This afternoon saw the return of the MIP Digital Fronts, with multi-channel networks (MCNs) Maker Studios and Machinima showing off their latest packages of content and talents. And it ended with a pair of keynotes from people with perfect vantage points on the wave of digital disruption.
First: Chad Mumm, vice president and creative director of Vox Media, including its new entertainment division. He was joined on stage by vice president of editorial Lockhart Steele, with VideoInk founder Jocelyn Johnson interviewing them.
“Our company was founded on the notion of a media hacking culture,” said Mumm. “Every place we publish we want to take this approach that combines this media hacking mindset with really authoritative brands… and we think it’s important to build distinct brands and not just have one. Which explains the seven that we have.”
“We’re excited about the internet because it is a brilliant and fluid medium: you can tell video stories, you can tell text stories, you can communicate directly with the audience… for us just hitting publish sends a video all over the world. Its a powerful, powerful medium and a great medium for storytelling across the board.”
Vox designs all its websites for mobile first, he added, although their responsive design ensures they scale onto other screens. “Our competitors have separated the journalism team from the video team, and we believe in integrating the two,” added Steele. “The video team at Vox.com works alongside the regular journalist team writing the words.”
He said that Vox.com’s recent video interview with US president Barack Obama showed the value of “taking an editorial programming strategy: creating persistence in a medium that could be infinite, the web.” The Obama interview was designed not to look like a standard interview with a politician. “We had art directed his room! He was like ‘you couldn’t have just put two chairs here?’,” said Mumm. “The creators that made that wasn’t a TV crew, it was people who were media hackers.”
“Part of it for us with media hacking is just not asking for permission,” said Steele, saying that bloggers are a perfect example of this. “A media hacker: someone who just seizes the reins of production“.
Mumm talked about programming and the media business as “fairly cyclical and straightforward: you have content, you have distribution, you have marketing. And the web has made every single one of those elements cheaper, easier to access,” he said. “More terrifying!” But he said that the development process is not so dissimilar to the traditional TV world: “The difference is we’re doing it with different talent, and with a process that addresses the reality of this new medium.”
How is Vox Media working with talent? “Our anti-MCN,” was how Mumm described it. “We see the next wave of these great media hackers emerging on these platforms like YouTube and Vine… we’ve been able to attract and bring in the YouTube talent that is doing that disruptive thinking today in ways that align extremely well with our brand.”
A lot of media brands are becoming almost creative agencies and looking at branded content. How is Vox Media approaching those partnerships? “Our programming strategy is to imbue the entirety of the brand’s programming with video, which creates lots of great opportunities for advertising,” said Mumm. So Vox Media works on sponsorship but also producing content with brands. “Anything from a video campaign to building a web app that supports it… to bring the media hacking mentality to what they’re trying to do with their storytelling. That has been our business model.”
“Our editorial team does not do that,” emphasised Steele. “We think editors should be independent and doing that work separately.” Mumm agreed: “It comes back to authority,” he said. “If you lose that trust, you lose that audience.”