Video Lures More Media Companies

Publishing company Complex has become the latest media outlet to license original programming to a streaming service, in this case both Netflix and Hulu. The first will get six shows while the second gets 10.

Complex’s situation is a bit different, as the article points out, than efforts by publishers like Vox Media and others in that it’s licensing programs already being produced as opposed to original shows like “Follow This” that Buzzfeed created (briefly) for Netflix.

That so many companies see deals with subscription services as a good business decision (many of these shows have already been cancelled in some manner or another) says a good deal about the state of the media landscape on a number of fronts.

Podcasts Are Great But Not Everything

There’s been a lot of buzz about the podcast market lately, especially in the wake of Spotify’s acquisition of both producer Gimlet Media and do it yourself recording and publication app Anchor. Spotify clearly wants to get in on some of the growing ad dollars coming into the category, the same thing driving other publishers, though some have opted out after seeing initial efforts failing to gain traction.

Podcasts are opt-in media, though, and serendipity in discovery is sometimes missing, meaning the barriers to people finding your podcast are high and often determined by the hosting company. That’s why some (including myself) found the Spotify deal for Gimlet so worrisome, because the company is likely to make these platform exclusive, undermining the free and open feeds that initially formed the foundation of podcasting.

For all the buzz around podcasts, the audience is still relatively small compared to the subscriber bases for services like Netflix and Hulu. These shows have the potential to achieve much wider reach by using streaming as a new distribution outlet than they could if they were just going through a podcast provider or being offered on the brand’s own distribution channels.

Note That These Aren’t Social-Based

There was a time not too long ago when existing and new media brands were making a big deal around going “social only,” eschewing a hub website in favor of distributing all text, video and audio content on other platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Medium, YouTube and others.

But Facebook Watch, that company’s much-hyped video destination, is sucking wind having failed to connect with audiences or advertisers. Twitter has fared slightly better but has done so largely by not trying to create a single point of engagement, instead working with companies like Bloomberg, Cheddar and others to create original programming that isn’t quite so reliant on the algorithm to aid discovery.

Buzzfeed and others certainly do produce a fair amount of social-exclusive material, but they have also seen that doing so isn’t the only way forward. Deals like the one Complex made show that Netflix, Hulu, Apple and others really are, to borrow a phrase, the new TV while Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – which has also seen its IGTV platform fail to launch – are minor distribution points and are more valuable as promotional outlets than viewing destinations.

There are two lessons to learn from these examples, then:

First, go where people are. Innovation and experimentation is great, but you can’t force drastic, sudden shifts in audience behavior and preferences.

Second, know how people act. Facebook and Instagram aren’t used as long-form consumption platforms, something exemplified by how Facebook Instant Articles is a thing you heard a lot about for a while but which was quickly abandoned and is now largely forgotten. They are for quick hits and casual touch content.

We’re seeing a lot of experimentation and pivoting happening right now, both on the production and distribution ends of the game. It’s likely there will be even more as services begin to shake out, strategies become solidified and audience preferences become more entrenched.

Everybody’s Bundling

First it was Spotify Premium and Hulu being available for a combined $12.99 a month.

Then it was MoviePass and iHeartRadio offering a three-month combined package for $29.99.

Most recently it’s Comcast announcing Netflix will be part of a subscription package, though that’s technically just an expansion of an existing deal.

If I didn’t know any better I’d say we have a trend on our hands.

Spotify/Hulu seems to be a case of two companies hoping to draft off each other’s success in an attempt to convert more paid subscribers. I’d peg Hulu as the junior partner here despite it being the older company, hoping the $3 additional dollars people would pay on top of the Spotify Premium membership brings more attention to both its catalog and original programming.

MoviePass/iHeartRadio is the most suspicious of the pairings. The deal was announced before an analyst report saying MoviePass is hemorrhaging money but after iHeart declared bankruptcy. Again, iHeart is the one with more to gain from the deal since MoviePass, despite its financial issues and unsustainable business model, has been the subject of a lot of media buzz, most recently around its acquisition of Moviefone.

Comcast/Netflix appears to be more of a partnership of equals, which is saying something when one is part of a massive multimedia conglomerate and one is a single-play streaming video subscription service. The addition of Netflix to cable packages when Netflix’s business model is to disrupt traditional cable packages means Comcast wants to keep its enemies close, positioning it to the audience as just another premium cable channel.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News For 1/11/18

People aren’t thrilled with Instagram’s insertion of posts from people and accounts they don’t follow into their feeds. The company is positioning this as being discovery-oriented, showing people posts from accounts their friends might follow or which align with their interests.

The thing is, they’re doing this instead of just showing an unfiltered feed of posts from the accounts people *do* follow, which is a pretty strong indicator of interest. Also, the addition of a native “share” feature would allow people to do exactly this themselves, curate posts from other accounts under their own name. With those reasonable alternatives having been seemingly rejected, the explanation that this move is designed to increase ad inventory is the only one left.

Media

If you haven’t read this piece by the creator of the “Shitty Men in Media” list, you need to take a few minutes and correct that oversight right damn now.

The streaming business news network Cheddar will be broadcast on Twitch, hopefully attracting the young game-playing audience on that platform.

Hulu announced it has 17 million subscribers and and audience that oh, hey, just happens to be super-attractive to advertisers. It didn’t break out how many live-TV subscribers it has.

Even as big companies dominate podcasting and billionaire owners shut down alt-weeklies, low-power radio stations are still providing a vital local voice to communities.

Speaking of which, podcast network Gimlet Media wants to be known as a “multimedia storytelling brand,” not a podcast network. Sure. OK. Got it. Now we know what VC firms are and aren’t responding well to.

Publishers feeling burnt by Facebook’s ever-changing set of rules that never seem to benefit them are SURE that emphasizing a Groups strategy will have a different result.

Facebook is also testing a new section devoted to local news and events, raising the question of how many sections and tabs will be added before the News Feed becomes all but useless. Or, conversely, how long it will take publishers and brands to notice people are only using the News Feed, so overwhelmed by the number of breakout sections that they wind up using none of them.

Social Media

To the surprise of absolutely no one, publishers who aren’t being financially compensated by Facebook to create original material are using Watch as just another video distribution platform, counting on mid-roll ads to monetize the work.

YouTube has responded to the wholly inappropriate videos posted by “star” Logan Paul, yet another sign that platforms which were a bit loose with guidelines enforcement in the past are going to have to start being responsible and accountable for the content people post.

A fascinating look into the shady e-commerce practices that are common on YouTube and elsewhere, all of them designed to sell you crap from largely fictional retailers and enrich the “shop owners” who aren’t quite scammers and yet who totally are.

Technology

Consumer interest in owning or renting physical copies of movies continues to fall, as both purchase and rental numbers dropped last year. Combine that with a year that saw the lowest number of theatrical tickets sold since 1992 and you have a great opportunity for some real innovation to be killed by theater owners who still hold too much power in the industry.

Seems there isn’t going to be another round of copyright extensions, which are usually pushed by entertainment companies. That’s apparently because enough companies think their long-lived characters have evolved into trademarks, which can’t be reproduced.

Want even more recommendations? Check out my Pocket Shared Items.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 9/22/17

  • Hulu is committing $2.5 billion to the arms race it’s engaged in with other streaming companies who see original content as the key to success.
  • An analysis by Parse.ly shows Flipboard is second-only to Twitter in terms of sending referral traffic to publishers on mobile devices.
  • The pilot of the new supernatural comedy “Ghosted” will premiere on Twitter days before it airs on TV, part of a deal between Fox and Twitter.
  • Brands are adding social media influencers to their marketing rosters to harness and own their creativity and I will be over here never stopping hitting my head on my desk.
  • Interesting thinking here about the future of AI in the news industry, both as part of production and consumption.
  • Pinterest is finally rolling out “Sections,” allowing people to create sub-boards to more finely tune their saved and shared links.
  • No surprise that thanks in large part to the (largely) free nature of the platforms, social media is a big part of the marketing plans of small businesses.
  • Audience ad targeting on Pinterest just a lot more detailed.
  • The RIAA is out with a mid-2017 report showing just how much money it’s making from streaming services, a big change from the download model of not too long ago.
  • I’m actually quite shocked at the percentage of traffic to Nordstrom’s that’s reported to come from influencer marketing programs.
  • Medium continues to pivot, including plans to hire editors and curators as part of its next iteration, though Ev Williams still doesn’t have a clear answer to what the site/platform is.
  • Female influencers aren’t huge on Snapchat, preferring Instagram and even Pinterest.
  • Facebook is introducing a new way to target offline retail customers with ads and tie those ads to physical sales. This is super-creepy and not far off from what I predicted here.

Video is Everywhere, But Time and Money are Finite

Last week the news outlet Mic became the latest player to join the trend of laying off staff as part of a (clears throat) pivot to video. [genuflects] As Peter Kafka notes at Recode, there are a few common factors publishers cite when doing so, the biggest being the desire to tap into the pool of ad dollars everyone things is shifting from TV to the web but which hasn’t yet.

It’s not just publishers, though. Reddit last week announced a native video feature and LinkedIn has introduced video creation with select users as we speak. Facebook recently launched Watch, a portal for original entertainment programming meant to lure creators away from YouTube, which has its own original content things in Red. Snapchat has just announced it has plans to do likewise in the near future. In short, as eMarketer sums up, there’s a massive movement on all fronts to get more and more of the video marketplace, capturing more of the audience’s attention and the advertising dollars that hopefully follow.

Apple has put aside $1 billion it plans to spend on original entertainment content, reportedly interested in making as many as 10 prestige shows a year. Netflix plans to spend $7 billion on original content in 2018 to continue seeding its streaming service with attractive programming that lures people away from HBO. Amazon and Hulu are doing likewise, as is Crackle and a number of other services.

And all that doesn’t even get into the shift by media companies to create their own OTT subscription streaming services. Disney has one in the works which is why they announced they will be pulling much of their library from Netflix, with recent surveys saying 19% of Netflix subscribers would cancel their accounts as a result and about a third of Millennials saying they’d sign up for Disney’s service. CBS has their own service coming and is stocking it with original content like a new “Star Trek” series.

It’s About Attention

Put aside for a second the idea that more than a small fraction of people are going to subscribe to more than one or two of these streaming services. That’s a whole other question that has been discussed by others who have pointed out that once you subscribe to three of the available options you’ve undone whatever savings seen by cutting the cord on cable. Suffice it to say I doubt those surveys mentioned above, particularly the one saying 19% of Netflix customers will ditch the service because they can’t watch Disney movies.

No, the dollars issue doesn’t interest me as much as the question of attention. To my mind, people will make the decision on which services they want to subscribe to based on the amount of attention they have to give more than the dollars they have to spend. So the choice to not subscribe to YouTube Red has less to do with the cost than it does the fact that all of someone’s time is already taken up by Netflix and Hulu. They’ll bypass the videos they see on LinkedIn because they spend so much time watching what’s posted to Facebook, where Watch shows are already seeing some success due likely to the preferential treatment they’re given in the News Feed. They’ll forego Snapchat’s productions because they’ve prioritized Apple’s original shows.

Video Is About Right Now

The main problem with video is that it’s immediate. Text stories and blog posts can be easily saved for later without much impact. But video demands your attention right now, lest you miss out on something important. Not only that but unlike audio, including podcasts, it’s not something you can catch up on effortlessly while in the car or otherwise occupied. If you’re not watching it, you’re missing out.

There are already too many options for people to pay attention to, and the list is only going to grow from here. Eventually, there will be a shakeout and some players will fall by the wayside as winners emerge, chosen by the priorities people give to what deserves their attention just as much as what deserves their cash.

For the time being, though, all these companies and others will be chasing those online advertising budgets, hoping to wind up at the top of the pile. Meanwhile, the audience will be choosing where to place their monetary and attention-based bets, influenced by costs, the influence of their own network of friends and more.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Facebook Reach Drops, Marketers Embrace Periscope and More: Quick Takes for 8/8/16

Facebook organic reach drop steepens to 52% for publishers’ Pages (MarketingLand, 8/6/16)

It might be easy to call out the joke that publishers are easing their own pain by simply not relying on Facebook as much, but that’s not a joke, that’s a good thing. Video is seen as a solution but it’s a short-term one that’s only as good as Facebook will continue to let it be. The only answer – the ONLY answer – is to make your publication’s distribution not overly tied to one platform, which is the problem publishers got themselves into. Facebook lured them in then slowly began changing the terms of the deal. Now it’s on those other companies to be master of their own fates again.

Snapchat’s 7 Brand Partners for the Summer Olympics (Adweek, 8/6/16)

A quick look at what some brands are doing by way of Snapchat ads during the Olympics. Some interesting stuff here.

Marketers see Periscope as Twitter’s glimmer of hope (Digiday, 8/8/16)

Seems marketers are, in some cases, gravitating toward Periscope because it offers better organic engagement than Facebook Live, where you have to fight and pay to get through the clutter. But to make it really work for everyone, Twitter’s going to have to do more with it than it currently is.

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Yahoo launches a TV watching site, Yahoo View, in partnership with Hulu (Techcrunch, 8/8/16)

Well this is an interesting development on a number of fronts. Not only is this Yahoo’s 17th attempt at a video portal but Hulu going subscription-only on its own site brings it more closely in-line with Netflix et al.

NBCUniversal to Produce Snapchat Shows for ‘The Voice,’ ‘SNL’ and More (Variety, 8/8/16)

These are sure to be interesting experiments, sure. But the question remains whether this is what people want from Snapchat. And if it is, then doesn’t discovery and profile organization need to improve? Basically, the form factor for success isn’t there and it’s questionable if the audience is either.

The New York Times is launching its film and TV recommendation site Watching (in limited release only) (Nieman Lab, 8/8/16)

I’m fascinated by recommendations as a form of journalism, mostly because they seem to be largely separate from criticism. Recommendations don’t seem to be so concerned with the larger cultural picture, it’s more about keeping you up to date in your circle of friends, connections and acquaintances.

Facebook’s Olympics Feed, Instagram Stories and More: Quick Takes for 8/5/16

Facebook rolls out a personalized Olympics section in the News Feed, plus Olympic filters and frames (TechCrunch, 8/3/16)

OK, this is interesting and if you’re into the Olympics this will be cool. But it also shows the power Facebook has in shaping the news and how it can pull out any given topic at any given time. Yes, that’s just like a regular news outlet, which is what Facebook is, though without the editorial oversight.

With Hulu Stake, Time Warner Channels Will Be Added to New Livestreaming Service (Adweek, 8/3/16)

Every time Hulu succeeds at something I flash back to how, pre-launch, no one thought it was going to even make it off the ground. Time Warner getting on board is a nice addition to its offerings.

Machinima Inks Amazon SVOD Pact In Further Shift Away From YouTube (Variety, 8/3/16)

More and more producers are embracing multi-platform distribution as they realize going with a single outlet means not only limiting the audience reach but also being subject to the whims of just one company.

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Snapchat Influencers Start Labeling Social Endorsements as Paid Ads (Adweek, 8/3/16)

It doesn’t shock me that Snapchat apparently didn’t have guidelines for this kind of thing. But that doesn’t mean the standard, well-known FTC guidelines shouldn’t have been utilized all along. Again, this is the responsibility of the marketers making the deal, not the platform.

Snapchat Used to Spook Advertisers. Not Anymore. (New York Times, 8/4/16)

Snapchat’s rise as an ad powerhouse is the most interesting example of how advertisers are willing to do literally anything to reach the target demographic. That’s not a value judgement as there have been lots of good executions here. The best ones, though, are those that make the ads part of and add value to the user experience, something traditional advertising has usually failed to do.

Official: Facebook launches new layout for Pages (MarketingLand, 8/4/16)

A couple good changes to how Pages are laid out. Nothing too immediate for program managers to act on right now but it will be good to 1) Note how these changes impact the design of the cover photo, which is no longer covered by a half-dozen other elements and 2) Track and see if the bigger Call To Action button leads to changes in those metrics.

Nike and Others Dive Into Instagram Stories: Why Marketers Already Like It Better Than Snapchat (AdAge, 8/4/16)

The two biggest takeaways here are that not only do brands already have significant Instagram audiences they’ve built up but that discovery and engagement are so much easier there than they are on Snapchat. Couple that with the better targeting tools and the fact that Snapchat is still a network that’s primarily one-to-one and you can see why Instagram Stories will be big.

Twitter Is Helping Brands Drive Conversations With ‘Instant Unlock Cards’ (Adweek, 8/4/16)

This is an interesting way to boost @ mentions and potentially gain followers, but the real value here will be in providing real exclusive or otherwise valuable content to the people who do so. Fail in that regard or keep reusing the same material over and over again and you’ll lose the trust and make the ads less desirable.

News Feed FYI: Further Reducing Clickbait in Feed (Facebook Newsroom, 8/4/16)

The kicker is at the end of the post, when it first says it doesn’t expect most pages to see an impact as a result of this change, just those who engage in misleading clickbait tactics. As if that isn’t 78% of Pages at this point.

Pinterest Sets Its Sights on Video (Fortune, 8/4/16)

I get what Pinterest is going for by selling this as something that will likely focus on “how to” videos, at least at first. But I’d expect that to expand quickly as companies see what works and what doesn’t. Plus, considering Pinterest’s role as a research-to-buy channel it’s easy to imagine “product showcase” quickly becomes a dominant content type.

Twitter’s latest test encourages users to Direct Message brands, not tweet at them (TechCrunch, 8/5/16)

This makes a lot of sense and hopefully helps brand managers handle customer service comments more efficiently. It’s just like what Facebook offers right now and maybe will help make DMs more widely used.

Facebook’s Testing A Main Screen That Looks A Whole Lot Like Snapchat’s (Buzzfeed, 8/5/16)

Yeah, Facebook is just stealing Snapchat features and functionality left and right. So are other networks (see Twitter’s Stickers feature) because they want to keep a hold on the users they already have, encouraging people to not abandon the networks they’ve built up by offering the latest flashy features.

My voice is my passport…verify me for watching TV online

So…yeah.

The requirement to sign in to watch also extends to Hulu.com, where ABC up until now made its shows available for free to everyone. Going forward, next-day access is restricted to either Hulu Plus subscribers or subscribers who authenticate through their cable provider. Both Hulu and ABC.com will continue to make episodes available to everyone, including people who don’t pay for cable, eight days after the initial air date.

via Bad news for cord cutters: ABC starts restricting access to full TV show episodes — Tech News and Analysis.

On the one hand, this is good for networks since they get to continue creating artificial demand for their over-the-air/cable broadcasts.

On the other hand this is good for outlets like Hulu who can likely charge more for ads because they can provide more audience data.

Nowhere in this equation is how this is good for viewers. Because it’s really not.

Hulu’s reach may get its hand cut off

I’m enormously skeptical of Hulu’s aspirations to be bundled with pay TV services for a number of reasons:

First, with channels like HBO, AMC and others making such strong inroads into original programming it’s hard to imagine them not throwing a fit at Hulu getting in their soup when original content is emerging as core to Hulu’s future success.

Second, Hulu plus would seem to compete with the VOD offerings available from the cable providers, who are going to throw their own fit over additional competition. Both are ways to watch older episodes of classic shows so I can’t imagine the providers sitting still while a subscription-based all-you-can-eat model competes with their fee-per-episode one.

Hulu seems to be trying to walk the line by saying it’s an “online” option for on-demand viewing, but that’s a distinction that’s not going to matter a whit to the audience, who will just see it as another option that’s available at a more competitive price point.

ClownCo No More: Kilar steps down from Hulu

I’m a few days late to writing about this, but Jason Kilar has announced he will step down from his role as CEO of Hulu.

I don’t have a lot to say about the silicon valley politics of this but will say this: Hulu had every reason to fail and, in retrospect, it was largely the sheer will of Kilar and his team that kept it from doing so. And more than that, it succeeded in ways that no one really expected, a success that brought with it more problems for Kilar and Hulu than it likely anticipated. The people and behind the scenes, it seems, didn’t appear to have anticipated that a successful venture would impact existing business models they were trying to protect.

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I was right there among the biggest skeptics of what was being referred to derisively as ‘ClownCo’ before it launched. I thought it would collapse under the weight of so many egos, entrenched corporate interest and other factors and would be dead inside of six months. Instead, after a number of delays and other inauspicious events that only added fuel to the naysayer’s fire, it launched and went on to become pretty darn cool.

So what’s next for Hulu? Good question. With Kilar departing and other factors coming into play it’s possible the media companies that own stakes in the platform will begin to fulfill the prophecy from 2007 and become overly territorial, tearing the site apart bit by bit as they take the learnings from this experiment and try to replicated them on their own sites.

If you read profiles of Kilar and have followed Hulu news over the last five or so you get the sense he kept the most destructive corporate intrusions at bay with a whip and chair, focusing more on what would actually be cool and interesting for viewers than anything else. That may or not be accurate but for the media world it will be interesting to see if his absence leads to some drastic changes that may be in the corporate interest but don’t serve the user experience well.