exactly am I paying for this?”

To which their CMOs are unable to come up with a compelling answer. 

It's important too, to ask why the idea of watching TV without commercials suddenly seems so appealing? Beyond the fact that most most commercials suck, that is. Well, Netflix has trained some 50 million of us to enjoy television without commercials. And it’s not all Orange Is The New Black. In fact, most of it is network programming. You see back in the day, networks had to wait until a show hit 100 episodes (usually sometime during season 5) in order to put a show into syndication. So seasons two, three and four just sat on the shelf, losing money. At least that was the pitch Netflix gave to the networks and studios who all happily gave up those recent seasons to Netflix for gobs of money. Then they got addicted to those gobs of money and even convinced themselves that Netflix was driving viewers to watch shows live because, you know, Breaking Bad.

Only now it’s become clear that Netflix is actually siphoning viewers away from live TV, in no small part because they can watch shows on Netflix without commercials. And having gotten used to those gobs of money, the networks are finding it very difficult to break their Netflix addiction. That addiction has many negative effects, not the least of which is that the commercials that do get shown on linear TV will go down in price because fewer people are watching them, and the delta between money lost from ad revenue and money gained from Netflix revenue is not moving in the networks favor.

Now if you’re thinking that just means brands need to shift their dollars from linear to digital video, think again: study after study keeps coming out about massive fraud and wasted dollars in that segment, so buying digital video is no panacea either.

Another fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

The key is going to be figuring out what replaces interruptive advertising. There was a lot of talk about buying audiences rather than just viewers. But that's only a partial solution, a band-aid at most, because once you introduce people to the joys of ad-free TV, you can’t expect them to still watch 8 minutes of advertising for every 22 minutes of programming again, no matter how relevant those ads are.

I don’t know what the solution is: I’m not that smart. (And if I did know it, I certainly wouldn't be giving it away in this post.)

But it’s a problem. One the industry can’t just wish away.