I came away thinking that digital media publishers believe wholly in video, but that in an ever-increasing way they are both creating it and presenting it like television content. And of course they are trying to sell it like television content. Hulu literally jettisoned the name NewFront. Yahoo is creating daily, live music performances -- and what could be more like television than tune-in, daily content? Vevo had a post-production enabled product placement tool to sell. With rare exceptions, everything at the NewFronts walked, talked, and quacked like TV.
Don’t get me wrong: I love all of this new content, the inherent competitive and symbiotic relationship with digital publishers and TV, and the data that informs content and provides insights to consumer behaviors. And of course I enjoy observing digital publishers’ Sisyphean attempts at crossing the cultural relevance divide between TV and native digital. But the more the conversation is framed as a shift in ad dollars, the more we perpetuate the notion of similarity between TV and digital video. And when we do that, we are ignoring the innumerable advantages of digital.
The original vision of digital content included uses as a two-way communication device, a strategic collector of totally new and unique data sets, and a targeting machine that would be the envy of any military outfit. In short, it’s completely different from all other previous forms of media. But in our race to compete with TV, we have increasingly replaced digital uniqueness with arcane TV tactics.
The result is less innovation and more static behavior, with publishers, brands, and agencies replicating their advertising across channels. It’s unclear to me why the bulk of content and advertising in digital is still framed by a random set of length deliverables (:10, :15, and :30) ,when it’s delivered by a totally different experience.
The Sponsorship Question
TV was built on sponsorship with meaning: entire programs truly brought to you by a single brand, and the brand became an integral part of the series. The message, the content, and the brand were inextricably linked. Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” built credibility and status for itself and its title sponsor in a meaningful, consistent, and committed way. But today, in both TV and digital, sponsorship is often a meaningless attachment that accrues little long-term value for a brand, and therefore provides a limited halo effect and context for brand values.
Digital content has its own version of sponsorship. It has strayed far from unique, interactive experiences and migrated to a lowest common denominator of pure sponsorship -- perhaps fine for TV scale, but unlikely to gain traction in the attention economy. Digital publishers need to find a way to make a more meaningful connection than “100% share of voice” on a destination that they practically beg users to visit, upon which any brand can be inserted, and which lacks an integrated brand experience.
Digital video offers an opportunity for brands to step up and deliver meaningful content that more deeply connects to their values and consumer emotions. Media publishers need to separate the impression and reach sale (TV) from an interactive, engaging sale (native digital), and give agencies and brands a reason to participate.
One way to deal with this issue is with native content – one of the best digital opportunities, but perhaps one of the most difficult to achieve. Because so much content consumption today takes place in the newsfeed environment of mobile, original, amazing content is critical. The difficulty is that native means that your ad looks and feels like editorial content -- which is useful in one sense, but also decreases the connection of the brand to the content.
The opportunity for brands is to step in and create their own content that solves the problem of being a disposable appendage to the headline content. And ultimately, the opportunity for publishers is to have another go at creating content with brand partners that is emotionally appealing, that strongly connects the consumer to the brand and its values, and that drives consumer engagement.