What is Premium (Video) Content?

Video content continues to proliferate online. None of us can keep up with all of it, let alone most of it.

In this environment, we hear the phrase, “content is king” uttered by countless defenders of the Hollywood industrial complex, as if to suggest that whatever is funneled through this complex will win—because “we” create “premium” content better than anyone. (Anyone, that is, who is not part of Hollywood.)

Their “premium” argument rests on their belief that they are the experts and everyone else (the barbarians outside the gates, if you will) as simple wannabees, pretenders, clearly not the real thing.

But what is this thing—premium video content?

Most people assume that this requires a certain level of production quality, a level obtained through ample production budgets, highly skilled craftspeople, great actors or directors—call it a certain pedigree. And yes, when we see an expensively produced, beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and directed movie that transports us beyond ourselves for 2 hours and impacts us in a deeply emotional way, we agree that we are in the presence of premium content.

But does this cover all examples of premium content? Or is it too narrow?

A number of years ago I worked at Disney Studios and then at Universal Pictures. At the first, I worked on Dead Poet’s Society, at the second, Problem Child. I regard them both as premium content. (I hear the howls of protest already.)

Before their theatrical release we screened each of these movies with recruited audiences. In each case, the audiences were very different in composition. One skewed older and female, the other, younger and male. (I will let you guess which was which.)

The recruited audiences loved each movie. Their reactions told us that if we reached our target audience when the movie was released each movie would be a financial success. And both movies were.

So, for example, if you were a college educated woman in her 30’s, you loved Dead Poet’s Society. If you were an 11 year old boy, you really loved Problem Child. (And if you were a parent of that 11 year old boy, you hated the movie, but that is another story.)

This is when I learned the important lesson of “audience fit”. And that is the lesson that resonates even more powerfully in today’s video everywhere, all the time, any time you want and on any device you want world.

In the video saturated world of today, audience fit is what defines and drives “premium content”. I would argue that they are in fact one in the same.

As more video content hits our screens, powered by YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and a whole host of subscription services ranging from Crunchyroll (for anime fans) to Acorn TV (for lovers of classic British TV) to Netflix and Amazon Prime, we find content that fits us. It comes because we subscribe to it, because it shows up in our social feeds, or because we are told of a single video that twitter tells us we should check out–which of course we quickly do.

If it fits, it is premium. This holds, no matter what it costs to make, no matter who is in it, how big a production crew it had or what studio did or did not make it.

Some audiences gather over time because services carefully aggregate content and use that to gather them at the right price (like Netflix or Crunchyroll). Audiences also suddenly gather and jump in (like with Chewbacca Mom). They also come together because someone creates video content continuously (like PewDiePie or Kylie Jenner) and they in turn can sell their audience to advertisers.

In each of these cases, premium content finds its audience. And in each case premium content creates revenue. (Even Chewbecca Mom, thanks to a deal with Jukin Media, has made substantial monies.)

Audience gathering and monetization for video used to be very narrowly defined by a few studios and TV networks. Now it is wide open. They used to hold the monopoly on “premium” video. That monopoly is now gone and new entrants continue to pour in. Premium video now comes from everywhere.

One anecdote from a class I teach at NYU/Tisch’s Film and TV Department, a department where every student is continually creating movies as they train to become highly skilled filmmakers.

In a discussion this week one student brought up why she decided to go to film school. Was it because of Spielberg, Lucas, Kubrick or one of the many great filmmakers from the pantheon?

No, she said, it was because of YouTube.

And several other students in the class murmured in agreement.

Posted in Advertising, Distribution, Hollywood, Innovation, Internet, Marketing, Movie Theaters, Old Media, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Advice For a Potential Client (creating new IP in the age of social mobile video)

Last week I had an extensive discussion with a large cable network who wants to launch a new franchise online. Ideally this new franchise would work in many markets across the world, playable in multiple languages. We had a long discussion about how one can launch new IP (intellectual property) geared toward young people, who mainly inhabit a world of social and mobile video. This is a brief summary of the main points I made in our discussion. This is not the first time I have had such a discussion with a legacy media company, nor do I think it will be the last.

Creating new IP in today’s media environment is very challenging. Doing it for people between the ages of 15 to 24 is even more challenging.

Most production companies are not well equipped to do this as those who have experience launching video IP projects have relied in the main on TV as their chief viewing platform–so that is the lens through which they look at all media they create.  Even though these companies have created social media divisions, they are the tail of the dog, not the dog itself.

If you create new IP for the age cohort you are describing, you must have a mobile first point of view that may not even include TV.  (This cohort doesn’t watch much TV–unless you mean Netflix.) This trend will only grow. In the US last year, kids spent more time watching YouTube than broadcast or cable TV.  (And much of that viewing was on mobile devices.)

Content moves (and is seen) on mobile much differently than it moves (and is seen) within a TV environment. A TV show is distributed inside a time slot from a central node.  Mobile video circulates from user to user in a “distributed” fashion, within a network of unlimited nodes. TV IP is locked down and put onto a shelf, (put another way–its does not move.) Mobile IP is shared and moves within social and interest networks with no central node.

In TV you find the content, on mobile, the content finds you (and then you share it so it finds others).

For people in this age cohort, content (video and otherwise) is something to be “used” just as much as it is something to be “viewed”.  Part of this involves sharing, but there is also the element of remixing and recreating as well. Now IP holders must be prepared for their fans to take their IP, absorb it and give their own spin, something IP holders typically resist.

I believe that anyone that creates new IP should be producing it with the idea that it will be remade, recast, remixed, recontextualized (through commenting and other forms) and generally appropriated by its most ardent fans. So the question is how can new IP be created that encourages these multiple activities–particularly because each one enhances the value of the IP.

So as you prepare the RFP, the question to any production company is how they will prepare for these multiple uses of your IP.  Also, how will you as the IP holder prepare, permit and encourage these activities. This will also be a consideration for the various platforms you decide to use (or not use) as you place your IP into the world so it can effectively circulate.

People do all this with content is because they are expressing their sense of identity and expressing their desire to belong (even if temporarily) to some larger community. They share and remix content because it says who they are and where they belong. The notion of personal expression of identity and belonging is crucial to everyone but especially to the age cohort you are targeting.

If you create content (IP) that allows (and encourages) them to do all the things I mentioned previously, you have a shot of having fans use your content in their ongoing quest for identity and community.  This is what will create a hit and a franchise–an ongoing community with which brands will want to associate and support–financially.

This all has technical, operational and creative implications that you should consider. These considerations are very different than those that operate within the standard TV environment.

What holds most IP holders back is their deeply held conviction that their IP should be only viewed. . Because of this legacy media mindset, they believe that IP is something to be locked down, protected and seen by consumers, but not really “used” by them. As a result they resist any distribution strategy that allows content to roam freely, to move quickly from one person to another, to be referenced, to be tagged, to be redone, remixed or appropriated by viewers—in other words –to be “circulated”.

That legacy world of content distribution is fast disappearing. And so should the legacy mindset that is its justification.

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Does TV Have Any Gifts Left for Its Viewers?

Netflix continues to challenge the distribution model of traditional, linear TV.

Rich Greenfield points out in a recent blog post that plain old TV cannot catch a break from this onslaught.

As he writes,

“If you think of the core principles of TV for the past several decades, it centered on 30/60 minute episodes each week, with 9/18 minutes of commercials embedded in each episode, with 13-22 episodes per season released on an annual basis.  Netflix has disrupted nearly every part of the legacy TV model…”

Watchers (of Netflix) can see all the episodes of a series on a schedule of their own choosing, without commercials, on any screen of their choice. This has radically changed how they want to experience TV. They no longer want to wait for a specific time on a specific night of the week, no longer want to watch TV with commercials or even want to watch TV on their TV.

Now Netflix is extending their war with legacy TV to a new front. They are shortening the time between seasons. What was normally a full year wait (typically starting in September) is about to become as little as 6 months.

As Greenfield points out, Netflix will release a new season for The Ranch 6 months after the premiere of the previous season and the second season of Fuller House will arrive 9.5 months after its premiere episode.

For fans of either show, this is a gift—a gift that a typical TV channel is not yet ready to give.  In fact, as presently organized, the traditional TV industry is incapable of giving it.

In the new world of TV, release windows have shrunk, the time between episodes has disappeared, the TV screen is just one of many screens and now the time between full seasons is getting smaller and smaller.

These are changes that all TV viewers love.

Plain old TV networks desperately need to think their way out of the dilemma that Netflix has created for them.

What gifts can TV give to its viewers?

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1 Man, 8 Starbucks and 6 Conversations about Race

My friend, Ron Gross, is an expert on conversation. He knows how to start them and guide them. He is the founder and director of a group called Conversations New York.

So it is not surprising that he visited a few Starbucks to see if he could find a conversation or two about race. He wrote about his experience in an email to many of his friends. With his permission I quote him now.

“A barista at the Spring Street Starbucks in lower Manhattan yesterday afternoon slapped a sticker on my cup that read: RACE TOGETHER.

He was following the suggestion of Starbucks president Howard Shultz, who had announced the nation-wide campaign earlier in the week.  Starbucks wants staff and customers at its 7,000 shops across the U.S. to invite in-store conversations about “issues of race, prejudice, and lack of economic opportunity.”

As I settled into a corner sofa, I asked the woman next to me: “What do you think about talking about these issues in Starbucks?”

“Not my cup of tea, frankly,” she replied with lower Manhattan coolness.   “I come here to calm down, or to take out.   Wrong time, wrong place.”

But the couple that sat down on the other side of me was interested.  “It’s naive, sure — but it’s a start,” said Larry, a software developer.   And his co-worker, Russell, added: “We’ve talked about this at our shop, but it’s actually easier with people with whom you don’t have a lot of baggage.  We’ve had some good talks with other customers, and with one of the baristas.”

The three of us talked for 15 minutes.  It was the longest conversation I’d had with any African American in over a month.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening stopping into 7 more Starbucks stores in a variety of neighborhoods in Manhattan, getting as far uptown as the one on 168th Street and Broadway.   (That’s 6 more stores than were visited by Times reporter Sydney Ember.)

Total results: 6 illuminating conversations, 2 brush-offs.

This Starbucks campaign is taking its lumps in the blogosphere, where it’s being accused of everything from grandiosity and condescension, to manipulation and hypocrisy; some of the points — about Starbucks sourcing, corporate staffing, and HR policies — are telling.

But from my totally unscientific sampling of 0.1 percent of Starbucks stores nationwide, I’m giving two cheers for this experiment in civic discourse.

Time was when coffee houses were hotbeds of citizen-to-citizen conversations about issues that mattered — such as in 18th century Britain and America, where they made governments quake.   It’s heartening to get even this slight whiff of that amidst the white foam. “

If I were Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes, I would invite Ron on to my show.

If I were Howard Schultz, I would hire Ron right away.

He gets conversation.

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What Fred Wilson Thinks Today

Fred Wilson writes on his blog, AVC, every day. He has done so for over ten years. Some might consider this activity a full time occupation. Not Fred.

He really spends his time searching for the next company in which to invest. Just like he and his partners invested in Twitter, Kickstarter and Tumblr. He then works to help each company find its way to success—always a perilous journey and not always a successful one.

See why he blogs and other thoughts he has regarding the world of tech in this interview with Jason Calacanis. It is well worth your time if you want to understand where the Internet has been and where it might go in the future.

After you watch the interview, it is highly likely that you will read his blog—every day.

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Gradually, Then Suddenly: The Pay TV Bundle Erodes

“How did you go bankrupt?”
Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”
—-Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

The Internet does one thing very well (among others).

It destroys business models, particularly those long held by legacy media companies.

Two years I ago, I speculated that HBO had spent at least five years dreaming about an Internet service that would replicate what they sold through the cable companies. They were still not able to take the plunge. Yesterday, after 7 years of delay, they announced that service, called HBO NOW.

Starting in mid April you will be able to get HBO without owning a Pay TV subscription.

HBO knows that people are abandoning Pay TV. To keep growing, they must reach people directly through the Internet.

They sat back and watched as Netflix created a new Internet business model that delivers original series, movies and TV shows completely outside the Pay TV business model. HBO realized they had no choice—either jump into the Internet—or slowly wither away while tied to the Pay TV bundle.

Today, it was announced that Verizon FIOS TV dropped The Weather Channel from its lineup. They replaced it with Accuweather, an application that rides on all screens over the Internet.

This is remarkable—an application has replaced a cable network within a Pay TV bundle. Cable networks believe they can continue to charge the MSOs (FIOS, Comcast, etc.) a lot of money to be included in the Pay TV bundle.   Apparently they did not anticipate that they would be replaced by an app. But that just happened.

As I wrote yesterday, Suddenlink Communications decided that the Viacom channels have become too expensive and dropped them from its lineup. And Suddenlink’s net income went up.

We have three seemingly disconnected events. Yet, they are all connected.

  1. A profitable TV subscription channel launches a replication of its TV service on the Internet.
  2. A major Pay TV provider drops a major cable network and replaces it with an Internet application.
  3. A small MSO eliminates a large suite of channels from its basic cable offering and does not miss a beat, because people stick with them to get broadband Internet access, (a business with very large profit margins).

The Pay TV bundle grew over decades as cable channels were created and legacy media companies like Viacom were built into juggernauts. In order to be current, to be informed, and to be entertained, you had to buy cable. In order to get HBO, you had to get cable. No more.

Between the end around of HBO, the pull of You Tube, the attractions of Netflix and the proliferation of applications that feed my phone or my TV, the Pay TV bundle steadily loses its value.

Cable networks must learn that they either go directly onto the Internet or risk being dropped and replaced within the once magical bundle.

The Internet unravels these channels much as it destroys all existing business models,

“Gradually, then suddenly.”

Posted in Broadband, Cable, Distribution, Innovation, Internet, Old Media, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Achilles Heel of the Cable Networks

In Betting Against the Cable Bundle, Emily Steel captures some of the fault lines that exist in today’s mass media ecosystem.

A cable TV provider, Suddenlink Communications, is in a dispute with Viacom, the media conglomerate that owns several cable networks, including MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. Viacom wants more money for its channels. Suddenlink has said no and for six months its subscribers have had no access to all of Viacom’s myriad channels.

Of course, each side has publicly argued that they have been wronged.

While the details of the dispute are interesting, what is most fascinating is the real world impact of the dispute. As pointed out by Steel,

“Viacom networks were removed from Suddenlink’s offerings on Oct. 1. During the following three-month period, the cable company lost a total of 32,600 video customers — about four times the 8,600 video customers it lost during the same period a year earlier.”

At first glance, this doesn’t look good for Suddenlink, the seventh-largest cable operator in the United States with about 1.4 million customers.

Yet, if you look more closely, the picture improves.

“But most customers who dropped the video service because of the dispute with Viacom continued to pay for Internet and other services, with Suddenlink retaining 99.7 percent of its customer relationships, the company said. Net income for the quarter was $7.1 million, up 65 percent from the same period the previous year.”

While some people stopped paying for the pay TV (or video) side of their bill, they continued to pay for broadband Internet access.

The broadband side of the cable business is much more profitable than the pay TV side. Here, the cable company does not have to pay for any content. All it has to do is provide a fast, dumb pipe through which content flows. And

“Unlike the video business, where customers can switch to satellite and other offerings, cable companies can have an advantage in the broadband arena, because there is less competition for selling Internet service in the markets where they operate…”

Most cable companies are the only company in your town or city that provides broadband. Nothing better than monopoly status combined with low cost. You add the two together and you get high profit margins.

Some smaller cable companies are beginning to realize that they do not have to pay whatever the cable networks demand from them. They can refuse to pony up and still maintain a loyal customer base—for their broadband service.

And by doing so, have an even more profitable business.

The only question is, when will the larger cable companies follow suit?

Will the Achilles Heel of the cable networks be finally revealed?

Posted in Broadband, Cable, Distribution, Internet, Television | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Media and a Strong Culture of Experimentation

Sometimes you read something that says it all. A group of sentences that you wish you had come up with (but sadly did not).   Yesterday I came across one of those gems while reading an interview with Amy O’Leary, recently with the New York Times and now with Upworthy. Here is the link to the whole piece, but read this first.

No one has really figured out the secret to mastering what it means to be a media organization in the digital age. So the critical thing is that places like The New York Times dive head first into a strong culture of experimentation. And by that I don’t mean throwing everything to the wall and seeing what sticks. I mean rigorous, studied experimentation, where new ideas are tried with excitement and with ease and are studied to learn what works and what doesn’t. I mean that taking risks and trying new things are celebrated even when they may seem, at the outset, like a failure. And that the definition of success for a new idea should be whether or not we learned anything from it, not whether or not it became the future of media.”

The entire world of media can learn a lot from this paragraph.

By this, I mean anyone who writes journalism, creates a TV show, produces a movie, posts on YouTube, creates on Instagram, produces a radio show, a podcast, writes a book or makes music.

That large group that includes everyone who creates media intended for any audience in our digital age.

As Amy points out, we all should engage in “rigorous, studied experimentation”.

Maybe easier said than done, but doable nonetheless.

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What Taylor Swift Gets Right

Taylor Swift’s new album opened big last week and everyone is talking about how she pulled her music off Spotify.

As usual most people are looking in the wrong direction.

Many argue that the web and streaming services don’t pay enough money or they hurt musical artists or how terrible things have gotten since the Internet arrived.  So we hear the same old story about how our lives were just better when we had CDs.

This is the direction that Ben Sisario initially takes in his New York Times piece.

Then something remarkable happens. He finally gets to the real story about why Taylor Swift is successful and many other musical artists are not.  Put simply—Taylor Swift gets the social web.  She understands the world we live in today and doesn’t waste time thinking about yesterday.  She acts boldly and aggressively to reach her fans where and how they live within today’s media environment.

Sisario and his editors made a classic journalistic error.  They buried the lede. The important stuff comes when Sisario wraps it up with,

“… the most effective piece of promotion may have been Ms. Swift’s own deft command of social media. On Twitter and Instagram, she excels as an authentic personality who establishes direct connections with her audience by doing things like reposting images of fans holding copies of her album, said Matt Britton, chief executive of MRY, a youth marketing agency that is part of the Publicis Groupe, the global advertising giant.

“She has been able to take one person and spread herself out into millions of itty-bitty pieces of Taylor Swift and touch as many people as possible,” Mr. Britton said. “When you do that, you generate a kind of advocacy and excitement that no level of advertising could.”

That kind of engagement may inspire just as much loyalty in her fans as her music does, a valuable lesson for the music industry at large.

Claire Thompson, a 30-year-old entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, said that she pre-ordered “1989” from iTunes as soon as it was available, and that it was the first album she could remember buying since Beyoncé’s self-titled album last year. She also said that she follows Ms. Swift closely on Instagram and likes the way “she pops up like all my other friends do — Dana’s at the Giants game, Taylor’s at the Knicks game.”

“It makes you as a fan feel like you’re a part of her life,” she added. “We all feel that if we met her, we would be friends. You feel connected to her. It’s nice to feel that.”

So you want to be successful as a musical artist in today’s world?

Make fans a part of your life, become an authentic personality who establishes a direct connection to your audience and generate a kind of advocacy and excitement that no level of advertising can.

And quit pining for the good old days.

Posted in Innovation, Internet, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Film in the Future and Fan Uploaded Content

I recently did a radio interview with Spark, hosted by Nora Young, on CBC Radio One.

If you live in Canada you can hear it today at 1PM NT or you can hear it now on the Spark blog under Film in the Future.

She is a great interviewer and they did a splendid editing job (which made me sound smarter).

Nora also did a compelling interview with Lewis Ball of Broadband TV about how Hollywood is dealing with Fan Uploaded Content

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