Syndicate or Die
Creating a Brand
The online networks build up a stable of shows either by creating them in-house or by partnering with independent video creators. By bundling programs together, these networks can offer a slate of shows,giving a more familiar experience to viewers. They also build a brand, letting viewers know what to expect from shows under their umbrella. That doesn’t mean that they an just sit back and wait for viewers to come to them, however. They still need to syndicate.
"We believe that every show has something called a Total Potential Audience. It’s the number of people who will watch the show if it’s put directly in front of them," says Hudack. "The corollary of that theory is that it’s impossible to gather all of those people in any one place. The 15-year-old kid who’s really into music in the U.K.may be hanging out on Bebo. His opposite number in Oklahoma may be hanging out on MySpace. A 15-year-old in Montana is hanging out in YouTube, and my aunt Jenny, who’s been an AOL dial-up user for 10 years and ust got a cable modem, she’s on AOL Video. And if youwant to reach all those people, you have to have your video in all those places."
Online networks are still discovering the possibilities open to them as online viewing grows. blip.tv recently agreed to supply programs for an NBC broadcast digital channel in the New York market, for example. Networks are also busy working with connected living roomdevices—such as TiVo, Apple TV, and the Roku digital video player—to get their content on the biggest screen in the house. As the distinction between online and broadcast viewing blurs, online networks seem uniquely well-positioned to benefit by offering the best of both worlds: They can deliver low-cost video and work withthe most talented online video creators, yet still reach viewers at home who are looking for a preselected assortment of the web’s best shows.
"It was really the idea of ‘What’s going to be the differentiator between us and the big cable companies?’ How do we differentiate ourselves in the marketplace because Hollywood has the big budgets, they have the big production companies and they’re producing greatoriginal content, so how do we carve out a niche for ourselves?" Pappas says. "The way we saw that was really being innovators in the field and being pioneers of what we call ‘super-distribution.’ That’s where the ideas came from of being a really nimble start-up companythat could get its content out everywhere. That idea was, let’s be where the audience is no matter where they are."
For creators looking to syndicate their work, getting attached to an online network is an ideal position. The placement guarantees a steady stream of revenue and viewers, and as the network grows all the shows on it benefit from additional viewers. Not every video is right for a network, however, even though it might do extremely well in syndication. Online video can be either a destination or a snack. When you bookmark a favorite series or sign up for email reminders of new episodes, you’re making that program appointment viewing. But when you browse through YouTube for your favorite TV shows or music groups, and then follow whatever links look appealing, you’re snacking. Snack programs do well in syndication when the subject matter matches that of the host site. Grab Networks’ client HowCast has a library of how-to videos that are widely syndicated on various sites. Site hosts can choose to adopt videos that match their content and can even place specific videos on different pages.
A common angle for many video creators, especially larger, more established ones, is to use a video publishing platform such as Castfire or Grab Networks and create their own syndication deals. Where these services excel is in managing relationships, especiallywith advertisers. Castfire, for example, keeps track of advertising agreements and cross-promotion rules for the various sites that carry a video. The creator then only has to upload the video once and let Castfire’s relationship management software insert the right adsand promotional videos. The alternative would be to create several different versions of the same video, one for each destination site. Grab Networks syndicates clients’ videos to a large network of smaller sites. This is a popular option for premium content creators that not only want to provide video but also want to control thelook and feel of the player in order to manage their brand.
"In this syndicated brand model, you actually have the ability to take your content, send it across to the external sites, but the way we’ve packaged it is we allow you to take your shopping cart, we allow you to take your preferences and your profiles, we allow you to take other interactive widgets that sit on top of the content, and also syndicate that out to your partners. It’s more than syndicatingcontent; you’re also syndicating the brand and the experience you want consumers to have," says Steffen.
One producer creating that kind of experience for its syndication partners is TV Guide Network, a Grab Networks client. The company creates original entertainment-related programming for its partner sites and distributes more than just video."Our philosophy is the more eyeballs we can get, the better it is," says Hahn Lee, director of online programming for TV Guide Network. "We, for instance, sell advertising across all of our syndication rather than just on our vertical site. We get a lot of volume, or a lot of video impressions, from our third-party partners, as wellas from TVGuide.com. At the same time, we do some exclusives for TVGuide.com."
For TV Guide, online syndication has meant a chance to present itself as an entertainment source for a new age of consumers who knew it primarily in print. "It’s been a way for us to increase our visibilitybeyond the magazine and the network, because we are historically a magazine brand and the network only started doing programming fairly recently. For us to be early in the broadband space and the VOD space, and for us to be doing a lot of syndication deals, was helpfulbecause we got a lot of visibility with a new audience," adds Lee.
While there are several ways to get there, video creators choose syndication because they’re looking to raise revenue and build an audience. Sure, it’s still a Wild West, but the systems that help creators meet those goals the best will be the ones left standing.
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