One of the biggest challenges for the TV industry in 2014 is how to appeal to “millennials” – the younger generation who are deserting network and cable TV in order to watch online and on mobile devices. A MIPTV session this afternoon tried to dig down into the best strategies to appeal to the youth demographic.
“Thanks to digital, the way we live our lives has changed,” said moderator Louisa Heinrich of Superhuman, kicking the session off with a reminder that we’re not in the old days of television distribution. “You made a thing, you marketed it, you monetised it. It was linear. And when digital began, it was a distribution channel: it was part of the distribution network.”
Heinrich noted that one way to think about young people is that they don’t necessarily pay in dollars for the things they love: they pay in attention. Engaging and holding that attention is one of the keys to success in the future, she suggested.
The session’s first speaker was Gregory Dorcel from adult entertainment firm Marc Dorcel. “Today I will speak about sex, and a little bit about business!” he said noting that 91% of French adults have already watched a porn movie, while 43% watch them regularly – including the 17% of French women who watch porn alone, and at least once a month.
“Porn concerns everybody except you, I know!” he smiled at the audience of attendees from the mainstream television industry. Marc Dorcel has been going since 1979, and does an average of €30m in annual turnover, producing 100 shows each year for its three channels, which are available in more than 30 countries.
“60% of our sales today are made through VOD,” he explained, noting a switch from the DVD format that used to be the company’s lifeblood. “In spite of the nature of our activity, which is special of course, Dorcel is one of the top 100 brands – the most well known – in France. We have 50% of spontaneous awareness among French adults,” he said.
Dorcel said his company is only committed to premium content that people pay for – not least because the nature of the content means it can’t be a free-to-air TV channel. “Our challenge becomes today how to create brand awareness and make our content very attractive to be buyable,” he said. “But we do that without advertising. You will not see anywhere advertising of any adult activities. We do not have access to YouTube, officially, or to mainstream platforms like iPhone, iTunes and so on.”
He also noted that 95% of porn consumption happens on the web with free content – that’s the competition for a company like Marc Dorcel. But he talked about some of the cheeky online marketing that it uses to fight back. For example, a tweet by the company telling French football fans that if the team beat Ukraine in a football World Cup match, the VOD would be free that night. It was the second most popular tweet of the night in France.
“300,000 people were reached immediately with retweets,” he said, noting that when France won the game, there was a surge of activity on the company’s service. “All our servers went down, traffic was multiplied by 25, and in three hours we had 35,000 registrations to get free content… Sales generated were zero, but it helped us to build the profile of the company.”
Marc Dorcel has even launched its own Kickstarter-style crowdfunding site called MyDorcel, where people could back adult stars and producers and get involved in the content: seeing backstage footage, helping in the choice of casting and decor, and promoting the results. It attracted more than 1,000 co-producers and €125,000 collected in its first 78 hours.
Dorcel was then joined by Keith Hindle, CEO of digital and branded entertainment at producer FremantleMedia, and Reza Izad, CEO of YouTube multi-channel network Collective Digital Studio. The company started as a talent management firm, working with Linkin Park and Enrique Iglesias among other acts. “We started marketing them digitally: that was a big advantage we had in the marketplace,” he said.
Collective got into content via a partnership with Lucas Cruikshank, the creator of the popular Fred channel on YouTube, which spawned movies and a Nickelodeon TV show. From then, Collective built a structure around being a producer of content for YouTube and online. Heinrich asked what Izad has learned about appealing to millennials on these platforms.
“I don’t think it’s a mystery. It’s about doing a thing repetitively, and doing it over and over again towards an audience, and figuring out what works for your audience, and continuing to do that,” he said. Often, this is about traditional TV skills like scheduling: shows that are uploaded to YouTube at the same times every week, so the audience knows when to come and watch. “It takes several years to get it really ramped up and getting going,” he admitted.
Hindle talked about FremantleMedia’s digitally-native productions, and what it’s meant for the company’s evolution. “TV is still our core business and will be for quite some time, but every year it gets harder to launch a successful show that attracts a younger demographic,” he said. “So we have to find them elsewhere. Looking to digital content is crucial.” That includes looking for YouTube stars (YouTubers) who have found a big audience already, and working with them.
“One huge advantage for digital content is you can test things out,” he said. “Online you can test out different things, and I think leading companies in this space, like CDS, like Vice will test content out, look at the audience reaction and build from that.”
He praised Vice for having an “incredibly clear voice, and they stick to it”, with FremantleMedia having just announced a new joint venture – food channel Munchies – with the company. “In television often we can bring production elements, game elements, play with the story. Vice want to have a real reflection of some part of human life, and they never deviate from that,” he said, noting that a Vice viewer’s average watch time is 27 minutes on YouTube.
“They also have a very strong ad sales team, which very few digital companies have… And they have built a very strong off-YouTube presence, and this is one of the most important things in digital companies now. YouTube is incredibly important to everyone, an extraordinary way to have your content discovered and shared, but real monetisation comes on your own owned-and-operated destinations.”
Hindle talked about the way the barriers to content creation and monetisation have collapsed, but noted that most big YouTubers still need help – the role of the multi-channel networks (MCNs) – including optimising their videos and channels, bringing a sense of community with likeminded creators, and also sometimes some funding and bigger deals with brands.
“I think anyone can come in in a world where you can go direct to an audience and build an audience. Infrastucture and building a business? That’s going to get more challenging over time,” said Izad.
What about the claims that there’s no money in digital? Beg to differ? “Very much so,” said Izad. “First you need the audience and the next thing to follow is advertisers. In the US, and I assume globally, we’re seeing especially younger consumers consuming content in a very different way… We’re at the beginning of the business getting organised, and as it does, we’re going to see more and more brands flow in. It’s a rising ship.”
Hindle said FremantleMedia had 7bn YouTube views in 2013, much of which was TV content turned into shortform clips. He declined to give figures, but said that the money earned from those views “would be on the scale of a major broadcast partner around the world, purely from YouTube”. He also suggested that YouTube is shifting its model to better reward premium content on its platform.
What’s the most surprising lesson that digital has taught the panel? “Mine would be we can’t do it all on our own,” admitted Hindle. “We need expertise of people who live in the digital content world purely, to do it well.” Izad said it was “proximity to audience… every time we get it wrong, we are told immediately that we got it wrong, so it’s about being very transparent and honest and clear about your intentions.”
Hindle suggested that a key lesson: on TV, every time FremantleMedia launches a TV show, it has to persuade people to tune in, even when it’s the new season of a big franchise. But it’s not the same on digital media: people subscribe to channels on YouTube – a more direct relationship. “That has incredible implications for the ability of the platform to launch IP. That’s a key driver for us,” he said.
The panel fielded a question about games: probably the most popular category on YouTube alongside music – seven of the 10 most popular UK-based channels are young men playing games, including the platform’s biggest star PewDiePie – yet one that’s not really reflected on broadcast TV. Is that a problem?
“Nobody’s cracked very successfully that pure gaming experience on television, but what CDS have done with Video Game High School is a smart, beautiful-looking scripted way of bridging the gap between gaming and content… I think there will be ways to make that connection, it will look a bit different on TV,” said Hindle.
Izad agreed. “It’s just a new format of content. I don’t know that broadcaster wants to wath pure gaepay. We had a channel called G4 that focused on that stuff. What I think is unique about this is you have these personalities leveraging their comedic sense and their community, and they’re playing games, and that’s where it’s really connecting. It’s more a personality-driven thing than a content-driven thing.”
The panel were asked about YouTube as a monopoly, and whether they’re worried about its dominance of online video. “They have become extremely powerful. They take a strong negotiating line… but we absolutely find them very accommodating, very helpful. We generally find that we resolve issues with YouTube,” said Hindle. “But they won’t be the only player forever. There will be other digital platforms that emerge.
He also noted that even the companies like Vice that are building their own off-YouTube destinations still see Google’s video service as important for discovery. “YouTube are very happy with that. They’re quite happy for people to be building their own digital destinations on the back of a lot of discovery on YouTube, for now. They’re smart people at YouTube, they know the bigger the ecosystem for digital content becomes, the better for them.”
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