Since video started showing up in places other than a TV set, the elephants in the room have been what kind of content, where it should it be and how do you make money with it? CES’ “Shaping of Hollywood Digital Decision-Making” panel discussion brought in four content company execs to share their insight: Albert Chang, executive VP of digital media for the Disney-ABC TV group; Dan Fawcett, president of FOX Entertainment Digital Media; Thomas Gewecke, president of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution; and Tom Lesinski, president of Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment.
Making content available anywhere and everywhere is very much the new norm, so it's no surprise that all four panel members beat that drum; however, what they said revealed that there's more than one way to skin this ubiquitous cat.
Disney-ABC keeps a short leash on its content, knitting branding and content closely together and rigorously evaluating prospective distribution partners to check out everything from the user experience to financial commitment to promotion.
FOX and Warner Brothers, on the other hand, feel that if ubiquity means anywhere and everywhere, the more the better. "Series on Web sites, TV stations, cable and movie studios [all] help people find our content how, where and when they want to," said FOX’s Fawcett.
"Last year was the formation of Hulu, which is itself a destination. Its sole focus is to aggregate and exhibit programming in an environment that's easy to find and use. We’re hoping to have more content deals signed in the next few months that allow people to distribute content through the Hulu player — e-mail, your blogsite. Wherever people spend time online, they should find our content.”
Warner Brothers' Geweke added, "We're looking at the physical and digital experience — for example, packaging digital copies of a movie with a disk, giving customers more than one format at a time, giving them access to content across multiple devices. That's more and more important.”
For Paramount, it's not about distribution; it's about making money. Paramount's Lesinski said the company is "trying to create new business models, looking at online and mobile as new ways to drive monetization. As a pure-play content company, what we're trying to do is drive new business models on the Internet."
All these new business models come down to ad-supported content, the panel more or less agreed. "People online want things for free," FOX’s Fawcett said. "If they can get it for free, they're willing to watch a reasonable amount of advertising on it."
But that's not the industry's same old 30 second ad prerolls, said Disney-ABC's Chang. "Diversifying our revenue stream … requires us to think about what the product is. Consumer-paid models? What kind of experience are people going to be willing to pay to download it?
"We spend a lot of time on how ads work in a broadband environment. Today, much of what you see is typical ad breaks. But to maximize the potential of broadband, we really have to rethink what advertising means. It's not simply 30 seconds. It's got to have more relevance; it’s got to be interactive; it's got to be targeted. All these play into how we maintain our long-term viability.”
Chang described one such rethinking.
"On abc.com, we tested a single-sponsor model with interactive ads during the break — you can play games during the ad, but you have to click and watch the whole ad before you can watch the next segment. All the ads that have gotten a great beta in terms of consumer response have been interactive — games, things that have an ability to make a choice, things that tell a story from the last ad break to the next ad break. As far as ad recall, ads that we found don't work are ads that aren't relevant — a 28-year-old isn't interested in a drug ad."
And then there's the reinvention of content. Reinvention runs the gamut from long-form feature movies to short-form mobisodes.
"We launched ‘Jackass 2.5’ in December, the first broadband movie and our first real first attempt to drive ad-supported content on the Internet, and the first opportunity to create a feature-length movie for the Internet," said Paramount's Lesinski.
"It had originally been planned to be released on the Internet,” the first distribution window. “We gave it away for free for two weeks — we had a sponsor. We felt we needed to grow the largest audience possible. The next window was our free-for-all window where we had iTunes, download-to-own, video on demand and DVD, and after that, we had an overall-syndication window for all the video sites. It's been the most successful non-theater movie we've ever had at Paramount."
And then there is the short-form series. “We've delivered the first mobisodes for mobile phone," FOX's Fawcett said. "Our studios and networks are very interested in producing content for the medium; we need to figure out the right business models. Outside the studio system, people are figuring it out.”
"Last year, we launched ‘Voicemail,’ a short-form series, on abc.com," Chang said. "We’re ramping up production on four short-form series that have nothing to do with what's on broadcast.”
"A lot of why we're doing it is to test all the different cost models. How can you create stories that are three or four minutes long and serialize them? It was also a test of how you market something that has no presence on television. When we did ‘Voicemail,’ we put it on ABC's video player and we also released it virally to all the user-generated content sites. All the usage of Voicemail was extraordinarily high on the ABC player. It had the top use of all the other sites combined."
If they didn't have a lot of firm answers, the panel did predict one thing with confidence: a tsunami of content is headed our way.
Watch the whole conversation at: