Here’s a valuable etiquette lesson from Digital Matters 2015; one of the worst things a brand can say to an influencer or agency is “let’s make a viral video.” Content should not be approached channel-first, say panelists; thinking in that kind of demarcated way is a disservice both to the brand and to the consumer. Instead, they say, let your ambition be “story-led.”
Mobile is the new first screen
“Twitter has fundamentally been a platform that has conceived itself in the mobile world, and today 80 to 90 per cent of our views are on mobile,” says Twitter’s Product Strategy & Sales Director, Maya Hari. “Now with Vines, GIFS and Periscope, we are offering a broad canvas. Fundamentally, native video or content feels much more natural and sharable than pointing to a destination.” She adds that Twitter has become the “discovery point” for new video content, and says that breaking news on the platform is often shared as video.
“Twitter has become the social soundtrack to TV,” she says. “It’s enabled every consumer to have a voice.” In fact, some panelists argue that the notion of second screening is already completely out-dated. More than 80 per cent of people watching TV are now doing so with another device in front of them; it’s the first screen we should be targeting, they say.
“There’s obviously a fundamental shift in video content as it relates to mobile,” says Bailie. “Services like Periscope and Snapchat are reinventing the format, and culturally reinventing lots of things as they go.” He cites a recent statistic which shows just how quickly Snapchat is growing; the platform has around 6 billion views a day, while Facebook, which has been around much longer and boasts more users, has 9 billion.
Advertising in video, whether that be traditional TV ad spots or pre-roll, is becoming more of a chore to viewers, especially when they can simply switch over to Netflix or Amazon Prime where everything they watch is a carefully curated choice. “Pre-roll is a pretty interruptive format, but it’s not going away any time soon,” says Charlie Bailie, Director of Business Development at RadiumOne. “I think it’s about being creative in terms of the partnerships you can generate. In a wider context of TV vs. online, technology has changed the reference point for online video content.” Netflix is an obvious example of this, as is the acquisition of BBC mainstay Top Gear by Amazon.
“Interruption-based media is something the consumers are clearly saying they’re not interested in, and they want better integration,” says Jim Ribbans, Head of Business Development at Beach House Pictures. “I think, as an industry, we can become a lot better in how we truly engage with consumers.”
We need to talk about ad blocking
Josh Black believes that ad blocking takes away money from the content creation ecosystem, money that is sorely needed for editors and animators and all the other people who make great video possible. But as LaBrooy points out, it isn’t simply a case of consumers hating all ads, and paying a subscription premium to avoid them. On YouTube, there is a more sophisticated understanding. Many of the top creators are finding that fans love their content so much, they are willing to remove ad blocking on their channel, as they know this is how YouTubers make the majority of their living. In this paradigm, watching the ad is the task and the content is the reward. “Consumers are becoming aware that none of this stuff is free,” says LaBrooy.
But it’s not just the pre-roll ads people are sick of, it’s being chased around the internet by the same irrelevant ads. Retargeting can work if it’s done right, says SapientNitro’s Andrew Trimboli, for example if you are served deals from websites you visit regularly. But being hounded by ads without context is a nuisance, and it’s this kind of indiscriminate tracking that makes ad blocking such an attractive proposition.
Top creators will get comments like “I love your content so much, I’ve removed ad blocking on your channel,” as they know that’s how they make their money. “Consumers are becoming aware that none of this stuff is free,” says Stuart.
“There are two reasons not to go onto YouTube or Facebook,” says LaBrooy. “Either your consumer is not there, or there’s no meaningful conversational reason for you to be there.” He believes that too many brands exist on these platforms without any real point of view, and this leads to lacklustre content which damages their credibility. When this is the case, they could take some inspiration from the influencers who are carving out their own spaces online.
Chris Urbanski is a creator who has found that YouTube and Facebook aren’t the be all and end all of online video. “Reach is everything,” he says, “we have to be seen, we have to be known, there has to be that awareness.” And as YouTube becomes increasingly crowded, it’s harder to achieve that. Meanwhile, says Urbanski, Facebook’s organic reach has collapsed over the last 12 months as it is “starting to treat creators as advertisers.” It is impossible to fully ignore these dominant platforms, but Urbanski advocates building customised distribution properties and finding other channels where there is an aligned business model. For example, he says; “in East Asia, it’s more about user-funded models than ad dollars.”
Owned platforms are becoming a popular destination for premium content, such as ICON, a joint venture between Michelle Phan and Endemol Beyond International. Christopher Smith, Head of Digital and Branded Content at Endemol, says that ICON has done well so far in the US and UK, but each market is unique, especially when it comes to regions as geographically and culturally diverse as Asia. “It’s a big mission,” he says, “and stands for an awful lot in a variety of markets… It’s hard work staying true to our ambition.”
In conclusion, top tips for…
Creating fan engagement:
The easiest way to find out what consumers want is to listen to them. “The first thing we do is allow the fans to help create the content, or tell us what they’d like to see,” says Urbanski. “We often crowdsource ideas, and put out calls for action in our videos, asking what people want next.”
Dealing with piracy:
More platforms means more piracy, an Endemol Beyond work closely with rights management teams on content claiming, but freebooting isn’t always a disaster. “What’s interesting is that you don’t always have to say ‘take it down,” says Smith. “It they’re freebooting your content and trying to monetise it with ads, that’s piracy. But it they’re making supercuts or repurposing our content, re-articulating the story and creating another form of entertainment, we may even work with them.”
Finding the right partners:
Trimboli says it is crucial to find collaborators with a real understanding of this space: “95 per cent of agencies won’t be able to tell you what the value of a like, a share or a fan is, and that’s something that conveniently gets glossed over.” Meanwhile, to come full-circle, Smith urges all brands to think “story-first”, not “channel-first,” and then find the right creators who can help support this vision.