Friday, May 25, 2012

WebTV--Is Your Marketing Ready?

Last week YouTube completed two weeks of “upfronts,” a process typically associated with the way television networks woo advertisers for their upcoming season (They’re called "new fronts” in the online ad world.).

According to Ad Age, YouTube invested at least $100 million in new content development and announced two new channel partners that are being funded, one of which is WIGS, launched by Jon Avnet and Rodrigo Garcia and showcasing scripted shows and short films with female leads.  Stars for initial works include heavy hitters Julia Stiles, Dakota Fanning, Caitlin Gerard, Virginia Madsen, Stephen Moyer and Jeanne Tripplehorn.

These YouTube channels receive advances on ad revenue. When that is repaid, a revenue sharing model takes hold.  With over a million views per week for some of these channels, they’re looking less and less like experiments and more and more like real money makers.

More channels are coming, and I’m wondering at what point WebTV will be as recognized and respected as a marketing channel as television and cable.  I’ve been conducting a bit of a social experiment among my marketing and business colleagues…I say I’m interested in what’s going on in WebTV, and then I wait to see what they say next.

So far, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what WebTV is, what it isn’t, who’s doing it, and what they are actually doing.

To me, and to others involved in it, WebTV isn’t the same as social TV (see my MENG Blend Social TVpost).  Social TV is about sharing your “television” viewing with your social network, e.g., I’m watchingGame of Thrones on the TV in my family room, I’m tweeting about the episode on my iPad, posting quotes on Facebook, and checking into the HBO site, simultaneously.

WebTV, on the other hand, is comprised of channels (websites) that host original television- like programming or feature films that have gone direct-to-the-Web.  That is, you won’t find them on network or cable stations, but you will find them at a unique location on the Web. Examples of WebTV programming are Flock, TableTop, and House of Cards.

There are also “television” networks that exist on the Web and nowhere else:  YouTube, of course, andBlip (“one of the largest independently owned video networks in the world”), and then there are those, like Hulu and NetFlix which replay traditional television programming and offer their own original content, such as A Day in the Life and LillyHammer

I see WebTV as a new frontier for independent film makers, multi-player game creators, and yes, television screen writers and producers who can skip the Hollywood and “big” TV vetting systems and go direct to consumers with programming that appeals to the masses, or, (how great is this?) to limited, highly targeted audiences.  Right now, though, this world seems to be a mash-up of amateur talent with charisma and a knack for promoting themselves on YouTube channels and deep pocket citizens of “Hollywood” who get that there is a lot of “there” there.

I see the games industry as the third leg of this stool (Hollywood and independent content creators being the other two).  I don’t think the increasingly interactive elements of gaming will stay in the world of “games.”  Rather, they will cross over into scripted and non-scripted TV on the Web, wherein the audience participating elements begin to blur – who is the audience and who is the performer.  “TV shows” where you can choose to play or choose to watch and scripted elements mix with “live” action. 

And the opportunities for marketers abound.  But just as it is difficult to write about the future using the vernacular of today, e.g., how many times I’ve written the word “television” in this post but there is no “TV” in what I’m talking about…it’s difficult for advertisers to envision how they can market their brands in this world.  Social media marketing has given us just a taste of how brands’ fans can pick up and run with messaging.  Perhaps in the interactive entertainment future, one directional advertising won’t exist at all.  Perhaps brands will fully ride on the wave of audience acceptance, word of mouth marketing, and casual endorsement.  My company is just starting to take part in this evolution as we help entertainment properties ensure they are found when people have an inkling of what they want to play or watch.  There’s so much more to experience as target audiences evolve to stakeholders, and stakeholders morph into participants.  Onward and upward!

First published on MENGBlend 5/9/12

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