Moderator Jesse Cleverly, creative director, Wildseed Studios; Yukiko Kimishima, divisional president, international business development, Nippon Television Network Corporation; Christopher Archer, CEO, Looklive; Kris Hardiman, head of product management, Red Bee.

People don’t just want to watch their favourite content; they want to live it. In this session, three different companies explained how to enrich the VOD experience for users while also better monetising the medium.

At the Nippon TV Network, “90% of programming is produced in-house,” said Kimishima, the divisional president. “30% of Japan’s ad budget is spent on TV broadcasting.” Ad budget is directly reflected in the ratings, so Nippon TV has decided to invest aggressively in this space.

“Our objective is maximising our content,” said Kimishima, who cited Nippon TV’s efforts to produce more gaming-style interaction around reality TV shows, and to drive TV viewers to VOD services like Hulu, whose “mix of Hollywood content and Japanese content” are a formula for success in Japan.

There’s a strong synergy between terrestrial TV and SVOD. But terrestrial TV has the most powerful influence, so using it for promotion can drive direct gains in SVOD subscriptions.

“By expanding and coordinating our content distributions through TV, SVOD and other media, our content will be available anytime and anywhere, so we can capture a wider range of views and subscribers,” Kimishima said.

Next, CEO Christopher Archer introduced Looklive, which lets you shop the products in popular TV shows in real-time. Its beta will launch in a month, with coverage for 12 trending shows at outset: Think of offerings like The Big Bang Theory or Scandal.

A special widget makes Looklive a turnkey solution for web VOD platforms: A single line of code is sufficient to avail its technology to broadcasters, so when you’re watching Scandal on a digital platform, you can shop the episode in real-time.

Finally, Kris Hardiman, head of product management, introduced Red Bee, which provides playout, creative and design and support services. It was recently acquired by Ericsson, which used Red Bee’s technology to build a live captioning platform

Once introductions were made, conversation kicked off with Cleverly asking, what happened to advertising? Is that model dead?

“Ads used to work,” said Archer. “But as more people move off the original linear airing, and prices go up, I think everybody’s looking for new ways to monetise content” via web VOD, since that’s where users are headed.

He added that brands are excited about the Looklive offering “because they’re going to sell a lot more products. One important thing that we learned is that brands don’t know when they’re being used” on a show—meaning Looklive also enables them to monetise organic product placement without having to actively monitor who’s using their products.

An added benefit of monetising whatever appears on a screen is that writers and costume designers have the freedom to “stay true to the characters,” Archer added, in contrast to strategic product placement which can sometimes feel heavy-handed.

Cleverly asked how Looklive identifies and marks the clothing and other items that appear in a video.

“The computer helps a lot, but a human must make the final decision,” said Archer. Once a character profile is developed, it’s easier to ID future articles: “We know that Olivia Pope often wears Armani coats”, which lets the computer narrow down future coats she might wear, he said.

In the future, the company also plans to provide other value-added content, like information on what song is playing in a scene, or location details on the shoot. “It’s about getting the rich data that’s around the plotline, the character and the scene, and presenting it to the user,” he said.

Hardiman leaned in and said it’s important to be “purposeful in which of these increasingly vasts areas you’re going to focus on,” pointing out that Looklive is among many products that was a long time coming, given the need.

“If we reflect on what works with audiences, you have to say ‘we know there is an opportunity here'” in web VOD, said Hardiman. “How many of us are sitting at home with a second screen in front of us? And in many cases we’re doing something on the second-screen that’s related to what we’re watching. So there’s a latent demand.”

But he also cautioned that “If you’re creating a companion application, it has to be additive to the main content.” You can’t just put a Twitter feed on a piece of content and call it a day, he said. “Yes, it will give you engagement, but not the engagement you’re really looking for.”

At Red Bee, “data is vital to everything we’re doing,” said Hardiman, who described a Walking Dead companion app they created “which was kind of like Cluedo for zombies.”

“Different content plays to different engagement types,” said Archer, pointing to Nippon TV’s efforts to gamify reality TV. “Competitive reality is excellent content to [build engagement against]while the show is airing. But if you have something like Scandal or The Walking Dead, you can’t drive too much audience engagement during the episode; you have to do it around the beginning or end.”

Consumption styles around the content should always determine your interaction strategy, he said.

Cleverly then asked what’s really working in terms of trends today.

“What’s really working is social,” said Archer. “But not everyone wants to be social. I think that what Yukiko’s doing with gaming is probably the next big step, a big place that we can start exploring.”

Kimishima pointed to how simple it is to create intuitive social opportunities that expand a piece of content’s universe into the user’s living room. For the animated show Evangelion, when a character appears on TV, “you can shake your smartphone to get a point or special coupon,” she said. “These kinds of engagement opportunities aren’t very complicated, are easy to understand, and simple to implement.”

“We’ve spent the last couple of years learning more about what doesn’t work than what does work,” said Hardiman. “But if you start adding social where it’s not wanted, it just becomes an annoyance.” He used the example of somebody chatting beside you in a movie and added, “Audiences are very aware now of data. We’ve gone past the phase when people are just amazed what the internet gives them.” He admonished the audience to be “up-front with your data policy.”

To ensure you optimise as quickly as possible, Archer recommends that you “release early and release often. Find something small and inexpensive, test your content, release it to the audience, build from that. As marketeers we always think we’re right, but you really don’t know until the audience responds.”

Cleverly mused that this fail-fast approach is an alien concept to TV people: “It’s a culture where you’re used to building perfection in the dark.”

For her part, Kimishima didn’t seem daunted by the idea of constant evolution. “We want to keep seeking the audience first, and keep changing the content and strategy,” she said.

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Angela Natividad writes regularly for AdWeek, AdVerve and MIPBlog; she is also co-founder of esports-focused marketing company Hurrah.

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