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Interview: Albert Cheng, EVP-Digital Media, Disney-ABC TV: Getting Paid Over Getting Syndicated

imageWhile ABC has gotten props for being ahead of the curve for creating an online branded environment around its TV programming, it also takes hits for resisting a wider distribution policy like *CBS Interactive* and NBC. ABC seemed to be more open to syndication this summer when it struck a distribution deal with online video aggregator Veoh, but Albert Cheng, EVP, digital media for the Disney-ABC Television Group, rejects this premise completely. Following his panel at the OMMA Platform Wars conference on Thursday, he told me that the company’s syndication strategy has been as wide as its competitors, but with one important difference: all the videos remain on its media player.

Cheng: “Even on day one two years ago, it launched on and on our affiliates’ sites. Over time, we allowed the player to function on different sites. If you go to Hulu, and you type in ‘Lost,’ the site will display the results.”

Getting paid as opposed to getting it out: The reason for keeping its videos on its branded player — a new version debuts Friday — is simple, Cheng says. It’s easier to convince advertisers to spend money supporting it. Cheng feels there’s too much obsession with distribution deals and not enough concentration on how to attract advertisers. “In the last two years, everyone wants to know, ‘Which distribution deal did you do? What’s super-syndication and is that the right strategy?’ I think we need to ask, ‘Well, how are you making money?’ That’s the important question. I don’t care how many distribution points you have. We have enough people watching our stuff — with 440 million episodes streamed. What we’re doing right now is helping drive monetization, because it’s a consistent ad model; everyone knows exactly what they’re getting because there is one particular access point.”

The audio of our conversation is here. More excerpts after the jump.

New and improved: Timed for the kick off of the fall season, has overhauled its media player. The new player has new navigation features, such as a “two-click rule” in order to get to a video and a full screen without browser borders. It also should be easier for any site to embed the player, Cheng promises. Also, the player has always had one national sponsor who has three- to four spots running, depending on the length of the episode. Advertisers also have one additional spot sold by ABC’s broadcast affiliates.

Commercial test results coming: Back in May, ABC began running multiple ads during its full-length online episodes. The tests were limited and with a focus group. The focus group is still meeting, Cheng said that the tests have so far worked out better than expected. But he declined to offer details about the feedback. “Before we talk about the results, we want to determine what our ad strategy will be. If we only come out with results, the next thing you’re going to ask me is, ‘So what are you going to do differently?’ Right now, we’re processing the data and thinking about what it means for the advertisers.”

More programming: Right now, ABC has over 15 shows with 180 episodes available for online streaming. Most series have four episodes available on the player at any given time, though all episodes of Lost are currently there. Cheng says he is in the process of acquiring the online rights to more of its programming: “The value proposition for the player is that viewers can catch up. So we’d love to have everything up at the same time as soon as the fall season starts.”