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Summary:

There’s a natural inclination to mock network TV’s reliance on reality programming these days, but the companies producing web content aimed to partner with advertising definitely have an emphasis on non-scripted over scripted content as well. A look at 10 of the companies that have made […]

There’s a natural inclination to mock network TV’s reliance on reality programming these days, but the companies producing web content aimed to partner with advertising definitely have an emphasis on non-scripted over scripted content as well. A look at 10 of the companies that have made a business out of pairing content with advertising, including Babelgum, DECA, Funny or Die, Generate, Next New Networks and Revision3, reveals that at least six of them focus exclusively on nonfiction content as opposed to fictional. While the actual shows do manage to avoid people-eating-bugs-or-competing-for-dates territory, there’s still a distinct lack of narrative being produced.

It’s easy to understand why: Non-fiction is, in general, easier and cheaper to produce than fictional content, and the emphasis on information, not storytelling, that runs less risk of offending brand partners. The non-fiction series produced by Next New Networks and Revision3, for example, are easily targeted to specific audiences — making them an easy sell to advertisers interested in reaching such groups.

Plus, these series are often structured around hosts with proven fan bases. A fictional web series might be able to draw well-known talent, but audience engagement works on a different level, as you’re watching the actor play a character, as opposed to watching the individual him or herself.

The question is, if this trend continues, what will happen to the current evolution of the medium? It’s hard to imagine the Citizen Kane of online video coming from a collaboration with Doritos, after all. It may be left to the independent creators to save us from the wasteland of narrative — provided, of course, they can find a way to pay the bills.

These thoughts come to you courtesy of a longer feature I wrote for our paid research service, GigaOm Pro. Check that piece out for the full breakdown of which companies are focusing on fiction or non-fiction content currently, as well as more analysis of the pull non-fiction has for advertisers. But please feel free to share your thoughts on this specific write-up here.

  1. I think this is a really interesting topic; while the economics and formats of web video certainly have led us to produce a good deal of non-fiction programming, which has been successful with advertisers, it’s not the only route by any case. A significant portion, perhaps as much as half (we’ve never crunched these numbers, but I might just now) of our viewership over the past two years has actually been in our scripted fiction and comedy episodes on networks including Barely Political, Channel Frederator, Indy Mogul, and Barely Digital. We’ve had at least as much success pairing this advertising with major sponsors as we have our non-fiction: major advertising campaigns with Verizon FiOS ($99 Music Videos, which had a good deal of fiction), Starburst (Nite Fite, a scripted comedy series on Channel Frederator), the many brands that have integrated with Barely Political sketches (including Certain Dri and the movie “W”) and the various movie studios that have sponsored Indy Mogul, including the weekly fictional short films we do each week (Warner Bros, Lionsgate, Paramount, among others).

    It certainly helped with $99 Music Videos and Indy Mogul that the formats of those networks pair a non-fiction episode (a behind the scenes or how-to) with the fictional short film, as we can do more straightforward sponsor mentions and integrations in one format than another. But we’ve also found creative ways to bring sponsors into the fictional programming — for instance, Nite Fite’s Penalty and Lloyd doing spokescartoon bits for Starburst, or Erik Beck stalking Bobby Miller in a Jason mask for Friday the 13th. And we also sell media around our fictional programming — including IAB-standard ads and rich media, YouTube overlays, pre- and mid- and post-roll video bumpers and ads — fulfilling in some cases millions of media impressions for our advertising partners in a campaign with fiction programming.

    For us, it’s more about cost-appropriate and audience-appropriate programming than about fiction and non-fiction. If it’s right for the audience, it will build viewership, and in our experience so far, the advertisers want to be where the viewers are.

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    1. @Tim – do you see a difference between timely and evergreen content in terms of integrating sponsors?

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  2. Not necessarily, but timely content gets more viewership in the short term — and brand integrations are usually served within a set period of time to coincide with a campaign.

    Evergreen content performs better over the long term (as part of a long tail), which lends itself more to a media sales monetization strategy.

    We do both, in a mix, for sponsors. Since we like to have it both ways, we love timely content with evergreen replay value. Fast Lane Daily’s a great example, as it’s car news that’s still entertaining (and can often become timely again) months or years later. And Indy Mogul can play off big tentpole films (like our Harry Potter rap battle last month) but communicate something pretty evergreen, like how to create a Voldemort makeup effect.

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  3. [...] it seems clear that there should be more game show web series than there are at present. After all, many companies prefer nonfiction to scripted programming, and the opportunities for branding and product placement are baked right into the structure via [...]

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  4. [...] it seems clear that there should be more game show web series than there are at present. After all, many companies prefer nonfiction to scripted programming, and the opportunities for branding and product placement are baked right into the structure via [...]

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  5. [...] Creators! Next New Networks Wants to Be Your BFF As producers of nonfiction content, Next New Networks has always been good about partnering with and nurturing previously known [...]

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