How Hollywood Engages Audiences Socially

varietyVariety’s Hollywood Creative Masters SuperSession at CES featured five top producers sharing insights on how they are embracing digital platforms to engage consumer audiences and build fan bases for their TV shows and movies. While the methods and reasons for using social media vary from movies to television, and whether content is live or scripted, there was a clear consensus about its value for both engaging existing audiences and mobilizing new ones. 

Here are a few of my key takeaways from the session:

1) Embrace the Digital Natives

Tailor your social strategy to the audience you want to reach. Gale Anne Hurd, executive producer of The Walking Dead, referred to herself and the panelists as “digital immigrants,” whereas the social audience is comprised mainly of “digital natives.” By embracing the audience in the language they speak and thinking of story telling in a more three-dimensional way, audiences will engage the franchise wholly too.

Ms. Hurd went on to explain how the primary use of social for The Walking Dead had the advantage of tapping into an existing audience of online fans of the popular Robert Kirman comic series. Whereas Conrad Green, executive producer of Dancing with the Stars, called social media important, but not a major marketing driver since his audience is primarily 50+. Instead, referring to DWTS as a temporal experience, social is used more effectively as a trigger to spark dialogue among younger audiences around controversial contestants like Bristol Palin.

2) Tailor Digital Media Assets to the Experience

One way to make entertainment franchises less temporal is to extend them across media and over time. Tim Kring, executive producer of Heroes and creator of Conspiracy for Good, encouraged embracing fans across multiple digital points of entry, citing that 73 percent of viewers are also on a connected device while watching television. Green elaborated with an example of a contest they are working on that will allow viewers to predict how the judges will vote and to win prizes accordingly. He also pointed out the unrealized potential of how audiences can have more involvement through more innovative use of mobile devices, especially live streaming from audiences’ cameras.

3) Involve the Audience in the Story

Audiences are no longer just consumers of content, they are also creators and promoters of entertainment media. By providing tools and assets for the community to use and interact with, there becomes the opportunity to create more audience engagement.  Bonnie Arnold, producer of How to Train Your Dragon, also spoke of the need for continuity between releases, and in her case spoke of the nine books, a DVD release a Cartoon Network deal and a Christmas television special as ways to keep audiences sated until the sequel in 2013.

Mr. Kring spoke of extending the mythology beyond the core television or movie asset by allowing the story to take on a life of its own online and elsewhere. For example, the back-story about a sword seen on the show could only be found on the packaging of a retail product. By doing things like this, the story ran so deep that the producers had to refer to the fan wiki in order to learn whether one of their own characters was still alive!

4) Keep it Authentic

As with all social media endeavors, having authenticity with audiences is paramount. Advertising and sponsorship are critical, but they can also be a program’s biggest threat when engaging consumers. By involving the creators and allowing them to vet everything used for marketing, promotion and authenticity don’t have to be an oxymoron. 

5) Rely on Instinct

From the real-time nature of feedback from Twitter to television rating reports, the poential exists to react too soon to the whims of an audience. After all,  as Ms. Hurd stated, the audience isn’t supposed to “like” the villans. Whether it’s in real-time or not, the audience will provide feedback, and often it mirrors the opinions of the producers had in the first place. Both Kring and Jeff Ross, executive poducer of Conan, cited the symbiotic relationship with audiences, but also the need for producers to rely on their instinct when it comes to programming according to what audiences want.

6) Protect (and yes, promote) Your Assets

Not entirely off-topic, but certainly top of mind was the issue of piracy. While Kring suggested even those who pirate movies could be your biggest fans, and therefor advocates for viral promotion, others held a more protective view. Ms. Hurd spoke of the need to make a good first impression with audiences, citing an unauthorized leak of a trailer that could have been interpreted as the movie having technical flaws when really it was just an early view of the technology. More to the point of piracy, she called for an industry campaign to show consumers how piracy could prevent the creation of quality content and gave an example of how a unified release of properties globally could reduce the need for international audiences to steal content the would otherwise have paid for.

7) Create a Great Product

Perhaps it goes without saying, but when you take a point of view, tailor content to the desires of your audience and produce a high quality product, social media, and more importantly box office and ratings, success is sure to follow.

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Startup Debut at CES

img-featuredCongratulations to Michael Terpin and the Social Radius team for their successful Startup Debut event to kick off CES in Las Vegas. Several influential technology journalists made their way to the House of Blues Foundation Room atop the Mandalay Bay Casino Tuesday night, where they were given an intimate look at some of the hot new media, entertainment, games and mobile companies making the rounds here this week. The full list of participating companies exhibiting at Startup Debut can be found here, but following are a few higlights from my conversations throughout the evening.

  • WOWee ONE – This compact portable speaker unit uses a standard speaker to deliver mid-high frequencies and a Gel Audio™ driver that turns any flat surface into a subwoofer with impressive low end bass frequencies. At a reasonable $79.99 price point and featuring a rechargable 20-hour battery it’s arguably among the best speakers in its category, but by far the best part of this demo was watching my old pal Spence Bovee enthusiastically pitch the product.
  • yap.TV – Billed by co-founder Shawn Cunningham as the first vertical social network for television fans, yap.TV is a personalized TV show guide app for the iPad with an elegant interface for interacting with friends fans in real-time while watching your favorite shows. My favorite features are integration with Twitter and Facebook, automatic check-in to see what friends are watching and real-time private group chat.
  • NTB Media – The A Game is a video-based pop culture trivia game using music videos, movie trailers to entertain users while delivering brands higher levels of engagement across social media networks, third party sites, in-stream video adverstising and mobile.
  • YouMail – Visual voicemail service YouMail showcased its free Android Visual Voicemail Plus application that allows users to share voicemail not only through e-mail or text messages but also by posting them directly to Facebook and Twitter. 
  • Omek – This softwared development enviornment allows developers to create gesture-recognition experiences with any depth sensor on any hardware platform. Think Kinect for the PC. The bigger news is that legendary game industry executive Jonathan Epstein has been named President and CRO.
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Digital Family Reunion Celebrates SoCal Innovation

dfrIt’s become a holiday tradition I look forward to each year. Co-hosting the Digital Family Reunion reconnects me with friends and colleagues from the dot-com era and opens new doors too. More importantly, when we gather several hundred of Southern California’s most influential digital media, technology and entertainment leaders on Wednesday, we will recognize the connectedness of our community and celebrate those who inspire us with their success.

Part of the ritual is to bestow the Outstanding Achievement Honor on one person whose leadership, technical innovation and business acumen has made a significant impact on Southern California’s digital media community. This year, we will honor William Quigley, managing director at Clearstone Venture Partners. Additionally, Mark Turk and Stephen Hughes of Silicon Valley Bank will each receive the inaugural Industry Catalyst Honor.

William Quigley joined Clearstone Venture Partners more than 10 years ago, helping launch many successful companies, like MP3.com, Tickets.com, and Emusic. His current portfolio reflects his passion and belief in the digital media industry with companies like AOptix, SoonR, Meru Networks and Novariant. Prior to Clearstone Venture Partners, Quigley worked at The Walt Disney Company for more than seven years in a variety of business planning and operational roles. William received his MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School, and holds a BS in Accounting with Honors from the University of Southern California. He is also a CPA and a Kauffman Fellow.

Mark Turk, Managing Director, and Stephen Hughes, Senior Relationship Manager, of Silicon Valley Bank, lead the Los Angeles Corporate Finance Department focused on the banking and growth needs of early and late stage technology companies. Together, Turk and Hughes have completed more than $1 billion in debt financing to more than 250 different Los Angeles-based technology companies in the past five years.

Mark Turk is a managing director at Silicon Valley Bank and he manages the SoCal Corporate Finance team. Prior to joining Silicon Valley Bank in 2000, Turk was chief credit officer at Pacific Century Bank, a $1.3 billion business bank headquartered in Los Angeles and was also a vice president at Wells Fargo Bank and Bank of America. Turk earned a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management. He is currently a board member of the Los Angeles Venture Association.

Stephen Hughes leads Silicon Valley Bank’s (SFV) Early Stage team in Los Angeles. The Early Stage team focuses on the banking needs of technology, life science, and clean-tech companies from start-up through mature companies with revenues of $75 million or more. Prior to joining SVB, Hughes served as Founder and CFO of a venture-backed software company (How2TV) and Head of Royal Bank of Canada’s US Technology Banking Group. He earned both his MBA and an Honors BA in Business Administration from the Ivey Business School in Canada.

The Digital Family Reunion will be held at Wokcano restaurant in Santa Monica from 6-10 p.m. on Wednesday, December 8, 2010. The event is sponsored by: Geico, Namesake.com, Catalonian Trade and Investment Agency, City Sourced, SoCalTECH.com, Social Radius, Digital Media Wire and WITI. Tickets to the event are available at http://www.digitalfamilyinc.com/dfr/2010/.

Digital Family serves to unify the Southern California technology and business communities by convening 30+ regional trade groups which reflect the digital spectrum and interweave them into one memorable night celebrating everyone’s connectedness and honoring those who’ve made major contributions to the industry. Selected by members of the Digital Family community, the Outstanding Achievement and Industry Catalyst Honors recognize those exceptional individuals whose achievements have impacted our local economy, advanced our community and inspired our collective vision for what is possible in the greater technology and business communities.

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ad:tech New York 2010

imagesWith a conference the size and importance of ad:tech, each attendee is likely to give a different answer when asked “so, how was the show?” From my perspective, ad:tech, along with the industry it serves, is alive and well. Now in its second year at Javits Center, ad:tech New York has never been short of attendees, with around 13,000 pre-registered for the show last week (Nov. 2-4). 

Typically the signal-to-noise ratio at ad:tech is so bad it requires you to speak with 1o people to arrive at a single qualified conversation on the show floor. But I’m pleased to report that the efforts of ad:tech chairwoman Sarah Fay and the DMG management team to pull the show back from the brink of being an affiliate vendor-fest appear to be working. During the couple of hours I walked the floor, in addition to at least three prospective CPA/CPL advertisers, I met representatives of Pepsico and Vonage, both of whom seemed open to new opportunities. Exhibitors echoed this sentiment, which was great to hear since even with a booth, introductions to big brands are unlikely unless prearranged.

While my primary focus was to evangelize ValueClick Media’s recent advancements in data, audience targeting and optimization technology among press, clients and digital opinion leaders, I did a fair amount of listening too, and came away with a few themes worth sharing:

  • The ad:tech conference is healthy and so is online advertising. No recession here, thank-you-very-much and knock on wood.
  • Social commerce is hot, with some mentioning the Gap ‘deal’ by name.
  • Questions abound regarding how, when and where social, mobile, local and search intersect with meaningful traction.
  • Lots of buzz surrounding the Rubicon/FAN and Specific/BBE deals, rumors of AOL buying Dotomi and other video consolidation anticipated.
  • A prevailing attitude of “enough already” when it comes to the over-labeling, shiny-button syndrome that seems to plague our industry. People are ready for consolidation and until then want to simplify the silos in ways that can make it easier for brands to buy from digital media providers.

If you are in agreement with the last point, you should love the video investment banker and savvy online self-promoter Terence Kawaja posted during the conference. Enjoy!

For more information from the conference, the ad:tech blog is always a good read.

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Study highlights efficacy of display advertising

comscore logoThis week comScore and ValueClick Media released a white paper I co-authored titled “When Money Moves to Digital, Where Should It Go? Identifying the right media-placement strategies for digital display.”  The study was based on over 100 campaigns run on the ValueClick Media network and used comScore’s Action Lift reporting methodology to evaluate the impact of various display placement and pricing strategies on site visitation and search behavior .

                       Read the press release.                        Download the paper.

While cross-media and search vs. display has been studied previously, to our knowledge this is the first quantitative analysis of the view-through effectiveness of various display placement strategies (Audience Targeting, Contextual Targeting, Retargeting) and pricing options (Premium/CPM, Efficiency/CPC). And while the study is by no means exhaustive, and may even raise more questions than it answers, it validates the efficacy of display advertising and provides direction on which placement strategies to deploy to drive advertiser performance, whether measured by brand or direct response metrics.

Here are a few of the key findings:

  • Retargeting works extremely well and should be considered for both direct response and branding initiatives
  • Some placements create new traffic while others find audiences that are already engaged with the subject
  • Marketers in different industries take advantage of the strategies differently
  • All multi-strategy marketers increased site visitation above the norm
  • Advertisers who used three or more placement strategies tended to have one metric in which they disproportionately beat the norm

While the study was exclusively on placements across the ValueClick Media network, it was not sponsored research, but rather done in partnership with comScore. Regardless, the campaigns were all sold and delivered on a single network, so a different network or analysis across an entire campaign may have shown different results.

That said, the data tells an interesting story about ValueClick Media. Most surprising to me was the lift, however small, driven by the RON baseline, something we attribute to the impact data and optimization is increasingly having on the ability to predict the performance of every impression — a huge validation of our technology. Contextual pricing probably skewed high due to inclusion of campaigns run on our more exclusive vertical networks. And the data suggests we just may be undervaluing our audience targeting and retargeting inventory.

Laurie Sullivan did a great job of recapping the results of the paper in her MediaPost article published today. I will be presenting the research with Anne Hunter on Tuesday at the IAB MIXX conference in NY. Our workshop is up against sponsored content from Google/AdMob, Yahoo! and AOL, so I’m eager to see what audience we attract. Whoever comes, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone during Advertising Week in NY!

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