The Variety Entertainment &Technology Summit addressed the online digital world, and Mel Lambert reports on how content creators are grasping the opportunities.
Anthony Zuiker (pictured left with Michael Kassan, Chairman/CEO of MediaLink), creator of the CSI franchise and the new BlackBoxTV channels on YouTube keynoted at the summit, which took place against a backdrop of recent change in the landscape of digital-delivery mechanisms that utilize the internet and other OTT topologies, and highlighted the myriad new opportunities that exist for content creators.
As several panellists freely recognized, developments such as YouTube’s new hyper-channels offer new delivery opportunities for producers and storytellers attempting to reach new audiences. “There are hundreds of hours of content available,” stated Drew Buckley, COO of Electus, a content studio that this summer is planning to launch three YouTube channels. “But you need to be very efficient. While YouTube is the most powerful channel for new media,” he advised, “it is not based on discovery. So you need aggressive marketing” to reach target audiences for these emergent hyper-channels.
“The one advantage for YouTube,” conceded Mark Terbeek, a partner at MK Capital, a leading venture fund with a strong sector focus on digital media, “is that straight out of the gate it’s a global platform” with extended reach into the consumer space. MK Capital’s portfolio includes Movieclips and the popular gaming site Machinima; in March the firm announced a major investment in the app-driven DramaFever, an Asian portal whose programs are subtitled in English. “Machinima has 1.5 billion hits a month,” Terbeek offered. “That is a major advance from the 20 million we got when we started four years ago.”
Regarding the type of digital content that these new Internet-enabled channels should carry, “Start with content that people want to see,” advised Ben Wolin, CEO with Everyday Health, a YouTube-hosted partner. “And then actively promote the channel through social media and use the authority of your platform to bring [visitors] to YouTube.”
As Zuiker stressed during his Keynote Conversation with Michael Kassan, chairman/CEO of MediaLink: “The win was in the doing.” Citing the example of Cybergeddon, a new production that will premier on BlackBoxTV as nine, 10-minute weekly episodes, “With less cooks in the kitchen we are able to achieve better results, more productivity and maintain tighter budgets.”
The filmed production about the growing threat of cyber crime begins in May and will be unveiled in September, Zuiker revealed, “with interactive splash screens and interstitials. We also plan to react to feedback from social-media participants. While the plot will be locked, we will use up-to-the-minute metadata to connect with our audience.” Norton by Symantec will offer technical advice on security issues.
“Once you have control of the traffic, you have an apparatus for promotion that far outweighs billboards on Sunset,” Zuiker stated, referring to high-visibility schemes to promote Hollywood blockbusters. “The future is multi-platform digital – it offers more artistic control, more ownership and reduced red tape!”
In terms of monetizing available delivery mechanisms for digital programming, including mobile, over-the-top and over-the-air, Aubrey Freeborn, SVP of marketing & product management for worldwide VOD/EST at Twentieth Century Fox, offered that “video-on-demand has proven itself” as a $2 billion per year revenue stream. “We are firm fans of those transactional models. New demographics are emerging, with 25- to 44-year-old females reacting to new content in increasing numbers, focusing on family-friendly titles.” After all, as Freeborn stressed, in many homes, “Mom is in charge of the remote!”
“You need to go where your customers are,” stated John Sykes, President of Clear Channel Entertainment Enterprises, which uses its 850 radio stations as a single collective brand to help market its clients’ new TV shows, movies and concert tours. “Our iHeart Radio Music festival in Las Vegas last year,” Sykes offered, “created 50 million subscriber hits – that’s a great way to build a digital channel.”
“On-line channels offer accountability,” considered Debbie Menin, Category Lead, entertainment & travel at Yahoo, which is marketing engagement access to a catalog of new digital channels. “After all, over-the-air broadcast offers enhanced scale. We need to offer new demographics for Madison Avenue about advertising opportunities. Digital networks can make a viable statement about monetization.”
Gale Anne Hurd, executive producer of The Walking Dead, related that this popular AMC cable show uses the internet and social networking to actively promote each episode, “with nine million hits from last season’s finale, in addition to eight million followers on Facebook. We also develop webisodes with unique elements that do not appear on the show. AMC also offers a live after show, entitled The Talking Dead, which offers second-screen opportunities for fans. We also produce multiple EPKs [electronic press kits] for the show – more than we do for our motion pictures - with a crew on set every day to get material for the websites. For the next season we plan to maintain those audiences with more on-line content and complementary digital activity to secure major social-media hits.”
As Dan Cryan, Research Director of digital media at IHS Screen Digest, revealed: “Although home entertainment revenue is falling, we expect that digital media rentals and digital subscription movies via the cloud will stabilize that decline over the next four years. By 2014 we predict that, in terms of viewing time, more of the US audience will be watch on-line than will watch physical discs.”