In an effort to increase reach and engagement with a younger generation that cannot live without its smartphones and loves social media, Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) – the channel owner that lists Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central among its brands – has placed social media video at the heart of its digital content strategy. At Connected TV World Summit last week, Joanna Wells, VP of Digital Content for MTV and Comedy Central at VIMN, showed off some of the video the company has distributed on Snapchat Discover, Facebook and Facebook Live, including celebrity, travel, fitness, news and music content.
“We have a robust background creating high-quality content to exploit across all platforms. We know original content incredibly well, but the definition of content has shifted now and is as much about ‘snaps’ and ‘gifts’ as long-form TV shows,” Wells explained. She pointed to how classic archive shows, like ‘Friends’ can be given a fresh lease of life on social by taking a new perspective on storytelling, like a look at how a famous break-up would have played out on Snapchat or Twitter.
To succeed, you have to deliver topical and shareable content and you need to be the biggest, nerdiest megafans in the room, Wells said. You also need to be authentic. You can create lots of series for this environment, get feedback and constantly iterate.
Social platforms like Snapchat provide a chance to work with up-and-coming talent and are a place to trail multiple short-form videos, Wells also told the London conference. Comedy Central has enjoyed success on social media with five new short-form series.
Speaking about the wider digital strategy at Viacom, Tom Frazer, VP Strategy and Digital at the company, characterized social video as Internet-quality (meaning less than broadcast-quality) and brand centric, in the sense that the Viacom brands are clearly present, although video can exist in this environment in what he called an “atomized and isolated way.” This is an ad-funded model, he noted.
Highlighting a couple of negatives, he said that occasionally there is a lack of transparency in this fast-evolving segment and it can be hard to deliver a clear strategy for a content owner.
Speaking separately at Connected TV World Summit, Colin Dixon, Founder & Chief Analyst at nScreen Media, declared that the bad news for traditional media companies distributing on social is that these outlets do not drive much revenue. “Getting a coherent revenue generating model from a social platform is not easy. We are still waiting for them to allow premium content to generate a lot of money there,” he stated.
What social media does give you is great reach, he declared, observing that, at heart, this is a mobile environment. He highlighted the powerful promotional possibilities using social. Dixon said there are 106 million clips related to Fox’s ‘Empire’ (the family dynasty drama set in the world of hip-hop music) on YouTube, 95% of them having been user-uploaded.
“The days of premium content providers issuing take-down requests are over; they recognise the promotional value of social media and how it drives people back to shows.” He thinks YouTube clips are a new kind of TV viewership currency, a rough guide to what is popular and interesting.
Dixon provided a demographic breakdown of social media users in the U.S., who skew young (18-29 year-olds are the biggest users on all the major social platforms). There is an even split between women and men, and between urban, suburban and rural dwellers (all based on data from Pew Research Center, 2017).
Dixon believes social media platforms are a far better place to put your video than an owned-and-operated app if you want mobile reach. “5.5% of people with smartphones have downloaded the NBC app in the U.S., and that is the top app,” he noted, highlighting the relatively limited opportunity to increase reach via your own app.
Frazer at Viacom confirmed that social presence adds significant reach for his company. He made it clear that Viacom still looks upon digital as a way to complement its Pay TV distribution, and declared: “Companies like Viacom must continue to work to grow the Pay TV ecosystem.” That includes working with Pay TV operator skinny OTT bundles and not just with their traditional platforms.
He also made it clear that Viacom did not want its content separated from its channel brands, in most circumstances. “We are becoming increasingly strategic in our approach to OTT aggregators. We have a number of important SVOD deals but we do prioritize partnerships that do not decouple our content from our brands.”
Despite Dixon’s fears about the limited reach potential for owned-and-operated mobile apps, Viacom still sees this as an important part of its digital strategy, often in support of its Pay TV partners. Nickelodeon, Paramount and Nick Jr all have apps, and MTV Trax is a curated music push service. The apps are brand centric, of course, and include a mix of long- and short-form content. Websites are still an important part of the digital mix at Viacom, too.
Frazer explained what the digital domain adds to the Viacom distribution options [beyond reach and especially reach into younger consumers]. There is room for show-related extras like clips and games to drive ratings. Digital originals can be given a home and there is a chance to experiment with new talent and new formats and new advertising approaches. There is also an opportunity to show greater commercial flexibility than you can on traditional TV properties.
Colin Dixon at nScreen Media gave his assessment of why social media companies are moving further into TV in one word: money. Advertisers are already taking social platforms seriously. High-quality video gives them new inventory. He declared Twitter’s NFL Thursday night American football a success, though it did mean the price for the equivalent rights this year were much higher.
He noted how Facebook is ‘buying in’ professional content to develop Facebook live. “They paid $50 million for premium providers to use the platform in 2016,” he claimed, pointing to recipients like Buzzfeed, New York Times and CNN. “They are also paying influencers to make live video and that strategy is working.
“Snapchat is looking to create its own content and is showing up in meetings in Hollywood. They want to grow Discover into a much, much stronger video platform and it is already doing well.” Having made some early forays into sports – one of the bedrocks of traditional TV – social media firms will start looking for more scripted content, Dixon predicts.
Although social media video viewing is sometimes additive, it is also sometimes competitive, distracting viewers from TV, Dixon reckons. And now the social media companies are competing for ad revenues. But ignoring social media would also be a risk, as audiences are already moving to these platforms. Like Viacom, Dixon believes TV companies need to be on these services.