As Video Evolves, Media Companies Scramble to Adapt

TEN, Condé Nast Entertainment and Time Inc. rethink format and distribution strategies.

Pardon the pun, but video is a medium that keeps on moving. It’s not only the channel with the highest audience growth for magazine media brands (up 44% in unique viewers YoY, per the February 2017 Magazine Media 360º Brand Audience Report) but its formats remain in flux. In the last year, we’ve seen the impulsive Facebook fall in (and sometimes out) of love with distributed video clips, live streaming and now long-form media with ad inserts 20-seconds into play. Meanwhile, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat have gone all in on their own streaming formats. On connected TV sets, OTT has been the growth catalyst for lean-back viewing as prime-time viewing shrinks. But how are well-established magazine branded video programs maintaining business and editorial strategies as many of the major distribution points morph at will? To find out we checked in with TEN: The Enthusiast Network, Condé Nast Entertainment and Time Inc.’s People Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN) to learn how they’re adjusting and maintaining focus on growth in the face of relentless change.

While most players followed Facebook’s ambition for live video early in the year; TEN, PEN and CNE look at their video strategy holistically. “The real question is whether we can justify the investment and satisfy user experience while making it a business,” says Scott Bailey, president, automotive division at TEN. Across its auto properties, TEN launches north of 45 live programs (more than 1,000 minutes) each month. While it was fueled initially by Facebook’s seed funding, Bailey is exploring revenue models for the format. “It’s changed how we go to market,” he says. In addition to long-standing auto event coverage and new car unveils, the live push has inspired content innovation, like renovating a Chevy live on air over the duration of a week.

While TEN often spiffs up the raw live content in postproduction to create new franchises, Bailey notes a certain economy to it all, in that users don’t expect the same fit and finish from live feeds. “When there’s a two-person production team with an Osmo camera you can produce live video.” And yet these broadcasts can now be amortized across Facebook, YouTube and TEN’s O&Os site, as well as its paid Motor Trend On Demand network. Facebook has moved from testing to deploying ad inserts.

Conversely, PEN’s overall strategy remains focused on its cross-platform video-on-demand site, mobile, as well as OTT apps, which just celebrated one million downloads. The full content for its programming resides solely within PEN, but lighter clips and teasers get widely distributed across the social video ecosystem. Red carpet events and TV episode recaps have been effective real-time streams. And while the emphasis has been less about live feeds, now even OTT platform partners Apple and Roku are “very interested in live programming,” says Susanne Mei, general manager, PEN. Yet, the PEN apps have proven video doesn’t have to be live to feel live. The basic design of the app drops people into a linear playback experience from which they can opt into on-demand choices. “We have seen a lot of linear usage,” Mei says. People often want to lean back and “not be confronted with not knowing what to watch.”

Playing the Quality Card

More polished, longer and linear experiences may eventually trump the live streaming fetish of early 2016. “The jury is out on whether these lower production value live streams are really resonating with audiences,” says CNE General Manager Joy Marcus. The format can be very compelling when live events are well suited for social activation—like commenting on fashion on the red carpet. CNE created a live studio on budget, she says, and the company learned a lot from being one of Facebook’s top paid partners on live. But Marcus wants to keep CNE’s focus on whether these opportunities really add up to a good user experience rather than just feeding the live beast. “I think this incarnation of live as low-res, turning on the camera and talking, might not be its final incarnation,” she says.

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