Paid Distribution Becomes a Mainstay of Web Series

26 Comments

So you’ve made your awesome web show, now what? You’re not successful unless you get an audience. And attracting views for your video series is not a simple feat.

tubemoguladageDistribution and promotion are recurring conundrums in online video, as we saw (most recently) on Friday, when we took a close look at John August’s pilot for The Remnants on Friday, which without a sponsor and a logistical miracle seems unlikely to add further episodes. Devoid of the rigid infrastructure of TV, and in the face of the trillions of other things competing for people’s attention online, how are you going to get them to show up to watch your show on a regular basis?

A TubeMogul survey of 50 web series found they lost 64 percent of their audiences from their first to second episode. We’ve seen similar trends in our own research. Ad Age’s Michael Learmonth, who requested the TubeMogul study, concludes the answer is to pay for distribution.

Paid distribution and distribution guarantees — where shows cut deals to get placement as if they were ad campaigns — are phenomena we’re seeing more and more these days. To be distributed like an ad, a video doesn’t necessarily have to be branded content, though any integrated sponsorship would travel along with the video itself. And (duh) sponsors are much more willing to participate if they know people will actually see your video.

Back when the video advertising network Broadband Enterprises held what it called the first “digital upfront” a couple years ago, we didn’t really understand the concept. But things became very clear when Google (s GOOG) got into the act to distribute Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy using its massive AdSense network of sites. That’s paid off with some 30 million views since July.

And Google has gone on to employ the same strategy with new series like Poptub. It was reported that Poptub had guaranteed its sponsor, Pepsi (s pep), 3 billion impressions in 2008, though the show’s producers later told us that number was actually 1 billion. Still!

However, it’s more impressive to have your content succeed on its merits, which means web video producers aren’t all out there bragging about their paid distribution deals. Next New Networks CEO Lance Podell tells Ad Age that his company “categorically doesn’t buy advertising to distribute shows, instead relying on cross-promotion, PR and search optimization to build audiences.” But that’s not true, since NNN had its sponsor Starburst feature its show Nite Fite in the paid feature spot on the YouTube homepage. (There’s even an NNN blog post that compares the deal to Cavalcade.) The promoted episode was viewed 300,000 times in 24 hours.

Other ad networks like Tremor Media and Adconion are now offering a similar paid video distribution service. We recently spoke about these topics with Reeve Collins, CEO of branded entertainment studio RedLever, which is wholly owned by Adconion. RedLever started life as male-oriented video portal Kush TV, but when that wasn’t working out, changed its focus to branded content in the middle of last year. The move quickly paid off, with the startup being acquired by Adconion in October 2008.

Collins explained that Adconion’s reach of 140 million U.S. uniques makes it possible to very specifically target episodes of RedLever’s web shows. Further, the technology of the ad network neatens up some of the confusion around how to deal with distribution in a medium that has little to no schedule structure by detecting which episodes a user has already seen and serving them the appropriate one. Collins also described the show-as-ad format as more friendly to new viewers, since it pops up on sites where they already happen to be spending their time.

Collins said RedLever shows cost anywhere from $100,000 to $1.5 million each, including distribution. “If they want 100 million uniques to see it, not a problem, we can do that,” he said, adding that 10 million seems to be the number most people are looking for. With a combination of original shows and distribution deals like the one it has with Vuguru’s Back on Topps, RedLever hopes to launch 10 shows this year.

Starting out with a simple YouTube videoblog and somehow turning that into a lasting passionate audience for your show? How three years ago. As the online video medium evolves, the whole process only seems to get more complicated.

26 Comments

modelmotion

This might be a great time for a follow up on this article. Which portal sites and which shows are now using paid distribution and distribution guarantees? How effective are they for the advertiser? Does anyone actually watch the video that follows the ad, or are they really just paid pre-rolls with little impact on viewers actually watching the video? Do they do more harm than good long term. How exactly do they “drive views” to the video and how cost effective are the techniques used? These are just some of the questions that could be examined and provide invaluable industry insight.

Dan Ganshirt

I’m looking for distribution of a web series we created called “Just A Taste” we “review” a wine and give updates from the world of wine in comical review. Here’s the main page of our site where we always have the newest webisode up: http://www.winetrippingtv.com/ Does anybody have any ideas about how we can get it seen?

electriclady

I agree with “Normally This Weird” (series looks nicely produced btw–I will check it out). We’re trying to build an audience for our web series GEMINI RISING http://www.geminirising.tv (2009 Webby Honoree) and we’ve found that staging local screenings helps build morale among the production cast & crew by showing how an audience responds to the show (very favorably so far plus we’ve sold a few t-shirts). I think we web series producers need some kind of support site or hub. Any out there?

Normally This Weird

Of course we want our web series to be seen, but if the reason behind your quest for views is only a strategy to convert them into revenue, I don’t think you will find the success you are looking for. As an independent producer building a new web series, I redefined my definition of success away from making a profit and switched it in terms of finding my niche audience, producing something creative – outside of many clichéd web series fallback concepts, and perhaps getting attention from larger players for collaboration on the next project. I’m not running away from the idea of profit either, in my comedy web series ‘Normally This Weird’ http://www.NormallyThisWeird.com we’ve had small successes at product integration, as well as receiving free products for the brand awareness within the production itself, such as donated food and equipment from high profile brands. These things can help us press on to the next episode. In the absence of big distribution deals, if the show has hit a true fan base, then you can see a small return from self distribution of DVD extras, swag, and donations. None of this adds to an actual profit, but it can give the production the extra boost of funds it needs to keep building and growing. And in terms of a modern web series, I’d argue that is very successful no matter how many views you get.

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Jason Zimmerman

This is really interesting information for someone like myself who is producing their own original web show.

As my show The Web Mix (thewebmix.com) continues to gain traction I’m constantly looking at ways to reach my audience.

But I think that just the fact that people are talking about paid distribution among other ways for online video to reach people is a good thing for online video. It is becoming a bigger topic and 2009 holds a lot of promise for original content.

dj hyjak

I’m just getting in to this field and my team and i have been trying to figure out this issue before we launch our web quiz show. But have found no help? If someone out there would take pity on a fledgling production and give some guidance in this matter.

Corey Kronengold

Like everyone’s been saying – Great piece, Liz. It is true. The online video ad networks have the scale to deliver audiences and the pricing models to make it work for the advertisers as well. We started distributing the latest Seth MacFarland Cavalcade of Comedy, with Priceline.com as the sponsor, across the Tremor Media distribution network.

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Tim Street

At NATPE this morning we were talking about videos with millions of views not making money. Then someone said, “If the true cost of delivering a 6 minute video is $1, someone is making money.” What? No one is getting $1 per view? Are they?

Well who ever is getting paid to make sure that video is delivered to the viewer is get paid. The CDN is getting paid.

Now if more content producers are getting paid we all have a mainstay of getting paid.

Nicholas Quixote

It only makes sense that the online networks (the few places folks actually watch the videos) and sponsors have to make the commitment to build audience long term. The online networks are open for business and you can pay to shop your wares, get clicks, sell ads. Long term, you can create a loyal fan base that will migrate to other screens like the TV. The truth of “doing it on your own” is more a lot more complex.

As you know, Purina has been a very helpful sponsor for us, increasing support this year 300% over last. We continue building a brand together. Although not an exclusive sponsor, I am only seeking to add one more in the future. Rabbit Bites is well distinguished, focused, and friendly enough for the largest advertisers to take it to the next level. If any of you are reading this, get in touch.

Frank Sinton

Liz – Hi. The “Jump Start” program cost varies depending on the target audience. We also run some on-going campaigns, depending on the needs of the content producers.

This model is starting to parallel the traditional TV model (studios, distribution & marketing, etc), at least for those producing video content for a living. Of course, the methods are much different, but the model has strong similarities.

Daddy Clay

We are definitely experimenting with this at DadLabs. We think it can be a good way to deliver the numbers our sponsors want. These views may have a different value that the “organic” views on web sharing sites, but we have a need to even out the “getting featured” crapshoot. We don’t feel it’s anything to be ashamed of — we’re clear with our sponsors that this is an aspect of our marketing spend behind the shows when needed.

Christine Beardsell

Hey Liz, great post. I’ve been exploring paid distribution models quite a bit this past year.

However, the real discussion at the moment is around how to find a balance between distribution and destination. Having your content out there and getting eyeballs is great, but building a loyal audience and engagement model beyond the 3 month advertising model is key.

This will require the industry to move away from an “upfront” model entirely, and get more creative with how brands and content creators work together.

Cheers,

Christine

Liz Gannes

@Christine – I’d love to hear more about what you’ve found. How do you convert people from ad watchers to fans? Would be great to do a follow-up story. liz at gigaom is my email.

Chris McCoy

We’ve been able to build a national broadcast network with this strategy. Guaranteed impressions + targeted audience = real advertising dollars.

Online video is not a business model. Audience is.

Chris McCoy
yoursports.com

gstrompolos

Ah c’mon Liz, it’s not that complicated! Producers need more distribution and advertisers need guaranteed reach. Paid distribution accomplishes both.

To compare: TV ad dollars ultimately fund production and pay for guaranteed reach via specific broadcast time slots. This isn’t much different. The end user experience, however, is very different – which is something producers should always consider in their approach to storytelling.

Informative post as usual. Thanks!

-George

Frank Sinton

Hi Liz – Great post. Ad networks with large reach seems like a logical place to distribute videos, particularly since a lot of them are looking “beyond display” and into video.

Additionally, publishers with enough audience are also looking at this as a new revenue stream. At Mefeedia, we have helped several Web Series to date with our “jump start” program. Most of these Web Series have already sold sponsorships to their videos and need a predictable way to deliver on projected numbers. This expense usually falls under “promotion and marketing”. As advertisers start putting more money into sponsoring online video, I expect to see a lot more of this in the future.

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