Studio One Networks, a leader in content syndication, launched a business model 10 years ago that married old media to new. It's proven so viable, president and CEO Andrew Susman, now celebrating his company's milestone, touts its progress as a "decade of delivery."
Given the volatile media landscape, SON is a study in bottom-line economics embracing changing content delivery systems.
Founded by Bob Blackmore, formerly the head of sales for NBC TV Network and chairman of the American Advertising Federation, and Susman, former director, business development, Time Inc., Studio One's total network reach, according to its latest numbers, is 112 million users. Susman says that is built on a foundation of 500 media partners, 50 advertisers and 25 content categories.
The CEO credits his company's success to "better quality content, enhanced user engagement, lower costs for our media partners and stronger consumer bonds at scale for our sponsors."
The winning strategy was lifted from the golden age of radio and TV -- to create targeted programs underwritten by corporate sponsors. (Think Jack Benny and Jello, Milton Berle and the Texaco Star Theater.) The modern twist -- to run them cross-platform from the Web to TV to radio, syndicated in partnership with major media outlets such as CBS, AOL, ABC and World Now.
The formula may sound old-school -- high involvement content, business to lifestyle, without commercial saturation -- but in an age of clutter, it has clicked. Studio One is part of the content inventory of its media partners, not the ad inventory.
Currently, the network has 10 programs online sponsored by five top marketers and carried by more than 500 publishers -- including the Web outlets of the five major broadcast networks, as well as Facebook and Twitter. Part of its survival is due to fiscal discipline: SON only runs shows that a sponsor will support, created by an expert, that reach a targeted, responsive audience.
For example, "Driving Today," SON's longest-running show, is sponsored by Bridgestone. The managing editor is Jack R. Nerad, who co-hosts "America on the Road" on the Mutual Radio Network. "Driving" has 350 online media partners and is broadcast on more than 300 radio stations. Similarly, shows such as Nestle's "Your Baby Today" get an opening and closing credit and a "brought to you by" line.
Research conducted by American Demographics and Next Century Media confirmed that the average visit to a SON site was 14 minutes. In partnership with AD, new methodology -- the sponsorship effectiveness index -- was produced. The findings, first published in the Advertising Research Foundation Journal in December 2006, found the lift in awareness, consideration and purchase intent was seven times the TV average, while click-through rates on programs approached 8%.
Finding success at home, SON went global.
"Your Security Resource," sponsored by Symantec, is in 14 languages worldwide and syndicated to Toshiba, EarthLink, Hewlett Packard, E- Bay, Lenovo Web sites. Building on its international appeal, SON launched its latest big initiative: Studio One World Service. "We are currently syndicating in France, India, Russia, Germany and Mexico and will be expanding the networks according to demand. We are especially excited to move into China and Japan," adds Susman.
In conjunction with Studio One World Service, SON joined the board of Business for Diplomatic Action, chaired by former DDB exec Keith Reinhard. Together, alongside companies like Pepsi, McDonald's and Hughes Aircraft, the goal is to extend the positive perception of America internationally through business cooperation.
To solidify its professional base, Studio One also chartered the Internet Content Syndication Council, which now counts 80+ members, including Reuters, Google, AP, P&G, Brightcove and IDG.
Next up, Studio One is eying mobile apps. It has done short flights with Sprint and Nextel, but plans to do more as it moves into Asia, where mobile reach and engagement figures are higher. "When looking into the future, we feel anybody can develop around a new technology or medium," says Susman, "but not anybody can create differentiated content."