In Santa Monica, CA last week, Digital Hollywood Los Angeles gathered the digerati to debate the issues of making, monetizing and marketing interactive TV, 3D movies, broadband, mobile and social networking.
The last year has shown further growth in broadband TV, with the success of Hulu and the growth of channels such as My Damn Channel and Funny or Die; continued inroads of mobile content particularly as a marketing platform for Hollywood films; and increasingly innovative ways to use all digital platforms for delivery of content and advertising.
A fascinating panel on how celebrity media is transforming TV, broadband, mobile and social media was moderated by Hollywood Reporter editor-at-large Alex Ben Block. Block traced the modern U.S. history of film stars to the early days of movies, when filmmakers sought to downplay the actors and their identities. That changed in the early 1920s with people like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. â€œThat began creating the brand of the celebrity,â€ he says. Flash forward to the future and the growth of reality TV, he says, and todayâ€™s celebrity is famous for nothing more than driving content about themselves to as many platforms as possible.
â€œNow the celebrity is a bigger brand than ever,â€ he says. Rather than reaching a celebrity via layers of distribution (that is, the studios), the fans can reach out directly to the starâ€™s website or branded merchandise.Â Monetizing everything related to these celebrities can be a â€œdelicate danceâ€ says David McMahon, director, digital, NBC Universal Television Distribution (for Access Hollywood), since the stars themselves wants to monetize their own brands.
Packaging the celebrity is where networks, studios and others come in. Sibyl Goldman, VP, Yahoo! Movies, TV, omg! and shine, notes how they will do things like bring in group of celebrity moms and â€œadd a packaging aspect that brings the fans closer to the celebrity. We work closely with our advertising partner to make sure itâ€™s on brand for them.â€
Social media can cover the space by publishing as much information as possible on each celebrity; sometimes celebrities themselves participate by blogging or providing photos or other information. The revenue associated with this is not insignificant, says Tyler Goldman, CEO, Buzzmedia. â€œThereâ€™s a component of commerce, but we monetize largely through advertising,â€ he says. A site like Comcast Interactiveâ€™s Fancast.com is a huge destination for over 10,000 TV shows, providing previews, clips, highlights and aggregating the latest news about the shows. Todd Gold, managing editor, says viewers have relationships with the characters and the celebrities who play them, both of which they cover. This site is also monetized through advertising.
A for-profit Wikia.com, presided over by president Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, is a â€œcharacter/celebrity devotion site,â€ says VP Angie Shelton. This â€œcommunity destinationâ€ features over 13,000 sites focused on TV/film characters from Homer Simpsons to Luke Skywalker, and receives about 20 million viewers per month.
The beauty of these kinds of sites is that the fans create much of the content; fanatics add 1 million words per day on Wikiaâ€™s sites.
Likewise, over 140 million unique visitors come through the RockYou we sites every month, says Ro Choy, chief revenue officer. Sites include social media, live streaming video and a lot of applications with virtual goods and content from celebrities from Paris Hilton to Snoop Dogg.
Some of these heavy-hitter sites for celebrities are beginning to create mobile applications. Buzzmediaâ€™s Goldman reported that paparazzi use his companyâ€™s blogs as a way to distribute photos. With a GPS component, the company also offers a way to track celebrities via the GPS off the paparazziâ€™s cell phones. â€œIf you look at what people are searching for and provide them more of what they want, youâ€™ll be getting more and more readers,â€ he says.
In another panel on â€œThe Mobile Platform 2.0: Establishing the Personalized Video, Music and Communications Experience,â€ panelists talked about the best way to create successful mobile advertising. Banner ads are now old-hat, even those with rich media. The concept now is to provide a â€œdeepâ€ experience with local search, mapping and coupons, all within the ad. Although people still complain about ads, said the panelists, when faced with paying for mobile content or watching it for free with ads, they still pick the ad-supported model.
Though the 3-screen model hasnâ€™t yet blossomed, panelists pointed out evidence that itâ€™s beginning to happen, although they believe that people wonâ€™t be watching identical content on the TV, PC and mobile phone butÂ â€œbit of experience that follow you around in the usage conext.â€
As to the often-heard complaint that no one will watch content on mobileâ€™s small screen, one panelist related that, after sitting in on 50 of his daughterâ€™s hockey practices, heâ€™s happy to have a screen available to watch something on.
The issue of how content owners obtain rights for all these different screens is something being addressed by DECE, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem consortium. Panelists also pointed out that the mobile platform included many devices that arenâ€™t phones, including Kindle, Nintendo DS and netbooks. Automobile manufacturers are also working on putting wireless content devices in cars. Location-based services will also boost mobile, not just for providing local content but for geo-targeting advertising.
In another panel on â€œMovies, TV and Video for Mobile,â€ panelists from Disney Channel, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment, MediaFLO, MobiTV and QuickPlay Media talked about how â€œthe industry is experiencing its first steps in the fusion of marketing, entertainment and content.â€
Madeline Herdrich, vp of mobile, North America for Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment Group, said the next step for movies is people watching full length-films on their devices. â€œContent will be just like Apple, where thereâ€™s a cloud of content that people can access wherever they are, whatever device theyâ€™re using,â€ she says. â€œThatâ€™s where the future is going, although itâ€™ll take some steps to get there, and a lot of competition. A lot of stores are opening up on the mobile phone; PC manufacturers are getting into the mobile business, and mobile manufacturers getting into netbooks.â€
QuickPlayâ€™s Mark Hyland agreed that the â€œTV everywhere ideaâ€ is coming although issues of entitlements have to be sorted out. â€œPremium content will continue to be a big part of the revenue picture, even if there is tons and tons of advertising,â€ he says. â€œThere are lots of people launching ad-supported services on mobile, which is great, so people can learn they can watch video on mobile. But as a business, you need to see services that are paid for in some way.â€
Disney Channelâ€™s Katharine Linke says their service is a subscriber model, especially since advertising is more restricted for childrenâ€™s programming. â€œOur goal is to let kids know this video is available for them, let them know they have Disney Channel content on any device,â€ she says.
Subscriptions to mobile content is currently limited by the number of mobile users in the U.S. that are even watching video on their handsets. At this time, there are 10 million subscribers, says MTVâ€™s Jim Eadie. â€œItâ€™s been a slow curve to adopt, but 10 million is nothing to sneeze at,â€ he says.
MediaFLO and MobiTV, both of which aggregate broadcast content within a subscription model, are both facing competition from the U.S. broadcasters who have standardized a mobile broadcast standard and intend to begin mobile casting by end of 2009. Both of these companies remain, at least on the face, optimistic. â€œWe continue to build our relationships at the carrier level,â€ says MobiTVâ€™s Jack Hallahan. â€œWeâ€™re in deep discussion with Verizon and weâ€™re also looking overseas.â€
What will push consumers into watching video on the mobile device? Herdrich points out that 30 percent of iPhone owners watch video on it. â€œScreen size dictates,â€ she says. â€œPeople realize itâ€™s a really enjoyable experience. With every new phone, the screens are getting better, the phones have better video quality and memory.â€
Part of the gap is generational. Disney Channelâ€™s Linke notes that they donâ€™t have to train their audiences to watch video on the phone, since theyâ€™ve been doing it â€œsince birth.â€ She reports â€œhuge growthâ€ in successful pre-school content on the mobile phone.
Future content on the mobile phone will be a mix of short clips and long form, said all the panelists. But peoplesâ€™ behavior in viewing content may be quite different, as they interrupt a 22-minute sitcom to take a couple of phone calls or Twitter a friend about what theyâ€™re watching. â€œItâ€™s too early to see the impact itâ€™ll have on the culture of TV,â€ says Hyland.
Content on the mobile phone doesnâ€™t necessarily compete with TV, notes Hallahan. At MobiTV, theyâ€™re seeing people catch up with TV shows they werenâ€™t initially aware of. For Mad Men, MobiTV added a functionality where the viewer could click on the character and get more information. â€œSo, weâ€™re adding value,â€ he notes.
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