Many of the conversations about the digital content newfronts and the television upfronts have been framed as a zero-sum game: You’re either focused on TV or you’re focused on digital. Too little dialogue acknowledges the symbiotic relationship between the two. Even for TV’s own digital properties, the upfront deals focus first on locking in broadcast assets, with digital assets designated to “player to be named later” status, often handled without thoughtful input from experts in that field. Brands wind up buying ad space on TV without locking in the valuable, complementary assets at the time, thus diminishing the future negotiating leverage and, more importantly, the creative connection between the two.
The truth is that a closer collaboration between TV and digital creates more media value for everyone involved – the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. By working together, offline and online teams can be more cost efficient with more effective creative. It’s a win-win for consumers, brands, TV networks, and content creators. Here’s how:
The first one’s obvious: the consumers –- the audience -– benefit because they get more quality content available in more places at their convenience.
Think about Bravo. The network created digital content that had critical linear cable storytelling impact for “Top Chef.” Through the Web series “Last Chance Kitchen,” the network gave eliminated chefs a second chance to come back to “Top Chef.” These were storylines that only lived online throughout the season, but also affected the TV series episodically. And it was done in a way that enhanced the overall consumer experience of the TV content, without devaluing that traditional experience for those uninterested in the digital content. That said, it took brand funding from Toyota to bring this content to life. Which brings us to:
Don’t just think about display advertising online on series or network websites. Advertisers are better able to engage a dedicated audience through custom companion content versus adding impressions against the same TV audience that they have already paid for. Companion digital content lets brands create a deeper relationship with consumers -- a relationship that is more measurable and thus more valuable.
The digitization of Fantasy Football is a perfect example. In addition to tremendous reach via broadcast, brands can provide rabid fans all kinds of custom digital content that provides hours of engagement in between games. And while the digital side is more measurable than the partner TV buy (again, another benefit for advertisers), both parties work together to form an entire experience, and are most effective when developed together creatively.
Television networks have a great stake in the upfronts, but they too benefit from a closer relationship with digital partners. As with advertisers, digital content allows the networks to get more and better data about their viewers. But custom content yields new opportunities for revenue as well. Networks reap the rewards of a more robust publishing model through extended viewing timelines, new distribution channels, and digital programming that connects with the audience every day of the week, instead of just one day per week. As TV viewing continues to grow, the fears that digital will steal audiences have subsided -- but few networks have taken advantage of digital as an original content platform. Which brings us to:
If digital and TV partner closer together, then digital channels can become the evolution of Cable Envy, doing things that network TV could never do on its own. At the most extreme, producers can be more innovative on these channels--– not just in terms of social and legal restrictions, but in terms of device capabilities as well. Digital channels are two-way communication machines, and come packed with user data and information that can enhance any experience. This allows for more creative connection to the linear programming. Just think of the SyFy channel: every year, for its live “Ghost Hunters” program on Halloween, SyFy allows viewers to track ghosts and hunters online, view different camera angles, and talk with the cast, crew and each other online.