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Case Study: Big Truck TV Keeps on Truckin'

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This article appears in the February/March 2012 issue of Streaming Media magazine, the annual Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook.

Before he started his online video company, CEO Michael Carpentier found a hole in the B2B market big enough to drive a truck through. 

While the trucking industry has grown more high-tech (especially in the use of sophisticated fleet-tracking GPS software), the trade press that served it was stuck in the pre-internet Dark Ages. Carpentier’s idea was to create a video network that serves trucking companies. That’s only the beginning, but more on that in a bit.

In 2006, deciding that the trucking industry was the right business-to-business area for him to develop a company, Carpentier, who has a background in advertising and marketing, and a partner raised $1 million U.S. in an initial private equity round, and Big Truck TV began operations. His company is based in Canada, although it’s registered in the U.S. Subject matter is geared to U.S. audiences, and on-camera experts are typically American.

Big Truck TV didn’t start out streaming. At first, the company mailed DVDs to fleet industry executives. Each DVD included four or five case studies, as well as the advertising that sponsored it; the DVDs were also available by subscription. But the DVD market had several hurdles, including the inability to monitor how often Carpentier videos were viewed. This means Carpentier couldn’t deliver analytics to his advertisers showing how often their ads were played.

While bandwidth for video streaming was initially quite costly, reductions in price made streaming video a more affordable option for Carpentier. His company mailed DVDs for 2 years before switching to online delivery.

The idea behind Big Truck TV’s videos is to bring subject-matter experts to fleet owners and operators to demonstrate their ideas on-camera. Combining videos with a blog, the company is able to deliver real-world trucking experience to viewers, examining problems they share and offering solutions.

Big Truck TV has been through several online video providers through the years (including Internap and CDNetworks), switching freely when it could get a better deal. It currently streams with Ooyala, a move based on price.

“The market started being really competitive, and everyone was vying for our business. Prices were dropping and dropping and dropping. We decided to transition as the prices dropped,” says Carpentier. He doesn’t foresee any better deals on the horizon: “I think the market has bottomed out, as far as pricing goes. I don’t think it’s going to get much lower.” He now sees players in the OVP space differentiating themselves through value-added services rather than slicing their margins even closer.

Ooyala’s browser detect means that Big Truck TV can stream to desktops and mobile devices. That’s crucial, says Carpentier, as more trucking executives are relying on tablet computers. He doesn’t yet offer a separate mobile interface for the Big Truck TV site.

A Network of Video Creators

As for the video content that Big Truck TV is built on, videos are shot all around the country using a large network of freelance videographers. Most ideas originate back in the Big Truck TV office.

“The concepts are developed internally. What we outsource, as opposed to building out a big infrastructure or a big production arm, [is] the videography, lighting, and any components we need to bring a production team together,” says Carpentier.

Relying on independent contractors across North America lets Big Truck TV keep costs low. The office has a full-time staff of only seven.

“There’s no point in keeping videographers and whatnot on payroll, flying them all over the place, when we can just outsource it locally,” says Carpentier.

Big Truck TVSome videos are shot in the Big Truck TV office, using an in-house greenscreen studio. An internal crew travels to some major fleet and trade shows to record experts. At the start, most site videos were shot in-house, but that changed when Carpentier looked into the economics of outsourcing. Now, about 90% of videos are outsourced. Experts are filmed at trade shows, fleet events, and industrial conferences. Carpentier estimates he has video crews out 2–3 months of every year.

While they’re shot around the continent, Big Truck TV videos have a standard look, thanks to the greenscreens, giving a consistent experience to the viewer.

“We’ve tried to create a personality that’s very professional, very informative, rich, factual-based, that presents the concepts in an educational but entertaining way,” says Carpentier. He tries to keep videos less than 5 minutes, breaking longer interviews into shorter parts, if needed.

When recording at trucking industry events, the Big Truck TV team typically approaches experts before the date and asks them if they want to take part in an on-camera interview. Sometimes, a public relations agent will pitch an interview subject to the crew beforehand.

“We typically go in with a series of interviews preplanned, with our questions prepared, [and] an idea of what we want for graphics,” says Carpentier.

Big Truck TV keeps its profile high in the industry with a regular newsletter that goes out to 50,000 fleet executives. Partnering with conferences and shooting on-premises is also a good way to build interest.

“[It’s] the best way to get into the industry and get the executives to see—everyone’s fascinated by a greenscreen setup, camera setup, lights setup. They’re naturally inquisitive; they want to know what’s going on, so it’s a great way for us to market ourselves,” says Carpentier.

Content on Big Truck TV isn’t news-based, but rather it provides information that fleet execs can put to use. The site’s editorial vision is for useful, actionable stories that show how others in the industry created results.

“There are organizations out there better [prepared] to cover the news than we are,” says Carpentier. “We’re not in the news business; we’re in the educational resource business. We provide videos that are going to help people or help firms run their fleets better.”

One of the hot topics on Big Truck TV right now is CSA, or compliance safety accountability. This includes new regulatory rules for the industry, and execs need to ensure that their fleets and their drivers are compliant. Rather than report CSA as a negative, Carpentier wants to take a volatile issue and make it positive. One feature, called the CSA Challenge, provides six drivers with tablets, with which the drivers answer CSA-related questions. Viewers can see the answers and then vote on their favorites.

Any video having to do with CSA does well on the site, which averages 50,000 unique viewers per month. CSA videos are always top hit-getters. After that, videos on technology issues and human resources do well. The trucking industry is experiencing a high turnover crisis now, Carpentier says. The site also offers blogs from about 20 regular writers. His team recently revamped the look of the blogs.

Big Truck TV is monetizing its content with 15-second preroll ads, as well at 2- to 3-minute postroll ads. Those postrolls aren’t just pitches; Carpentier advises advertisers to make them educational, informative videos that people will want to watch. While postrolls are a tough sell, the site is getting good traffic for them.

“We’re getting seven to eight percent of people sticking around. In the past it was click-to-play, but with the new player, we’ve made it so it plays right after,” adds Carpentier.

Down the Road

Trucking is only the first stop on the road for Carpentier; he plans to turn his company into a business-to-business empire. If you survey Big Truck TV now, you’ll see the name Katapult, a parent company. Katapult is really just a brand, one likely to be unfamiliar to the reader. Eventually, though, Katapult will be a parent company to all of Carpentier’s children, the banner that covers them all.

As the company grows, it won’t be with trucking but by adding new industries.

“We’re looking at a number of verticals,” says Carpentier. “Healthcare is [one] we’re looking at. We were originally looking at housing and the construction market, but we’re not going to do that. Mining [and] natural resources ... are verticals we’re looking at.”

What makes a market attractive to Carpentier is when it’s underserved by online video sites. Natural resources and mining are giant industries that are growing quickly, but they don’t have online video resources to turn to. They also dovetail nicely with the trucking industry.

Carpentier isn’t just looking at North American industries. He plans to grow Katapult internationally with sites in Europe, South America, and Asia.

“I’d like to take Big Truck TV to the dominant media property in the trucking industry and then expand it outside of North America. There’s great opportunities in Europe and great opportunities in Asia,” says Carpentier.

With a simple but effective system for delivering useful videos to a desirable niche audience, Big Truck TV sounds like a convoy that can’t be stopped.

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