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Integrating Social Media and Traditional Entertainment May 9, 2011

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Remember when social media was going to re-invent the entertainment business? Back in 2007 and 2008, Viacom’s MTV Networks tried to tie its shows together into the since-abandoned Flux social network, and even launched a short-lived TV channel driven by user-generated content. About the same time, NBC Universal’s Bravo network bought snarky fan site Television Without Pity, but has done nothing with it since. But that was then, and recent news suggests the social entertainment space is far from dead.

Last week, two big old media companies made acquisitions that signal new life: Warner Home Entertainment, home of the movie studio’s DVD efforts, acquired Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes, and News Corp.’s IGN bought Hearst’s UGO. Warner’s move hints at Netflix-envy: It said it wanted to use Flixster’s Facebook-driven user reviews and Rotten Tomatoes’ aggregation of professional ones to “grow digital content ownership.” Meanwhile, by doubling down on video game info sites, News Corp. is constructing a traditional aficionado-magazine model, but with lots of social media elements (user blogs, friend-following, points for participation). Most think News Corp. will spin off the combination.

Given these moves, has the industry finally figured out how to add social media to traditional entertainment for fun and profit?

Extending and Enhancing Entertainment Formats

Excitement about tablets and apps, lots of startup activity and Facebook’s role in distribution and audience acquisition are combining to create new opportunities to extend and enhance traditional entertainment forms. Expanding on Michael Wolf’s analysis of how this is working in social TV, here’s what TV and other entertainment media can do to capitalize on social media:

  • Discovery and user-based curation: GetGlue is the early leader in cross-media entertainment check-ins, smartly using Facebook and Twitter (a check-in auto-generates a topic hashtag) to amplify the promotion.
  • Extension: Forums and discussion boards give a fan a dose of his favorite TV show more than once a week, and book clubs are migrating online.
  • Shared experience: VH1 showed a slick app last week that, in addition to adding user commentary to live viewing, acts like a “DVR for tweets.”
  • Gamification: Entertainment check-ins deliver the ubiquitous participation stickers and leaderboards; they should offer virtual currency for loyalty.
  • Commerce: Apple’s Ping social network doesn’t seem to be boosting iTunes sales yet, and Facebook’s only just begun to dabble in video rentals.
  • Analytics and fan feedback: FOX Broadcasting and others use Think Passenger’s private communities for audience analysis. Who will figure out if simultaneous Twitter traffic means anything?

What’s Still Missing?

While the check-ins have stickers and can act as a launchpad for Twitter conversations, by and large, companies try to deliver the six objectives above via separate apps or experiences. Would they be more effective if they were integrated? I always thought digital music could blend discovery, retail and consumption, but Rhapsody combined them better than iTunes long before Spotify, and Rhapsody failed to catch on. Likewise, while a friend’s reviews and curation could emerge as valid components to an entertainment recommendation engine, by themselves they don’t appear to be as effective as the collaborative filtering approach of Netflix or Amazon, or Pandora’s professionally and algorithmically curated recommendations.

Perhaps the experiences should remain seaparte, but the business engine behind the apps and sites can benefit from roll-ups like News Corp.’s game-site play, or from formal partnerships and licensing. Some are emerging now: Time Warner already owns a piece of GetGlue and is responsible for many of the paid promotions that run on the service. Yahoo scooped up video check-in service IntoNow and is using audio recognition to track TV advertising. A handful of publishers are building a new digital book club and looking to tap AOL and Starbucks for ad sales and distribution.

It is inherently easier and more efficient in terms of audience reach, segmentation and analysis to offer advertising displayed on a network rather than an individual title or show. That means big media companies are best positioned to package and deliver social entertainment experiences along with advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

Question of the week

How can traditional entertainment companies implement social media strategies?

A Modern Media Manifesto for the Digital-First Era December 6, 2010

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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There’s talk of the future of media in the air. Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only pub, The Daily, is about to launch, mini-mogul Nick Denton wants to merge the best of TV, magazines and online into his Gawker Media blog network and Journal Register CEO John Patton recently told attendees at an International Newsmedia Marketing Association event that even newspapers need to be digital first. The source of all this is the harsh spotlight digital and NewNet technologies currently cast on traditional media businesses, which tools like social media and real-time feeds are helping to re-invent.

First, since NewNet technologies are the catalyst for building off proven Internet media models, here’s a manifesto modern media companies should follow to thrive:

All media must be multimedia: One brand, one audience, multiple channels. Optimize programming for each channel; fine-tune revenue models as well, but drive traffic across all. Make the audience active in creation, consumption and distribution.

What’s the Model?

Patton is right in saying midsize newspapers need to focus on digital — that’s where their audience is, after all. He said his online audience is bigger than that of print (similar to the UK’s Daily Mail), and though digital dollars lag, they’re nonetheless growing. Even TV advertisers are coming around: Fox is getting advertisers to accept Hulu ad inventory as “make-goods” to fulfill network audience reach promises.

“Digital first” is the right mindset for media companies for three reasons:

  1. Digital audiences and ad revenues are growing.
  2. Online and mobile are the platforms for the social media interactivity that consumers are demanding.
  3. Online is the driver of modern content aggregation and syndication.

Big media brands like News Corp. and Time Warner should consider ESPN the very model of a modern media company. Originating in cable TV, ESPN’s brand is usurping that of sister company ABC Sports, and ESPN has leading online, magazine and radio properties. ESPN is not what you’d call a leader in social media vs. competitors; its efforts center instead on providing a successful fantasy sports business with lots of on-air and online programming support.

Rating the New Initiatives

Two new initiatives — one from a traditional player and one from an online startup — bear examining in this modern digital media context. Neither model looks perfect, but each has tactics other media companies should monitor:

  • News Corp.’s forthcoming The Daily is bold in its effort to establish value in the consumer’s mind by charging for its digital content, and the walled garden that is Apple’s iPad enables that. But that could limit the publication’s social and syndication opportunities. To-date, most iPad mags aren’t very connected to the rest of the world, but that’s a matter of choice rather than platform. Publishing once a day, though, is an outmoded convention.
  • Gawker Media’s redesigns feel a lot like online magazine sites circa 2008. But the new approach accommodates multiple media formats, and its UI gracefully blends promotion and a feed. Gawker properties have always had lively user commentary, active linking and curated aggregation. But like The Daily, Gawker Media limits its advertising opportunities by being online-only.

Some might ask, what type of media company should do which? It’s the wrong question. NewNet digital media is defined by topic (national news, sports, local, tech, entertainment) and audience (mass, niche, professional, youth), and the individual company must deliver to advertisers and subscribers across channels. But each company has its roots:

  • Newspapers should be most comfortable with real-time, but need to re-allocate resources away from content that can be outsourced.
  • Magazines face tough business model changes, but can promote audience/topic alignment to brand advertisers. They need to build out sponsorship opportunities that leverage social media.
  • TV Networks have the most difficult challenge in replacing content. So their focus must be using NewNet media to promote and re-engage their audience. They too should evolve social sponsorships that exploit the reach of their hit shows.
  • Online pure-plays should accommodate social more easily, and have relatively smaller staffs that utilize commodity content. They need networks and partners for reach and off-line promotion and advertising.

Question of the week

How do you define a modern media company?