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The elephant in the TV room

The elephant in the TV room

The star that is online video continues to shine brightly for the digital publishing industry with both audiences and advertisers flocking to support this burgeoning media. For online video to continue its meteoric rise however, it’s important to remember some of the basics to craft a great consumer experience…and acknowledge a rather large elephant in the room yet to be fully addressed in the Australian market.

First up, video must be contextual and it should never be forced onto our audiences. Consumers are interested in the story first and foremost – regardless of the multi-media platform(s) by which they consume it – and online video should only be integrated where it complements our storytelling. The key to increasing time spent – and driving additional streams – is to engage consumers with the initial story, and then seamlessly showcase clips that are relevantly targeted and integrated into the player design.

Undoubtedly, video consumption is skyrocketing and it’s an exciting time for online video. We are at the tipping point right now with content, technology, consumers and advertisers all firing together. The good news is, engagement has increased across both short-form (e.g. 90 second clips) as well as long-form ‘TV format’ videos (e.g. 30+ minute episodes). Since launch of FIXPlay in April 2010, ninemsn’s results have been dramatic with more than 50% of videos viewed past the mid-point of our hour long shows.

But we could still be doing so much more, and this leads me to the big elephant in the TV room. The most successful consumer multimedia experiences are ones that are brand lead, not platform lead, and as premium content purveyors, we all need to become far more coordinated across platforms. Earlier this year, I had an ongoing debate with my best mate on who would win the World Cup (my home country USA vs. his Spain). We communicated through email, Instant Messenger, on the phone and in person. At some point, I forgot about where the conversation occurred but just recall the debate and the sledging. The communication medium was irrelevant, it was all about the content.

As content creators, how do we make this happen for TV? If the consumer has a strong relationship with a great brand like Wide World of Sport or a show like MasterChef, how do we create a seamless, engaging experience across the 3-screens: TV-mobile-computer?

Unfortunately amongst many Australian media outlets, the fear of cannibalizing one’s audience still outweighs the benefits of embracing other platforms for the role they can play in building brands. TV, mobile and online have the potential to evolve into a true media triumvirate and build brand loyalty amongst audiences on a scale never seen before. We just have to stop worrying about cutting each other’s grass.

The work we have done with Channel Nine on building the A Current Affair brand is a good example – the show not only airs each week night nationally, it is also live-streamed on ninemsn with a dedicated micro-blog developed to give a voice to its audience of 1.2 million Australians. This makes the viewing experience interactive for viewers whilst providing immediate feedback to the show’s producers. On Tuesday 6th July 2010, an ACA special on whether Australian democracy is against Muslim values generated the highest ever User Generated Content (UGC) response in ninemsn’s history for a ninemsn news story with close to 15,000 comments published over a two-hour period. That is an engaged audience.

Similarly, The Block (Season 3) has been developed from the start as a cross-platform video experience. With access to behind-the-scenes footage and exclusive content made only for the website, we can ensure users experience and interact with The Block not only during its on-air broadcast, but throughout the week also. With pieces to camera and instructional ‘how to’ videos by each of the couples, users of the site for the first time can access the couples like never before. Of course, the audience can also catch up on the weekly TV show online thanks to FIXPlay.

It wouldn’t be a discussion about online video if I didn’t touch on pay models and our strategy has always focused on giving consumers choice. In some content areas, there is a plethora of free video available, and consumers will not be inclined to pay from their wallet. In these instances, the existing advertiser-funded pay model will continue.

However, audiences should also be able to choose a paid download method if they’d rather an ad-free experience, or if the content is truly differentiated and unique. This hybrid model is the way of the future and one we continue to place significant importance on at ninemsn.

Finally, the creation of branded content is set to grow exponentially as advertisers and publishers fully harness its commercial and audience benefits. Ninemsn recently launched Pixel Productions, an in-house creative division which gives advertisers new ways to communicate and engage with key audiences by producing targeted, brand-funded entertainment. Pixel Productions has already developed a video-entertainment series for Proctor & Gamble’s Gillette Venus razor brand, which provides weekly celebrity, and entertainment updates from TheFIX in a short and snappy, TV program format. The show has already been a resounding success with streams of the first episode exceeding expectations tenfold.

In conclusion, if we get the consumer proposition and flow correct, the business will follow. And to get that right required genuine consideration about how the consumer is engaged in the first place, a focus on the consumer across multiple platforms and the provision of pay options. Ten years ago, I was part of the largest media merger of all time – AOL + Time Warner. The overarching goal of the corporate marriage was the convergence of the offline and online media worlds to radically change media consumption in the 21st century. It was a disaster. It failed for a variety of reasons including internal politics, technology challenges and business hurdles.

However, many things have evolved in the last decade. Can we make the dream of convergence a reality in 2011 in Australia? I hope so…

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